Stiglitz (and Robert Kennedy) on Alternatives to GDP

Nobel prize winning economist Professor Joseph E. Stiglitz co-chaired a committee of enquiry for former French President Sarkozy, looking into alternative measures for society’s progress and well-being.  He will now give evidence to the Scottish Parliament’s Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee, on Wednesday 27 February, from 1-2 pm. This one hour video link session is to help inform the Committee of the adequacy or otherwise of current measures of economic performance.

It can be viewed as it happens via this weblink.

Details of the Stiglitz-Sen-Fitoussi Commission on the Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress, which ran from 2008-09, can be found on the Commission website.  This includes the final report and various working papers.

A report covering similar ground was published in 2011 by the Carnegie Trust, in conjunction with the Sustainable Development Commission, following discussions by a Round Table of experts – More than GDP:Measuring What Matters.

The contribution by Stiglitz, one of Alex Salmond’s Council of Economic Advisers, follows a series of three seminars held at the Scottish Parliament on “Rethinking Wellbeing“.  The first focused on the environment, the second on the economy, and the third (on 20 February) on society.  Each topic has involved linkages with the others, and a final report will pull together the different strands to set out some pointers for the kind of changes needed to move in a more sustainable direction.  Summaries of the discussions at the first two seminars are available on the SFF website, and the third will be added in due course.

These were organised by Scotland’s Futures Forum,  which holds a long-running programme of sessions investigating far reaching ideas which may influence political thinking and future policies.  Aileen McLeod, MSP, Director of Scotland’s Futures Forum, introduced the speakers at the final seminar and pointed out that “we all know that we are living beyond our means in both an economic and an ecological sense….we are saddling future generations with massive ecological liabilities….but if we reduce consumption, how do we protect the vulnerable?”

In response to this, Director of Oxfam in Scotland, Judith Robertson, presented the Oxfam Humankind Index to the seminar.  It builds on the work of the initiatives mentioned above, and others, but is radically different in being based on the views and aspirations of people living in poor communities – using responses to the question, “what do you need to live well in your community?”  Top of the list came “Affordable safe homes”, and “good physical and mental health”, with “having enough money” way down at 9th on the list.  It showed how for ordinary people, jobs and money are necessary but they are a means to an end, rather than an end in themselves.

At the conclusion of the third “Rethinking Wellbeing” seminar, the Chairperson Tim Birley read out an extract from a Robert Kennedy speech at the University of Kansas in 1998:

Too much and too long, we seem to have surrendered community excellence and community values in the mere accumulation of material things. Our Gross National Product, now, is over eight hundred billion dollars a year, but that GNP — if we should judge America by that — counts air pollution and cigarette advertising and ambulances to clear our highways of carnage. It counts special locks for our doors and the jails for those who break them. It counts the destruction of our redwoods and the loss of our natural wonder in chaotic sprawl. It counts napalm and the cost of a nuclear warhead, and armored cars for police who fight riots in our streets. It counts Whitman’s rifle and Speck’s knife, and the television programs which glorify violence in order to sell toys to our children.

Yet 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. And it can tell us everything about America except why we are proud that we are Americans.

 A recording of this passage delivered by Robert Kennedy can be listened to on this Huff Post Blog.

[NB as noted on this Huff Post Blog, in 1966, Charles Whitman killed 16 people and wounded 32 in Austin, Texas, and in 1966, Richard Speck raped and killed 8 student nurses in Chicago]