Forget the GDP

In praise of the “Genuine Progress Indicator.”

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More than a million Americans are diagnosed with cancer each year, and that’s good for the US gross domestic product. In fact, the more we spend on medical bills, the healthier the gdp looks. Back in the 1930s, when Wharton economist Simon Kuznets came up with the idea of tallying the total value of goods and services produced by an economy, he noted that “the welfare of a nation can…scarcely be inferred” from this exercise. And in 1968, Robert F. Kennedy said, “Gross national product counts air pollution and cigarette advertising and ambulances to clear our highways of carnage…It measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile.”

So why is the gdp still the ubiquitous yardstick for the economy’s well-being? One alternative is the “genuine progress indicator” or gpi, developed by the think tank Redefining Progress. It includes social costs and benefits along with raw economic activity; thus divorce, with its attendant legal fees, is good for the gdp but bad for the gpi. While America’s gdp per capita more than tripled between 1950 and 2004, our gpi less than doubled.

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DEMOCRACY DOES NOT EXIST...

without free and fair elections, a vigorous free press, and engaged citizens to reclaim power from those who abuse it.

In this election year unlike any other—against a backdrop of a pandemic, an economic crisis, racial reckoning, and so much daily crazy—Mother Jones' journalism is driven by one simple question: Will America will move closer to, or further from, justice and equity in the years to come?

If you're able to, please join us in this mission with a donation today. Our reporting right now is focused on voting rights and election security, corruption, disinformation, racial and gender equity, and the climate crisis. We can’t do it without the support of readers like you, and we need to give it everything we've got between now and November. Thank you.

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