How do we measure “progress”?

By Editor of SocialBusiness.org

Ted Halstead and Clifford Cobb address the need to measure “progress” in a way other than GNP. How are we to measure standards of living or something qualitative happiness? Surely, some things are unmeasurable. Furthermore, every measurement needs to be accompanied by the question “for what?” For whom and under what circumstances? As the Sustainable Business Forum noted earlier in December, “Standard Gross Domestic Product (GDP) only considers the sum of goods and services produced by a country. As a consequence, even expenditures associated with oil spills and the consumption of alcohol and cigarettes add to GDP growth, but cannot reasonably be said to increase societal welfare. However, GDP has become exactly that: a commonly used measurement for the progress of a state’s welfare.” Simultaneously, Mark Anielski imagines the consummate examples of what kind of individuals would be “good” and “bad” for GDP: “The ideal economic or GDP hero is a chain-smoking terminal cancer patient going through an expensive divorce whose car is totaled in a 20-car pileup, while munching on fast-take-out-food and chatting on a cell phone. All add to GDP growth. The GDP villain is non-smoking, eats home-cooked wholesome meals and cycles to work.” Halstead and Cobb bring light to our assumption that GDP equals progress. It’s important to also challenge the very notion of progress. We see technology as an indication of our progress yet we simultaneously use these technologies to participate in wars that have killed millions of lives. Along the same line, emotional work and kinship are undervalued in our society. In a “Development and Livelihood” class, i once studied an Inuit community in Clyde River, Nunavut, Canada. Most of their transactions are money-free, and thus, would fall completely under the radar of measuring GDP. Moreover, this privileges the work of the dominant order and ignores female domestic labour. There’s a divide between the “economy,” those who work for it and the society at large. The so-called “corporate veil”  shields the poverty and inequality.

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