1.3.2 Values in the economy

Helpful prior learning and learning objectives

Helpful prior learning:

Learning objectives:

Blue Zones are regions where many people live to be 100 years old or more. Scientists studied these regions to find out why people live so long. In these communities, they found a number of common characteristics that support human health and happiness (Table 1) .

Table 1. Factors supporting long and healthy lives

Connection to others / Conviviality

Strong, positive relationships with family, friends and local community allow people to share good fortune, burdens and resources. Relationships strengthen feelings of security and belonging.

Sense of purpose

A sense of purpose and usefulness in life and community gives people hope and energy through hardship. For many, purpose is connected to faith, but it can come in many forms, including in our relationships to others.

Plant-based, seasonal diet

Plant-based diets are healthier, leading to lower blood pressure, cholesterol, heart disease and cancer. Eating local food also strengthens local urban-rural human relationships.

Physical activity

Regular, low impact exercise in daily activities like gardening, housework, and walking to complete errands and visit friends, helps you stay strong and flexible, and keeps your heart and lungs fit.

The good life

The Blue Zone insights align with other research about what makes ‘the good life’ (buen vivir), where humans are healthy and happy. These conclusions also align with ancient wisdom from indigenous communities around the world. Indigenous worldviews value strong family and community relationships and a deep connection with nature. While cultures differ on the details of what ‘the good life’ is, there is broad agreement that along with having basic needs met, the key elements for human thriving include relationships, purpose,  a plant-based diet and regular exercise.

The good life in Okinawa, Japan

Okinawa, an island chain in southern Japan, is famous for the wellbeing of its people. Many live for more than 100 years. In Okinawa, 'the good life' is about strong social ties, a sense of purpose, and community involvement. 

One of the characteristics of Okinawan culture is the relationship groups called Moai. A Moai (pronounced mo-eye) is a social support group that provides a wide range of mutual assistance to its members, including psychological and financial support. Okinawans often attribute their long lives to these close social groups. Knowing they have a solid social circle and shared responsibilities gives the Moai members a reason to wake up every morning.

Moai in Okinawa

Figure 1. Moai are a group of close friends that support each other over time. (Credit: Blue Zones, permission pending)

Research has shown that being part of a Moai contributes positively to happiness and health. Members have a network to lean on during hardships and to celebrate life's joys. Knowing someone has your back reduces stress, heart rate and blood pressure. With fewer stress-related health issues, Okinawans tend to live longer, healthier lives.

Do you have something like a Moai in your life?  If you do, how can you strengthen the relationships?  If you do not, what could you do to build those relationships?

What is the role of values in the economy?

Blue Zone communities have strong values defining ‘the good life’. Developed over time, these values are shaped by experiences and their social and ecological environment. Values are central to individual and cultural identity, and have a number of roles in society and the economy, as described below.

Values affect behaviour

Values affect our behaviour in the economy, guiding our priorities and how we meet human needs. Values establish social norms, which are expected behaviours that influence our actions. For example, if our society values human relationships, then the norm might be for:

On the other hand, if we value maximising individual income or business profit more highly than relationships then we might see other norms, such as less community involvement, businesses not offering leave, or few restrictions on working hours. Our values inform how we act to achieve ‘the good life’.

Values affect our judgments of the world

A second role of values in our society and economy is that they affect our judgments about the world. For example, imagine that your local government banned cars from the city centre. Those who value pedestrian-friendly cities might judge this to be a good policy. Those who value their ability to drive everywhere might think this is a bad policy. Values influence whether you believe a certain situation or policy leads to ‘the good life’.

People have diverse roles in society with different perspectives on situations. Groups of people with similar interests in a situation are called stakeholder groups. In the example above, groups of stakeholders are pedestrians, drivers, shop owners, and the city government. Each of these groups may have different values, leading to different judgements on policies. Value differences can spark disagreements on economic goals and actions. Including diverse stakeholders in economic discussions is important so we understand the differing values and perspectives on ‘the good life’.

Bike lanes

Figure 2. Values might influence your support for more bike lanes in a city

(Credit: David Pereiras CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Values affect the tools we use to analyse the economy

Values also influence the tools we use to think about the economy. The author of this text began with the Blue Zones story to highlight what we know about human health and happiness. This choice of story reflects the author’s values about community, purpose, diet and exercise.

