Mark Fabian's picture

Mark Fabian



BA (philosophy), hons. (ANU); MIDEC (ANU, with distinction)

Contact details

Phone: 6125 6409

Room: Old Canberra House (OCH) 3.72

I’m completing a PhD in economics, but my work is trans-disciplinary, combining philosophy, psychology, economics, politics and anthropology. Hence why I am in a policy school rather than an economics department.

I have two principle research interests. The first is wellbeing and how to adapt policy thinking and design to better serve it as an end. I am currently completing a book that seeks to define wellbeing in terms of whether life is pleasant, fulfilling and valuable. It is written mostly for a philosophical audience, and builds on my two working papers - “The Coalescence of Being: Solving the problem of despair with insights from modern psychology” (under review at the Philosophical Psychology) and “Happiness Research has an Equivalence Problem: Towards an integrated theory” (under review at Philosophical Studies). My PhD explores how to make wellbeing useful to economics. A major component is a critical reflection on contemporary approaches to measuring wellbeing (c.f. my working paper “Mispecification or Mismeasurement: Integrating wellbeing theories to improve empirical precision).

My second principle research interest is hybrid policy design. The term “Hybrids” was coined by Professor Robert Breunig and I to describe policies that combine government, market and community tools to arrive at bipartisan outcomes. An example is the Danish flexicurity system of industrial relations. The market is left deregulated to ensure the efficient allocation of labour, but the government operates around the market to ensure income security by providing unemployment insurance and financing for retraining. Corporatist cooperation between government, employers, unions and education institutions provides outcomes typically associated with community-based delivery of policy, notably a sense of agency and good-faith negotiation. Such sophisticated policy designs can achieve equity and efficiency without requiring major trade-offs to be made. In some ways they are an operationalisation or extension of Rawlsian ethical theory into public policy (rather than just the social contract). Our edited volume - Hybrid Public Policy Innovations: Contemporary policy beyond ideology - was published by Routledge in April of 2018.

I am a development economist by training and maintain a side interest in the subject, especially in industrial policy, the political economy of structural reform, and the middle-income trap. I also maintain a side interest in areas of economics related to gender. I have worked for the East Asia Forum since 2011, which has given me an expertise in Asian economics, politics and development.

At the Crawford School I teach basic economics to policy students, development economics to economists, and the school’s flagship course “Governments, markets and global change”, which is a transdisciplinary course in applied policy. I have excellent student satisfaction scores (averaging above 4.5/5) and I was nominated for a teaching award in 2017. I care deeply about pedagogy and take most opportunities to improve my teaching skills and learn from leaders in the field. I find the lack of attention to pedagogy at most top universities deplorable and consider it a real threat to the long-term financial sustainability of the sector. People will not pay $25000 p.a. to have their tutors say “question 6 is easy so I’ll just leave it to you”, for example.

I also care deeply about making academic research relevant and accessible to a lay audience. As such, I write fairly regularly for popular fora including the East Asia Forum and Quillette, as well as my blog, I intend to write popular versions of my PhD research and our hybrids volume between finishing my dissertation and starting at a new job.

PhD programme


Supervisor(s) and panel members

Topic title

Making happiness and wellbeing useful to economics

Topic description

My dissertation has three parts.

In the first, I examine why economics became interested in happiness, how it has investigated the subject to date, and what it has found. I am largely critical of this literature. I argue that most of the findings are based on data gathered using measurements instruments that yield data that is difficult to interpret without making strong assumptions. Practitioners are unaware that they are making these assumption because of the paucity of theory that characterises contemporary research into wellbeing. The two instruments in question are life satisfaction scales and the experience sampling method. Scales are difficult to interpret because of the potential for the qualitative meaning of the points on scales to vary over time and across respondents. Experience sampling only provides data on mood, but researchers often mistake this for evidence of the deeper structure and dynamics of wellbeing. The conclusion of this section is that we need better theory in order to impose structure on data that we collect to investigate happiness and wellbeing. We need to also be more amendable to old-fashioned research methods that design experiments to test a hypothesis rather than to identify a causal effect.

