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well-being and public policy
some programmatic notes
gary e. davis
November 2004 / July 7, 2007

Welfare is basically about well-being: faring well. I would advance a sense of living well by design that’s applicable across every scale of society, from individual lives to the life of a society (social well-being or the health of nations).

We want capability—for what? A richly enjoyable and meaningfully productive life? Of course, whatever that is. I would give much weight to these two foci, in terms of these basic terms of English: richly, enjoyable, meaningfully, and productive. I would reconstitute these terms, in service to pursuing a good theory of well-being.

What is culture at best? The holism of lifespan-oriented social well-being? I would relativize the notion of culture to the temporality of the lifeworld, which is only lived individually.

Obviously, there are many aspects of well-being that are relevant to public policy guided by that high value. I have a list of 55!—which I would like to focus through thinking about Habermas’s recent essay, “The Relation of Theory and Practice Revisited,” Truth & Justification (MIT Press 2003, last chapter).

An emergence of anything—some A—in society is the distribution of A; distribution is primarily an emergent property of reality. A public opinion about some issue has a specifiable distribution; a trend emerges and develops, has a distribution.

Also, we may endeavor to distribute something—some good—and the result is its deliberate distribution. Very important to my sense of public policy is this difference—emergent vs. deliberate—within the notion of distribution: facilitation of what emerges vs. implementation of what is distributed (so-called “distributive justice”). I favor facilitators over distributors, but appreciate a need for both (e.g., in education that delivers training, as well as truly teaching, i.e., facilitating self-directed learning; conversely, in organizational leadership that mentors, as well as manages).

I would think of evolution in terms of the progress that can be facilitated, as well as what “naturally” emerges, say, from unanticipated innovations of aggregate social learning. Inasmuch as evolution is something that we can meaningfully speak of governing (ethically!), then we should want to think and work beyond subject-centered (Subjective or statist) policy thinking—beyond desires for “commanding heights” in public policy—by making deliberate distributions supplementary to devoted facilitations.

How might facilitation of progressive distributions work at various levels of society in the general human interest to foster social evolution?— especially as creative organizations? I would propose a manifold sense of organizational thinking as keynote in a “molecular” theory of social life, from community-based human development through cosmopolitan life—or, as I prefer, multipolitan global life: a sense of global pluralism without any singularity of idealization for global society other than an organizationally molecular theory of evolutionary pluralism.

Indeed, that’s quite a context. What’s at stake is a very large area of studies (if I may): the relation of deliberative democracy to public policy, global-level problems and new world order. It’s so much! The world is so much—too much? Yet, we step out the door each morning anyway, and we do what we can.

So, I hope to stay oriented by the boundaries of a few influences which might exemplify issues of critical reading and learning that will carry over into my sense of working “beyond” Habermas, but with genuine appreciation of his recent political work.

The 55 themes or key concepts—emergent aspects of some recent reading—are organized into 6 topic areas:

  • Individual Well-being
  • Lifeworld & Society
  • Instituting Progressive Policy
  • Politics of Culture
  • Critique of Statism

Of special interest—primary themes among the above areas—are:

  • capability
  • opportunity
  • normativity
  • work
  • Amartya Sen
  • structural reform
  • what’s “cultural” vs. what’s “economic”
  • equality
  • cultural justice

So, for expediency, I’ll set out to limit my discussion to these 9 themes, beginning with capability.

[August, 2013: The discussion didn’t happen, but the idea of this remains important to me.]

Also: This discussion is associated with the “advancing community” area of