The Gross Domestic Problem: what would a new economic measure that values women and climate look like?
Like a doctor measuring a patient’s vital signs, environmental scientists use various indicators to assess the health of the global ecosystem.
As we’ve emphasized at CASSE for two decades, “Sustainability is a steady state economy.” It’s time to add, “GDP is the ecological footprint.”
This once-fringe idea of going ‘beyond GDP’ is finally appearing at the highest level of international policy discussions and inside governments from New Zealand to Wales.
Maybe we should rethink our metrics, measurements, and very meanings of progress, and start reorganising our economies in ways that celebrate human and non-human nature, rather than constrict it.
In sum, it is irrational to hope, against the evidence, that our existing economic system will deliver the development outcomes we want while at the same time reversing ecological breakdown. We need to be smarter than that.
Neither empirical evidence not the application of green technologies or practices discussed in this article support that economic growth can be combined with reduced resource demands.
We live with the belief that we have created an economic system called capitalism and that we have control over it though government policy and taxes. What if the tables were turned and capitalism only describes a self organizing system that creates itself in an environment of surplus goods and services?
The work on progress indicators is all well and good, especially in challenging the political priority given to GDP. However, over the years I have grown more sceptical of the possibility of measuring, accurately and fully, the state of nations and the wellbeing of their people.
I don’t necessarily think all neo-optimist whizz-bangs are intrinsically a waste of time, but we need a Plan B … and this, I think, is a small farm future, which I suspect may well become Plan A.
Right now, due to the bipartisan obsession with economic growth, Democrats look like losers at the GDP racetrack, racist sentiments are fair game again, and the rapacious pursuit of growth is liquidating the environment. Democrats, racial minorities, and environmentalists can pine independently, “Woe is me.”
The good news, of course, is that GDP is an insane metric for success, just as “giant stone heads” was (though to give the Easter islanders their just due, at the time they had no evidence their belief was nuts, while in 2016 we have demonstrable proof that the conclusions of neoclassical economics are refuted by basic science). If we decide that we value happiness, quality of life, and a healthy planet with uncounted thousands of human generations left, we could in principle jettison GDP and do things differently. It won’t be easy, only necessary.