Every choice that you, your teacher and this learning resource make as you learn involves values. For example, values influence:

All economics courses are rooted in values. Mainstream economics courses often overlook values, giving the impression that economics is value-free. But economics can never be value-free because our economies aim to meet people’s needs within the limits of our planet. This means we must set goals and priorities and make choices, all of which involve values.

How do you envision your 'good life'?

Your values impact the choices you make and actions you take. Reflecting on what ‘the good life’ means to you can help you make better choices as you participate in the economy. These reflections can lead to deeper conversations with your fellow students and mentors about the purpose and development of the economy.

Figure 3. What does your future ‘good life’ look like? (Credit: Tsahi Levent-Levi CC BY 2.0)

Activity - 1.1.4

Concept: Systems

Skills: Thinking skills (creative thinking, critical thinking)

Time: varies depending on the option

Type: Individual, then in pairs or group if possible

Option 1 - Your values and how you envision the ‘good life’

30-40 minutes, including some time to share

If you need inspiration, there are many sources on the internet that list values. Be aware, however, that these lists have been chosen by someone, and may omit values that are important to you. So it is a good idea to think about this yourself, before accessing a list.

This activity is completely open for your ideas, but if you need some supporting prompts, you can click on the arrow to the right:

Relationships with people: How close, or not, do you want to be with your parents, siblings, and/or children if you have them? What kind of partner would you like to be to someone else? How many close friends would you like to have? What kinds of support would you like to give and receive from friends and the wider community? What kind of role model might you be?

Relationships with nature: How do you want to engage with the more-than-human world? Will your relationship be one-sided or reciprocal?

Health and physical wellness: What do you want your health to be in the future? How active would you like to be, and in what way? How old would you like to be?

Leisure: How would you like to spend your leisure time? What activities would you prioritise and with whom? What brings you joy?

Job and career: What work would you like to be doing? What kinds of colleagues would you like to have? How many hours per week would you like to be working? 

Purpose or spirituality: Will you have a purpose or meaning beyond yourself and your day-to-day concerns? If so, what would this purpose or spirituality look like in your life?

Personal development: How do you envision learning new skills, knowledge and attitudes in your future life? How important is it that you continue to develop?

Option 2: Discussion - Does money make people happy?

2 x 40 minutes minimum - students need time to research and then time for the discussion or debate

This is a hotly debated question both among the general population and among social scientists. Divide into groups to research each side of the debate and use a debate or discussion format that you are familiar with to take on the question.

Ideas for longer activities, deeper engagement, and projects are listed in Subtopic 1.5 Taking action

Checking for understanding

Further exploration


Buettner D. (2012). The blue zones : 9 lessons for living longer from the people who've lived the longest (Second). National Geographic.

De Muijnck, Sam and Joris Tieleman (2021). “Foundation 4: Values”. Economy Studies: A Guide to Rethinking Economics Education. Amsterdam University Press. https://www.economystudies.com/book/

The Pachamama Alliance. “Sumak Kawsay: Teachings of Indigenous Peoples.” pachamama.org/sumak-kawsay. Accessed 8 Sept. 2023.

Reardon, J., Caporale, M. M. A., & Cato, M. S. (2018). Introducing a new economics: Pluralist, sustainable and Progressive. Pluto Press. 

Charcoal images for Table 1 created with Dall-e from Open AI.


Link to Quizlet interactive flashcards and terminology games for Section 1.3.2 Values in the economy

conviviality: having strong, supportive social ties

worldview: an all-inclusive outlook on the world held by an individual or group, and through which they make sense of reality and gain knowledge

culture: the beliefs, values, attitudes, behaviours and traditions shared by a group of people and transmitted from one generation to the next

Indigenous communities: the original settlers of an area (pre-invasion/colonialism) who have retained their culture apart from colonisers

the good life (buen vivir): a life that brings wellbeing, with all its possible meanings, to self and others

Moai: an Okinawan relationship group that provides mutual benefits to members

economics: the study and practice of how we organise ourselves to meet human needs and wants in the planetary ‘household.

values: ideas about what is important or good

economy: all the human-made systems that transfer and transform energy and matter to meet human needs and wants

norms: a social rule for accepted and expected behaviour, can be stated or unstated

income: the ongoing money earned (flow) from work or investments

profit: the difference between the amount earned from selling something and the costs of buying, operating, or producing it

stakeholder: a person who has an interest in or is impacted by some activity