Richard Denniss is an Australian economist and his book “Curing affluenza: how to buy less stuff and save the world” is well researched, clear and compelling. Here’s a taste of his thoughts on the absurdity of using GDP as a measure of nation-state success:
Collecting data on production, consumption and investment is a great idea, but determining the success of a country by reference to GDP is like judging the success of your kid’s birthday party by measuring how much you spent on the catering.
And a few other bits that caught my eye …
On culture vs policy:
those who want to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions, reduce deforestation or increase the ability of people to spend quality time with their friends, families and communities will need to spend as much time thinking about the cultural drivers of the problems they seek to solve as developing ‘policy solutions’ to them.
But redistribution relates to tasks as well as time. When a company sacks administrative staff and pays its middle managers a bit more money to work longer hours, it increases income inequality in a society in which it is often claimed that no low-skilled jobs are available. The fact is there are low-skilled jobs that need to be done, but increasingly we expect more highly skilled workers to perform them, along with the high-skilled aspects of their jobs. (A side effect: this makes high-skilled workers less productive.)
Culture vs economics:
Most of us could work shorter hours, and it would benefit all of us to do so. Our decision not to do so is as much cultural as personal. It has nothing to do with economics.
But in the whole history of economic debate the idea that a good way to create jobs is to allow, or to even subsidise, activities that do harm to people and the planet (sometimes called ‘goods with negative externalities’) is an entirely new one. I am even going to go as far as to say that the argument that harming the environment is a necessary or effective way to help the unemployed isn’t even an economic argument, it’s just complete bullshit.
Voters are increasingly hostile to claims that the economy is growing strongly when their own experience is one of stagnating wages or rising local unemployment. They are right to be sceptical. Talking to people about the average rate of economic growth across their country is no more meaningful than telling them what the average rainfall across that country will be tomorrow. Even if the prediction is accurate, it won’t be very useful: knowing the average national rainfall won’t help anyone decide what to wear or whether to cancel their picnic.
Choices made by people:
Do you want your economy to have a big education sector or a big shopping mall sector? Do you want it to have a booming arts sector or a booming finance sector? These are choices that, over time and around the world, citizens have shaped. They are not choices made by ‘the market’ or ‘globalisation’. They are choices made by people.
Change is possible:
As long as people doubt that change is really possible, they will leave the shape of the future in the hands of those who have so ruthlessly cut away those parts of the economy which many people say they want more of. As Bertrand Russell said, ‘The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt.’
Here’s an extract of the book:
And here’s another: