Sunday, May 15, 2016

The Measurement of Success

GDP (Gross Domestic Product) and its nearly identical twin, GNP (Gross National Product)

They're irrelevant when the discussion is about the health of our nation.

"Our gross national product counts air pollution and cigarette advertising, and ambulances to clear our highways of carnage. It counts special locks for our doors, and the jails for the people who break them. It counts the destruction of the redwoods, and the loss of our natural wonder in chaotic sprawl. It counts napalm, nuclear warheads, and armored cars for the police to fight the riots in our cities. Yet the gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education, or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country. It measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile."  ~Robert F. Kennedy

GDP, or the money that businesses transact, has for years been the measure of how good or bad things might be. It's the yardstick used in describing how well we've done, how good our lives might be, and how we're doing in the world of marketplace competition.  It has little to do with the well-being of the citizenry, however, and will be unchanged by social crisis and injustice or during social advancement.

The US is the world's wealthiest country, but not perhaps
the best when it comes to empowering its citizens.
  How might that be?
An alternative measurement called Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI) has been constructed in an attempt to more directly address the questions of progress in quality of life, stability, etc.

Tracking changes in a long list of factors, the proposed 'progress' index gives us a broader view that's perhaps more relevant.

Trends for educational attainment, income inequality, and employment levels are relevant as are environment concerns like water and air pollution. Adding social factors like crime and accident rates adds breadth to the index.

The result is perhaps surprising.  For most countries, both progress and wages have been flat since the 70's.  While the US fits the common world trends for lack of progress, some countries do stand out.  The common analysis, however, is that the process of globalization and world-wide competition has provided little improvement for the bottom 90%.

In our efforts to make a better world, we'll need a better yardstick than GDP to gauge our progress.

"I’m heartened to see the many efforts under way to develop alternatives to the GDP that take into account the health of our lives, the strength of our communities, and the sustainability of the environment. And yet it is no simple task to develop a monetized system that can measure the real determinants of happiness and well-being and do justice to the vast complexities of modern economic life. It may be that no single alternative index will emerge to entirely replace the GDP, and we will come to rely on a variety of indexes, each with its own perspectives, to provide us with as complete a picture as possible of the real state of our economic affairs and our societal well-being. And then perhaps we will be able to develop policies that lead to our ultimate goal—a sustainable prosperity shared by all." ~John Robbins

As we've noted elsewhere, the GDP rise in recent decades benefited the wealthy exclusively.
What would a thoughtful Christian consider important to the discussion of progress?

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