The current round of global soul-searching about our blighted system of economic organization has led to an upsurge of activity in the field of alternative metrics. In France, on Sept 14, Nicholas Sarkozy unveiled the findings of a commission he appointed last year to study new, alternative measurements of social progress in a bid to move beyond GDP. Results of the findings are available here. The application of the findings will inevitably be political and self-serving, but the questions economists and statisticians are asking are vital to policy-making and the kinds of political choices we as citizens make in the coming years.
For many years, researchers have been vexed by the paradox that rising incomes do not make people happier in the long run. A recent book, “The Spirit Level – Why more equal societies almost always do better“, documents the timely and provocative thesis that all social evils stem from inequality rather than differences in material living standards. They ask the million dollar question: Is sustainability compatible with retaining our quality of life? In response, they single out a study from the 2006 WWF Living Planet Report which analysed data relating the quality of life in each country to the size of the ecological footprint per head of population. Quality of life was measured using the UN Human Development Index (HDI) which combines life expectancy, education and GDP per capita. Guess what? Only one country was able to combine a quality of life above the WWF threshold of 0.8 on the HDI with an ecological footprint which is globally sustainable. It was Cuba. Despite its much lower income levels, its life expectancy and infant mortality rates are almost identical to those in the U.S.
Thought for the day: “There is nothing in the world more favourable to genius than leisurely poverty” Miguel de Unamuno.