Business Day: ‘The value of an endlessly expanding GDP is doubtful’

Published in Business Day, 24 April 2014

THE speed at which a country’s gross domestic product (GDP) is growing has for the past 60-70 years come to be considered the most important measure of whether a country is succeeding or failing. But what if our most cherished notions about what makes a nation successful are wrong? What if economists who lead the obsession with this metric are, in fact, charlatans?

There have been some very prominent critics of our obsession with GDP growth.

In 1968, Robert Kennedy noted that GDP includes the costs of air pollution, road accidents, managing crime, militarism and environmental destruction, but does not include the “decency of our factories and the safety of our streets alike … the beauty of our poetry, or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials”. He concluded that GDP “measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile”.

Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy pointed out in 2009 how GDP figures have come to be widely misused: “GDP statistics … are increasingly thought of as a measure of societal wellbeing, which they are not.” Continue reading Business Day: ‘The value of an endlessly expanding GDP is doubtful’

South Africa is dying of growth

[This article was commissioned by the Mail & Guardian in June 2010, but not published.]

We’re all on a ship. Let’s call it, oh, what the hell, the Titanic Earth. We’re steaming along at a reasonable clip, but there are… problems. The first class passengers are sipping champagne – but in second class, services are failing, while third class passengers, segregated behind armed guards and razor wire, aren’t getting all their meals. The ship’s engineers are running low on coal and tearing up the third-class decks and beds to feed the boilers.

The ship’s newsletter reports continuously on the speed of the ship, gossip and the deck tennis results. The burning of the floors and food shortages in third class get little attention.

This is our planet, and this is how we’re running it. The ship’s speed is growth, an economic measure beloved of conservative economists, big business and most politicians, but never intended to become the all-encompassing measure of “national success” that it has.
Continue reading South Africa is dying of growth

‘The climate change bottom line’

Published in The Weekender, 24 October 2009

There’s a widespread and significant misconception about the likely effects of strong action to cut or “mitigate” greenhouse gas emissions: that it will hurt economies. The chair at a recent climate debate in Cape Town perhaps summed up popular perception and prejudice when he said that those who call for a switch to a low-carbon economy are asking for a “huge sacrifice”.

It’s a two-fold misconception.

Firstly, the “damage to GDP” is usually exaggerated, particularly in the US by conservative opponents of the proposed Continue reading ‘The climate change bottom line’