The economics of wellbeing: Measuring what we value, curbing climate change, and affordable housing

Plan Author

  • Spencer Knickerbocker, 2019

Fields of Concentration

  • Economics

Faculty Sponsors

Outside Evaluator

  • Jon Erickson, University of Vermont


This Plan of Concentration explores attempts to increase societal well-being through economics and policy. I begin with a history and analysis of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), arguing that using this instrument obscures important social values and pushes public policy in directions that are detrimental to societal well-being. I then analyze two alternative wellbeing measurements and also construct my own composite index that integrates environmental and social dimensions. A second component of my work is a critical and constructive account of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, analyzing how it has functioned and suggesting ways it can be improved to more effectively curb greenhouse gas emissions. Finally, drawing on my six-month internship working on housing policy with the Tiny House Fest of Vermont and building my own tiny house in 2018, I explore the benefits and challenges of tiny houses as one element of a more sustainable society.


With growing data collection efforts by organizations such as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the United Nations, there is access to a wealth of data which measures many aspects of life from health and literacy, to pollution and access to clean water. With the availability of extensive data for nearly every nation which measures broad aspects of wellbeing, policy makers should take advantage of this information to create new targets which promote not only economic growth but also improves the wellbeing of both human life and extensive ecosystems.\

In the United States, sub-national policies continue to be the primary method of abating greenhouse gas emissions due to the federal system of government present in the country. Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative provides a clear framework built upon the successes and failures of previous cap-and-trade models to implement a policy that has largely been successful in the abatement of CO2 in RGGI-regulated states. Though CO2 emissions in RGGI states from electricity generation are low in comparison to national levels, the model has proved successful in respect to emissions reductions, limiting abatement costs incurred by firms, and limiting cost carryover to consumers.


At Marlboro College I have been able to study economics widely, though I have been particularly interested and focused on the area of environmental economics. This interest arrived from multiple pathways: dissatisfaction with the neoclassical explanations and conventional teachings of economics, a concern for the environment and the future of the planet, and a belief that one of the most expedient methods of counteracting global warming and ecosystem destruction can occur through market mechanisms.