Expressing one’s scepticism about economic growth is still taboo in political circles, but that appears to be changing, slowly. We know that GDP doesn’t make a whole lot of sense as a proxy for progress. We intuitively grasp that infinite growth on a finite planet doesn’t square with itself. It’s only a matter of time, surely, before we begin to think more broadly about what we want out of the economy and how we measure success.
This week I came across a long article dismantling the idea of GDP, complete with ironic cartoons about the pointlessness of infinite growth. It wasn’t in The Ecologist, or Red Pepper. It’s in the Financial Times, and you can read it here.
“At the heart of the GDP debate” says the FT’s David Pilling, “is an anxiety that our societies have been somehow hijacked by pursuit of a single data point. No one seriously imagines that simply making an abstract number bigger and bigger can be a worthy goal in its own right. Yet GDP has become such a powerful proxy for what we do hold dear that we find it hard to see past it. Few economists are blind to its many limitations. Most, nevertheless, give the impression of wishing to maximise it at all costs.”
As it explains the uncertainties and inadequacies of GDP, the article is critical of the attention given to the government’s quarterly growth figures, noting how “we invest them with as much meaning as a priest does his liturgies.” Exactly, and the FT is a leader in that chorus of growth-worship.
So thanks for the article, and can you please bear it in mind when reporting the next set of quarterly GDP figures, and give them the amount of attention they deserve.