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Does GDP bring happiness? The need for new indicators

Themes : Redefining wealth

A nation is said to be rich when it produces and sells and when it shows a high level of economic trade, a definition in use since the Second World War. Well-being is economic and material and entirely dependent on economic growth. However, using this factor as the only measure for a country’s wealth has been widely criticized. Proposals for new concepts have also emerged, such as a redefinition of the term wealth to encompass more than just economic wealth, and the inclusion of well-being and happiness, as embodied by Bhutan’s gross national happiness indicator.

Aside from the different shades of opinion that the authors and groups promoting these concepts apply to them, we can identify notions such as the satisfaction of basic needs, perceived not as a lack but as the potential for personal and collective development, in the spheres of food, housing, health, education, culture and participation in community life. We can also observe notions of equal opportunities, work and rewarding activities, natural resources and a protected living environment. Social ties and social time link the individual to the extended community.

These concepts are regaining credibility as they take on new meaning. Discussing the notions of wealth, well-being and happiness, even if these terms have become tarnished and polluted by the materialist content of a progress-driven society, has become an important citizen and democratic action, “a deliberate, conscious and collective assumption of responsibility for our destiny” (Méda, 1999).

In terms of public policies, redefining wealth entails the adoption of different assessment tools, a new system and new hierarchy of values, a new perception of “what really counts.”

The economic growth indicator that measures variations in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) poorly reflects a society’s well-being. Constantly cited, governments and the media see it as the symbol of success and progress, despite the many criticisms it has attracted over the last thirty years. It makes absolutely no attempt to address the question of qualitative content. It counts everything that has added value in a nation’s economy as a positive contribution, including spending that basically serves to repair the damage caused by human production and consumption activities (pollution, depletion of natural resources, accidents). Many activities and resources that contribute to well-being, such as unpaid activities, do not have any market value and are therefore excluded from the GDP. The GDP pays no heed to factors such as how the wealth thus created is distributed, environmental costs and working flexibility in most production sectors. Some important questions need asking: growth for whose benefit? What are the hidden social, environmental and human costs?

Green GDP, indicators of real wealth, human development, economic well-being and happiness are all ideas to help society endow itself with new elements that can shape our vision of the world, our values, the path we want to follow collectively.

Actors in the solidarity economy seek to promote an alternative development model. This goal depends on their capacity to bring about a change in representations of the economy and wealth, so that they are no longer dominated by the market and growth paradigm. The twofold challenge is to show how SSE initiatives and networks create specific collective benefits for society, and how they contribute to an alternative representation of the economy. This is why measuring what constitutes a society’s wealth is so crucial, both in terms of the criteria and mechanisms used to measure the common good (what is a community’s wealth?) and of indicators specific to the solidarity economy (how can it be valued and measured?).

11 publications | A pedagogical tool | One proposal | 18 Analyses/working papers/articles | 3 public contributions

11 publications

A pedagogical tool

One proposal

  • A well-being manifesto for a flourishing society

    A well-being manifesto from NEF (New Economics Foundation) which seeks to answer the question « what would politics look like if promoting people’s well-being was one of government’s main aims? »

    September 2004

    NEF

18 Analyses/working papers/articles

3 public contributions