For decades, economists and politicians have often measured the well-being of society mainly by focusing on the GDP of the country. The more businesses generate economic wealth, the more people should be living a better life. There is, of course, a grain of truth in this concept but, today, many economists, politicians and sociologists are adding different dimensions to the measurement of the quality of life of people.
Quality of life is a broad concept that comprises a number of different dimensions. There is no doubt that the objective factor of material resources like money, housing and living conditions are important factors that underpin the quality of life of communities. But there are also subjective perceptions that are equally important in human development. These subjective perceptions depend significantly on citizens’ priorities and needs.
When the Malta Developers’ Association met the leader of the Opposition, Adrian Delia, their president, Sandro Chetcuti, appealed to the Nationalist Party to emulate the Labour government when it came to the ‘creation of wealth’. Equating wealth to more physical development on scarce land resources seems to be an essential priority for developers. Most people have very different opinions of what wealth is.
Few can convincingly argue that increasing GDP today while depleting resources for tomorrow is not a short-sighted strategy that may add to the bank balances of some economic operators but creates a quality of life deficit for both present and future generations.
Malta is the most densely-populated country in Europe. The destruction of thousands of acres of countryside over the last few decades to make a place for new buildings is threatening the ecological and social balance that the community needs to enjoy a good quality of life. Building contractors have, of course, done well out of this development. Many people may also be living in better accommodation. But whether the people’s quality of life has improved as a direct result of this development is at best questionable.
Dr Delia was right to point out to the developers’ representative he met that long-term planning for the industry as well as a plan to protect the vulnerable from a volatile market was his party’s priority. Many will surely argue that preserving the fragile natural environment is an equally important priority.
Developers need to understand that other elements that constitute quality of life are often in conflict with their interests to encroach on more virgin land to construct even more buildings. Pro-business should also mean improving educational standards enabling this and future generations to contribute to sustainable economic growth through their skills and knowledge.
The World Bank recently sounded an alarm when, in a report, it pointed out that 35.6 per cent of Maltese 15-years-olds had below basic proficiency in reading and maths. The present administration’s pro-business approach must, therefore, include the upgrading of the basic skills of these young people if it wants to ensure they are prepared to contribute to their own and the country’s well-being when they join the workforce in a few years’ time.
Being pro-business also means having good governance at a corporate and government level. This notion implies a war against corrupt practices by politicians, business people and citizens.
This society’s well-being will always be measured beyond economic wealth.
This is a Times of Malta print editorial
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