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After the demise of the bipolar world, certain individuals (following the lead of critical scholarship) working for intergovernmental institutions started to question some of the establishment’s discourses. Amongst these dialogues, the GDP (Gross Domestic Product) index was one. Critiques surmised, this highly influential index was an outdated contraption that had to be changed or at the least, completely overhauled. The idea of GDP was developed after WWI when manufacturing was considered the preeminent indicator of development. In those bygone days, industrialization signified wealth and social progress (of a country). Consequently, the GDP index’s was highly biased towards tradable material production!
GDP excluded, all household works and chores, including the critical task of upbringing future generations! Many other non-tradable activities of enlightened humanity also didn’t make it to the world of GDP! At the same time, useless and destructive rituals were easily incorporated in it. For example, if we dig a hole (say for months) and then reverse the whole process by filling the same excavated soil back into the dug hole, our revered GDP measures and counts this lunatic activity as productive ‘work’! It is such obvious inadequacies that led critics to undermine the usefulness of the index, particularly when dealing with wholesome human development. Mahbub Ul Haq of the UNDP insisted on implementing a new index to address the shortcomings of the GDP. Obviously, measuring only cranked out stuff and connoting it with general human development was a bit of a stretch to many a thinker.
Dominant interests of the modern world system still favor the GDP, as this index bluntly favors capital, which continues to undermines efforts that try to implement genuinely sustainable economic projects the world over. For instance, the production of arsenals used for the purpose of killing human beings, like WMD, etc., are very much incorporated in the GDP, while life nourishing activities don’t make it to the calculus. What a perverted index! Finally HDI (Human Development Index) came to the fore, without displacing the establishment’s favored index of the GDP. The HDI was recognized as an alternative measurement of ‘development’ in 1990. Today HDI itself is encountering serious conceptual difficulties. As the planet’s ecosystem is stretched to the limits, the widely shared assumption that there will be enough resource to go around, thereby raising the HDI for all and sundry is becoming increasingly unsound, to say the least.
If truth be told, there isn’t much resources left on our planet to indulge in wasteful practices. For example, to have a lifestyle of an average American (for all humanity) will require six to seven planet earths! The rational behind the HDI was the ‘wretched of the earth’ could improve their lot by consuming more: mostly by way of increasing their reach to health services, education, employment, etc. etc.! Here the perceptive can recognize the fallacious assumption still operating behind the development index, i.e., HDI saliently imported the irrational notion of ‘infinite growth on a finite planet’! This stupid dogma has now come to haunt HDI. Moreover, just because people have a high HDI ratio doesn’t mean they are actually content, let alone happy.
Other indices are being developed to address these and other problematic issues that are confronting collective humanity. The World Happiness Report is one. This index ranks countries on the basis of pooled results, hardly a scientific approach. Even here, the implied emphasis on increased and hence unsustainable consumption is still recognizable. If truth be told, what the world urgently needs is a solid sustainability index. See Hickel’s article next column and Boik’s on page 41. All countries need to agree on a realistic methodology that will dynamically measure sustainability. Trying to appease entrenched interests and their destructive model of development is not going to be a tenable proposition. Unless humanity collectively and sincerely addresses issues that are detrimental to life and life support systems, its sojourn on the blue planet will be very brief. “Idolatrous respect for GDP, which measures advertising and jails, but does not capture the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages is unhealthy”. Robert Kennedy (1968). Good Day!