The Social Progress Index is an alternative to GDP


Last quarter for my Economics classes at Pinchot University I had to work – with my friend and classmate Maurice Ayella – on alternatives to Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Here is what we found out.

GDP is not a good indicator of human progress. As Robert ” Bobby  ” Kennedy noted as early as 1968 :

“The gross national product 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; it measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile.”

Indeed, GDP accounts for stuff that doesnt really make us happy like :

  • Cancer, for which costly chemoteray is needed to fight for ;
  • Deforestation, as stupid trees idling in a forest are turned into costly timber
  • War, as weapons and missiles and tanks are manufactured to kill our fellow humans brothers.

So, we need alternatives are sought. Among the most well known are :

  • the Human Development Index was developed in 1990. Ranks from 1 to 0. The highest being the best. The US are #5. It is a composite statistic of life expectancy, education, and per capita income indicators, was published by the United Nations Development Programme. There is no ecological considerations.
  • the Gross National Happiness was a phrase coined in 1972 by Bhutan’s fourth Dragon King. The four pillars of GNH philosophy are Sustainable development, the preservation and promotion of cultural values, the conservation of the natural environment, and the establishment of good governance.
  • the Genuine Progress Indicator, was started in 1995. This is not very much used but it has interesting points as it talks about various kinds of pollutions including noise or loss of wetlands, carbon dioxide emissions. It is used in Finland and in the US by organizations in Vermont, Maryland, Colorado, Ohio and Utah. 
  • Last but not least, the Social Progress Index which was started in 2010. Very comprehensive, it has three dimensions ( Basic Human Needs, foundations of Well-being, and  Opportunity ) each of them being broken in four components and each having indicators. It is supported by Michael Porter and the MIT and an organization called the Social Progress Imperative. Michael Green’s presentation below at the TED Talks was voted the best of last year.

What do you think ? Should we measure growth and progress with the Social Progress Index too ?

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