Reaching beyond GDP

Posted in: Comment, New Publications, News and Updates

I've just read "Time to leave GDP behind" which Robert Costanza and colleagues have published in Nature. It argues that we need new, more integrated measures of sustainable human well-being, beginning ...

Robert F. Kennedy once said that a country’s gross domestic product (GDP) measures “everything except that which makes life worthwhile”. The metric was developed in the 1930s and 1940s amid the upheaval of the Great Depression and global war. Even before the United Nations began requiring countries to collect data to report national GDP, Simon Kuznets, the metric’s chief architect, had warned against equating its growth with well-being. GDP measures mainly market transactions. It ignores social costs, environmental impacts and income inequality. If a business used GDP-style accounting, it would aim to maximize gross revenue — even at the expense of profitability, efficiency, sustain-ability or flexibility.”

It's powerful stuff, well-argued, and with good background on GDP's genesis and development.  Compelling as the argument for change is, there's so much inertia in the current system as to render GDP's replacement hugely difficult.  Personally, I think it will take an OECD or an IMF to step beyond the GDP framing to something more helpful.  If a body as credible as the  OECD were to set up a parallel system to GDP, to run alongside it for a while, then we could all see its merits and (many) demerits in stark contrast.  I've not got much money riding on this, and even less on the UN as an agent of change which the authors inexplicably favour:

Creating that successor will require a sustained, transdisciplinary effort to integrate metrics and build consensus. One potential vehicle for doing this is the setting up of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a process that is now under way to replace the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).  Established in 2000, the MDGs comprise eight basic targets that include eradicating extreme poverty and establishing universal primary education, gender equality and environmental sustainability.  Currently both the MDGs and the suggested SDGs are only lists of goals with isolated indicators. But the SDG process can and should be expanded to include comprehensive and integrated measures of sustainable well-being.

I fear they've been reading The Manifesto we all Want with a sub-critical eye.

Posted in: Comment, New Publications, News and Updates


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