‘Laws are like sausages, it is better not to see them being made’ said Otto von Bismarck. Turns out you can probably add GDP to that list. Last week’s Economist had a comprehensive takedown of the uses and abuses of Gross Domestic Product as an indicator of wellbeing, economic health or pretty much anything else. People have been critiquing GDP ever since it was created, …Continue reading
What happens if you combine life expectancy and GDP into a single indicator? (You spend more on health)
Just been skimming the overview of last December’s report of the Lancet Global health 2035 Commission, chaired by Larry Summers. The report advocates increasing health spending to close the health gap between countries, but the thing that jumped out at me was the practical application of ‘beyond GDP’ thinking in what the report calls the ‘full income approach’: “But while GDP captures the beneﬁts that …Continue reading
“Average national income is a notoriously imperfect measure of the average person’s well-being. The 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico – with clean-up and damage costs of $90 billion – added about $300 to the average American’s “income.” But it added nothing to our well-being. The world’s most expensive prison system, costing almost $40 billion per year, adds another $125 per person. …Continue reading
Why do some (better) alternatives to GDP get picked up, while others sink without trace? Useful new study on political economy of indicators.
Took me a while to overcome my reluctance to read a document subtitled ‘Deliverable 1.1’ on the front page (yuk), but I’m glad I did so. The paper ‘Review report on Beyond GDP indicators: categorisation, intentions and impacts’ (cracking title too…..) is published by BRAINPOoL – ‘Bringing Alternative Indicators into Policy’ (is that the sound of teeth grinding?). The authors come from Eurothinktanks CUEC (Czech …Continue reading
I’m still surrounded by the world’s statisticians (not as bad as it sounds) at the OECD Measuring the Progress of Societies conference in South Korea, where yesterday Joe Stiglitz gave a great presentation. Rather than simply rehearse the findings of his commission’s report to President Sarkozy, he reflected on why criticisms of GDP, which have been around for almost as long as GDP itself, have …Continue reading
I am currently in Korea’s second city, Busan, attending a big OECD conference on ‘statistics, knowledge and policy’, organized by its ‘Measuring the Progress of Societies’ project. The massive conference centre looks out on a consumerist paradise, including a giant Tesco’s supermarket (everything’s big here, giving you that sense of suddenly having shrunk that you get in Tiananmen square) and what declares itself to be …Continue reading
Spoke at a Quaker conference on the ‘zero growth economy’ at the weekend. Quaker meetings are different: when I finished speaking to an audience of 350 people, there was total hear-a-pin-drop silence. Instead of clapping, people reflect, eyes closed, on what they have just heard. And no, even though it was after lunch, they weren’t asleep (well, most of them) and it wasn’t just me – the …Continue reading
According to Otto von Bismarck, the father of modern Germany, ‘Laws are like sausages. It’s better not to see them being made.’ Having skimmed the report of the ‘The Commission on the Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress’, commissioned by President Sarkozy and released last week, I would say GDP (Gross Domestic Product, the standard measure of a country’s economic performance) is right up …Continue reading
Measuring wellbeing – the latest from UN and OECD. But can Costa Rica, Dominican Republic and Jamaica really be the world's happiest countries?!
The criticisms of GDP as a pretty unreliable measure of well-being have been around for decades, but policy makers persist in using it as a proxy for success, in part because of the lack of credible alternatives. Now there’s an encouraging flurry of international activity at both the UN and OECD that seeks to fill the gap. In October the OECD’s ‘Measuring the Progress of …Continue reading