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The failure of the ISEW and GPI to fully account for changes in human-health capital — A methodological shortcoming not a theoretical weakness

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  • Lawn, Philip

Abstract

Andrew Brennan (Ecological Economics, 2013--this issue) has argued that the Index of Sustainable Economic Welfare (ISEW) and Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI) are theoretically flawed because, as indicators designed to capture the net psychic income generated by economic activity, they fail to incorporate net changes in human-health capital. To a lesser extent, Brennan is also critical of the fact that the ISEW and GPI are unable to reflect both economic welfare and sustainability. Whilst I'm happy to concede that the two indicators fail to fully account for changes in human-health capital, it is my contention that this failure represents, at most, a methodological shortcoming. It does not amount to a theoretical weakness. Despite Brennan's best efforts, the ISEW and GPI remain soundly based on Irving Fisher's distinction between income and capital. Indeed, Brennan's suggested modifications to the ISEW and GPI do nothing but conflate income and capital, which, if taken on board, would lead to misleading indicators of total economic welfare. As for not reflecting both economic welfare and sustainability, I have long argued that the ISEW and GPI merely reflect the former and need to be supplemented by biophysical indicators to determine whether the economic welfare being enjoyed by a nation is sustainable. The fact that the ISEW and GPI only reflect economic welfare is not a weakness, since no indicator can or should attempt to reflect both conditions. The use of strong sustainability approaches to calculate the environment costs incorporated in the ISEW and GPI is not an exercise designed to measure sustainability. It is an exercise in good economic accounting.

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  • Lawn, Philip, 2013. "The failure of the ISEW and GPI to fully account for changes in human-health capital — A methodological shortcoming not a theoretical weakness," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 88(C), pages 167-177.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:ecolec:v:88:y:2013:i:c:p:167-177
    DOI: 10.1016/j.ecolecon.2012.12.028
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Dietz, Simon & Neumayer, Eric, 2007. "Weak and strong sustainability in the SEEA: Concepts and measurement," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 61(4), pages 617-626, March.
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    7. Martin L. Weitzman, 1976. "On the Welfare Significance of National Product in a Dynamic Economy," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 90(1), pages 156-162.
    8. Philip Lawn, 2005. "An Assessment of the Valuation Methods Used to Calculate the Index of Sustainable Economic Welfare (ISEW), Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI), and Sustainable Net Benefit Index (SNBI)," Environment, Development and Sustainability: A Multidisciplinary Approach to the Theory and Practice of Sustainable Development, Springer, vol. 7(2), pages 185-208, June.
    9. Lawn, Philip, 2006. "Using the Fisherian concept of income to guide a nation's transition to a steady-state economy," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 56(3), pages 440-453, March.
    10. Eric Neumayer, 1999. "The ISEW -- not an Index of Sustainable Economic Welfare," Social Indicators Research: An International and Interdisciplinary Journal for Quality-of-Life Measurement, Springer, vol. 48(1), pages 77-101, September.
    11. Hamilton, Kirk, 1994. "Green adjustments to GDP," Resources Policy, Elsevier, vol. 20(3), pages 155-168, September.
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    Cited by:

    1. Jeroen van den Bergh & Miklós Antal, 2014. "Evaluating Alternatives to GDP as Measures of Social Welfare/Progress," WWWforEurope Working Papers series 56, WWWforEurope.
    2. Bleys, Brent & Whitby, Alistair, 2015. "Barriers and opportunities for alternative measures of economic welfare," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 117(C), pages 162-172.
    3. Menegaki, Angeliki N. & Tugcu, Can Tansel, 2017. "Energy consumption and Sustainable Economic Welfare in G7 countries; A comparison with the conventional nexus," Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, Elsevier, vol. 69(C), pages 892-901.
    4. Andrade, Daniel Caixeta & Garcia, Junior Ruiz, 2015. "Estimating the Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI) for Brazil from 1970 to 2010," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 118(C), pages 49-56.
    5. repec:wfo:wstudy:47188 is not listed on IDEAS
    6. Engelbrecht, Hans-Jürgen, 2016. "Comprehensive versus inclusive wealth accounting and the assessment of sustainable development: An empirical comparison," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 129(C), pages 12-20.
    7. repec:eee:ecolec:v:144:y:2018:i:c:p:292-303 is not listed on IDEAS

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