“The GDP measures everything except that which makes life worthwhile.” This was stated by Robert Kennedy at the University of Kansas 52 years ago in what is known as his GDP speech!
In what was a highly charged US Presidential campaign, during which he was assassinated, Robert Kennedy had further explained that the GDP “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.”
We may use different language or emphasise different aspects to explain the problem, but not much has changed since: The GDP measures everything except that which makes life worthwhile!
Pursuing economic growth as the single most important policy goal is in conflict with the earth’s limited resource base. It contrasts with the fragile ecosystem of which we are a part and on which we depend for our survival.
Economic growth is supposed to deliver prosperity. Instead it has delivered unbridled climate change, fuel insecurity, sky-high commodity prices, collapsing biodiversity, reduced access to depleted water resources or clean air, and an ever-increasing global inequality. Is this measured by the GDP? Definitely not.
The GDP is just concerned with material wealth, ignoring in the process our health, our education, the safety of our streets, the social tissue of society, the state of our families, the devastation caused by all forms of hatred …………… GDP includes the production of armaments and the destruction of the environment carried out in the name of “progress” as well as the television programmes that glorify violence in order to sell toys to our children.
The earth’s resources are limited and, consequently, they cannot fuel infinite economic growth. There are practical limits to growth, which should lead our economic planners to consider decoupling prosperity and economic growth.
This is the context in which Greens welcome the Justice and Peace Commission of the Church in Malta looking beyond the GDP. It is welcome not only because it is the correct approach but also because we have been at it for so long, mostly practically on our own.
The 54 page published Church Commission study entitled Beyond GDP – A framework to gauge Malta’s success through quality of life justifiably argues that limiting ourselves to gauging progress through the use of the GDP leads to a situation where other factors leading to a satisfactory quality of life can be easily disregarded.
The study, supported by EY, APS Bank and Seed Consultancy is a very valid contribution to a mature political debate which we lack so much.
The insistence that we should go beyond GDP in gauging our quality of life is not an exercise in diminishing the importance of the economy. Rather, it signifies the determination that the economy should not be seen in isolation but that it should be viewed within a realistic context. Social, environmental and cultural dimensions are extremely relevant, as much as economics, in the gauging of our wellness, or the lack of it.
A more just economy needs to look at the bigger picture and not limit itself to the GDP to get its bearings right. This is another way of emphasising the need for a sustainable development, a term which is much in use nowadays but unfortunately not sufficiently understood or catered for. Going beyond GDP in measuring our state of wellness would definitely yield more realistic indicators which we urgently require.
Published in the Malta Independent on Sunday: 29 November 2020