Societies have been striving for the holy trinity of health, wealth and longevity for eons.
Although the list may be a little longer these days as we include eliminating poverty, increasing equality, reducing pollution, addressing climate change, creating jobs in a new economy characterised by rapid digital and technological advancement, ensuring that the workforce is skilled and equipped to deal with those changes, and that no one or no communities are left behind.
If I was to sum up the International Economic Development Council (IEDC) conference on "inclusive growth" that I just attended in Atlanta, USA it would be that economic mobility – improving incomes - and resilient economies will underpin progress.
These were strong themes at a conference where economic development professionals from across the US, Britain, Canada, Mexico, Turkey, Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong, many Island nations, and Europe met to discuss strategies for inclusive growth.
Growth is good, but it's the type of growth that counts. People-centred growth.
Professor Steven Pinker in his new book Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism and Progress points out that if you were to trace Gross World Product (the world economy) over the last 2000 years you would see that until the enlightenment and the industrial revolution (in the 1800s) GWP virtually flatlined; most people lived short, harsh, disease-ridden, impoverished and subsistence lives.
From the early 1800s to today GWP has increased 200-fold. The real headline though is that the rise in incomes correlates with "every indicator of human flourishing… most obviously longevity, health and nutrition, but there are many others..."
We all know that the wealth is still not distributed evenly across and within nations and we have other problems associated with smoke-stack growth. Absolute poverty is still with us even though the world has made incredible advances in the last 20 years. Even pollution is decreasing worldwide, but of course not everywhere and for everyone. And of course, sustainability is the 21st century litmus test. Suffice to say, technology needs to be our friend in these endeavours.
Concern for tracking our well-being is now front and centre in many advanced nations.
The good thing about GDP is everybody measures it so we can compare. The bad thing is it only measures economic output not the quality of people's lives or the state of the environment.
Measuring wellbeing is much more difficult and means different things to different people. Communities often want to measure different things meaningful to them.
Nonetheless, GDP is not enough and Treasury has embarked on a journey to measure well-being through the living standards framework. We are not alone.
Whilst in Atlanta I met with Dr Raphael Bostic, president and CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta and Dr Ann Carpenter, his senior advisor, community and economic development.
There are many similarities between what Treasury is developing and what the Atlanta Fed is doing. For example, their "small city economic dynamism index" measuring across demographics, economics, human capital and infrastructure could provide more fine grained statistics for our small towns and provinces.
I'll leave the last word to the Rev Dr Martin Luther King Jr from a 50-year-old poster where he was advocating for: "Human dignity, housing, fair wages, and full employment". Too much to ask for?
The 2018 EDNZ conference on inclusive growth is being held at the Copthorne Hotel, Paihia from the October 17th – 19th. The Chair of IEDC will be attending.
■ Dr David Wilson is the chief executive officer of Northland's Economic Development Agency, Northland Inc, and chairman of Economic Development NZ.