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Natural capital, subjective well-being, and the new welfare economics of sustainability: Some evidence from cross-country regressions

By Hans-Jürgen Engelbrecht


The measurement of natural capital and its management during the economic development process are important aspects of the capital approach to sustainable development. However, the assessment of social welfare in terms of genuine savings (or changes in total wealth per capita) is arguably too limited. This paper tries to make a case for the incorporation of subjective well-being measures in debates about sustainable development by exploring the macro-level relationship between subjective well-being and natural capital in a cross-country setting. It is tested whether natural capital per capita is correlated with subjective well-being in a sample of fifty-eight developed and developing countries, using natural capital data from the World Bank's Millennium Capital Assessment. Bivariate regressions indicate that it is. When multiple regression models are estimated that include (a) major country-level determinants of subjective well-being (GNI per capita, social capital, income distribution, unemployment, inflation), and (b) regional dummy variables for ex-Soviet Union and Latin American countries, the positive correlation remains. The role of data outliers is carefully explored, and the sensitivity of the results to the use of alternative subjective well-being measures (i.e. life satisfaction, happiness, and a combined life satisfaction and happiness index) is investigated. This does not change the nature of the results. The findings arguably strengthen the case for a 'new welfare economics of sustainability' that takes subjective well-being measures into account.Life satisfaction Subjective well-being Natural capital Sustainable development Welfare economics Cross-country analysis

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