Back in 1968 Robert F Kennedy said this about the way we measure progress in our industrialised societies ie assessing the size of our economy (GNP or GDP):
"The Gross National Product includes air pollution and advertising for cigarettes and ambulances to clear our highways of carnage. It counts special locks for our doors and jails for the people who break them. GNP includes the destruction of the redwoods and the death of Lake Superior. It grows with the production of napalm, missiles and nuclear warheads. And if GNP includes all this, there is much that it does not comprehend. It does not allow for the health of our families, the quality of their education or the joy of their play. It is indifferent to the decency of our factories and the safety of our streets alike. It does not include the beauty of our poetry, the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. GNP measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country.."
Like Robert F Kennedy my view is that continued use of GDP/GNP (economic growth) as the major indicator of progress in our society is seriously flawed. Accounts which produce GDP/GNP do not subtract the costs of producing economic growth such as climate change and resource depletion. They are most unlike normal balance sheet accounts, which add income and subtract costs, in that they only add! Any greener government would use a much broader and more balanced general approach and indicators of progress or wellbeing, such as the Index of Sustainable Economic Welfare or similar, which more closely reflect the real quality of life.
Wealth creation has come to mean the stockpiling of affluence, running down finite natural resources, wasting and mismanaging potentially renewable resources like water such that many people around the globe struggle even to get enough to drink and wash. What is worth more to the thirsty and hungry –water or diamonds?
‘Value’ is largely what can be bought and sold if you hold to current mainstream economics and politics. The rich continue to hoard, deny the poor, and build for their leisure, recreation and luxury. The poorest around the globe continue to be unable to meet their basic needs such as decent public clean water supply and healthy sewage disposal systems. In fact the rich (and relatively speaking that’s most of us living in the Western hemisphere) are rich precisely because others are poor – GDP growth, the primary focus, has been very large over many decades and in many countries but numbers unable to meet basic needs are also very high!
We are GDP growing out of proportion to the proper, healthy working of life support systems. These systems include: those that can continually supply rainwater; those that keep our climate in a reasonably stable balance; those that process our soils, keeping them productive; many that keep ecosystems in a diverse state. Furthermore, we are sapping the energies and threatening the existence of the whole interconnected water, air, soil and biodiversity system– yet this is the source of our resources and the basis of our lives and thus is our true wealth.
We are also GDP growing out of proportion to the healthy working of socio-economic systems. Acting on the notion of wealth creation as increasing money flow through our economy has resulted in relatively small numbers of individuals and institutions with inordinate, concentrated cash and property. This inequality and unfairness decreases quality of life and as time passes is increasingly destabilising. Very strange, then, to hear talk about building a fair society from people who also hold fast to GDP growth as their primary aim!
To benefit people and planet, GDP growth needs to pass tests of: efficiency; renewability; respecting environmental limits; building stronger local communities; meeting needs now and in the future; local and global fairness; health, wellbeing and quality of life. This means taking a very different view of wealth.