Lessons from the history of GDP in the effort to create better indicators of prosperity, well-being, and happiness

Authored by: Robert Costanza , Maureen Hart , Ida Kubiszewski , Steve Posner , John Talberth

Routledge Handbook of Sustainability Indicators

Print publication date:  June  2018
Online publication date:  June  2018

Print ISBN: 9781138674769
eBook ISBN: 9781315561103
Adobe ISBN:


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GDP was never designed as a measure of national progress, prosperity, or well-being, and yet it has become the most widely accepted and influential goal for national economic policy. This paper explores how this has come to be, why it is well past time for a change, and what some of the alternatives to GDP might be. These alternative focus on measuring sustainable human well-being, rather than marketed economic activity – what GDP measures. Because GDP measures only monetary transactions related to the production of goods and services, it is based on an incomplete picture of the system within which the human economy operates. As a result, GDP not only fails to measure key aspects of quality of life; in many ways, it encourages activities that are counter to long-term community well-being. As ecological, economic, and social crises deepen, we desperately need new visions of a sustainable and desirable world and new ways to measure progress that have as broad a consensus and are therefore as influential as GDP has been in the past.

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