the trouble with gdp

Posted on 07 May 2010

Here’s a quote from Robert F. Kennedy, speaking at the University of Kansas on March 18, 1968. Someone quoted a section of this in Crikey’s comments section today and with all the talk of resource taxes and mining profits, economic stimulus and gross domestic profit, it’s pretty timely.

“Too much and for too long, we seemed to have surrendered personal excellence and community values in the mere accumulation of material things.  Our Gross National Product, now, is over $800 billion dollars a year, but that Gross National Product – if we judge the United States of America by that – that Gross National Product 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 the people who break them.  It counts the destruction of the redwood and the loss of our natural wonder in chaotic sprawl.  It counts napalm and counts nuclear warheads and armored cars for the police to fight the riots in our cities.  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.”

But money helps, right? And material things make us comfortable. If an economy collapses and government revenues plummet, people might be more inclined to break those special locks or riot in the streets. So should we think more about money? Or less? Or, perhaps, think about it differently?


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