In the second part, I develop a comprehensive theory of wellbeing drawing on the literature from psychology and philosophy. In this section I make heavy use of literatures that have been almost entirely neglected by economists to date, including from clinical psychology and continental philosophy. There is a many thousand-year old tradition of thinking about happiness and wellbeing that is being ignored at present, and I hope to rectify this. The model that emerges recognises three dimensions to wellbeing: that life is pleasant, fulfilling and valuable. To date, most economics has focused only on the first of these three, and consequently is able to offer only inane insights, such as “religion seems to be important”.

In the final section, I discuss the usefulness of the model to economics and propose ways forward on the empirical front. I argue that happiness and wellbeing are not particularly important to microeconomics because a predictive science is only interested in expected utility not actually experienced utility. However, they are very relevant to macroeconomics, especially regarding what we mean by ‘development’.



  • Fabian, M. and Breunig, R. (eds.) (2018). ‘Hybrids: Taking public policy beyond ideology’, London, UK: Routledge

Book Chapters - Fabian, M. (2018). ‘The Ends and Means of Public Policy” in Fabian, M. and Breunig, R. (eds.) (2018). ‘Hybrids: Taking public policy beyond ideology’, London, UK: Routledge

Journal Articles

  • Fabian, M. and Breunig, R. (Forthcoming), ‘Long work-hours and job satisfaction: do overworkers get trapped in bad jobs?’, in Social Science Quarterly
  • Fabian, M. (Revise and resubmit), ‘Racing from Subjective Well-Being to Public Policy: A Review of The Origins of Happiness’. Journal of Happiness Studies
  • ‘Paying overwork: What it’s worth’, in Solutions, vol. 6 No. 1, 2015
  • ‘What Asia’s experience can teach us about happiness’ in East Asia Forum Quarterly, vol. 8, no. 3

Working Papers

  • Fabian, M. ‘The Coalescence of Being: Solving the problem of despair with insights from modern psychology’, under review at Philosophical Psychology. Available at
  • Fabian, M. ‘A Happiness Production Function: Insights from taking a practical perspective”, under review at Philosophical Studies, available at:
  • Fabian, M. ‘Different Interpretations of Life Satisfaction Scale Data: Is the evidence sufficiently clear for policy applications?’. Approved for presentation at the 3rd International Conference on Wellbeing, Wellington New Zealand.


Book Reviews

  • ‘Happiness for all? Unequal hopes and lives in pursuit of the American dream, by Carol Graham, (Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey, 2017), pp. xv + 192’, forthcoming in Economic Record
  • ‘Stability of Happiness: theories and evidence on whether happiness can change, by Kennon M. Sheldon and Richard E. Lucas eds. (Elsevier Academic Press, Oxford, UK, 2014) pp. xvi + 317’, in Economic Record, Vol. 92, no. 297, June 2016
  • ‘Happiness and Economic Growth: Lessons from developing countries by Andrew E. Clark and Claudia Senik (Oxford University Press: Oxford, UK, 2014), pp. xiv + 277’, in Economic Record, Vol. 92 No. 296, March 2016
  • ‘Why Gender Matters in Economics by Mukesh Eswaran (Princeton University Press: Princeton, NJ), pp. xii + 392’, in Economic Record, Vol.91, No. 292, 2015
  • ‘Measuring Happiness: the economics of wellbeing’ ( by Joachim Weimann, Andreas Knabe and Ronnie Schob (MIT Press, Cambridge: MA, 2015) pp. x + 212 in Economic Record, Vol. 91 no. 294, 2015

Radio and television

Scholarships and fellowships

Australian Postgraduate Award

EABER PhD top-up Scholarship

National Parliamentary Fellowship Program - India

Employment history

2015-2017: Tutor - Governments, Markets and Global Change 2015-2017: Tutor - Issues in Development Policy 2016-2017: Tutor - The Economic Way of Thinking

2011-2017: East Asia Forum (General Manager and other roles)

2016: Policy Adviser, Office of Baijayant Panda MP Lok Sabha, India

2012: Tutor - Fundamentals of Political Theory

2011-2013: Tutor - Tjabal Centre for Indigenous Students

2010-2012: General Manager, Centre for the Study of Australian Politics

2010: Academic Sub-Dean, Burton and Garran Hall

Personal links

Mailing address

Crawford School of Public Policy
ANU College of Asia & the Pacific
J.G. Crawford Building No. 132
Lennox Crossing
The Australian National University
Canberra ACT 0200 Australia

Updated:  24 March 2017/Responsible Officer:  Crawford Engagement/Page Contact:  CAP Web Team