The gross domestic product (GDP) — a measure of market transactions — has been the primary means of gauging the economic health of nations for the past seven decades. The GDP, however, does not account for the pollution, crime, environmental destruction and social inequality that often accompany booming economic growth.
In a commentary published this week in Nature, a global team of public-health experts that included Roberto De Vogli of UC Davis said it is time to abandon the GDP in favor of benchmarks that bring environmental and social health on par with economic progress.
“The successor to the GDP should be a new set of metrics that integrates current knowledge of how ecology, economics, psychology and sociology collectively contribute to establishing and measuring sustainable well-being,” the team wrote.
More than a dozen alternative measures of progress have been developed, the authors explained. Some adjust economic measures for factors such as household work, income distribution, pollution and the depletion of natural capital; others rely on surveys of life satisfaction; still others combine indicators such as health, income and living conditions.
The authors said that work underway as part of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals should be used to guide the process of identifying and adopting better measures of what makes life worthwhile. Failing to do so, they wrote, will “condone growing inequality and the continued destruction of the natural capital on which all life on the planet depends.”
The commentary is available online at www.nature.com.
In addition to De Vogli, the authors were Robert Costanza and Ida Kubiszewski of the Australian National University, Enrico Giovannini of the University of Rome Tor Vergata, Hunter Lovins of Natural Capital Solutions in Colorado, Jacqueline McGlade of the University College London, Kate Pickett of the University of York in the U.K., Kristín Vala Ragnarsdóttir of the University of Iceland, Debra Roberts of the eThekwini Municipality in South Africa and Richard Wilkinson of the University of Nottingham in the U.K.