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Is It What You Measure That Really Matters? The Struggle to Move beyond GDP in Canada

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  • Anders Hayden

    () (Department of Political Science, Dalhousie University, Halifax, NS B3H 4R2, Canada)

  • Jeffrey Wilson

    () (School for Resource and Environmental Studies, Dalhousie University, Halifax, NS B3H 4R2, Canada)

Abstract

In light of Gross Domestic Product’s (GDP) well-known limitations as a wellbeing indicator, many alternative measures have been developed around the world. Some advocates of “beyond GDP” measures argue that they are key to shifting societal priorities away from economic growth toward sustainability, equity, and well-being. Is there any evidence to date that alternative indicators have lived up to their supporters’ expectations, whether the hope is for a radical transformation of social priorities away from GDP growth or a reformist vision of better policymaking without challenging the growth paradigm? What are the obstacles to fulfilling those expectations? This article examines the Canadian experience, drawing on interviews with researchers, non-governmental organization (NGO) leaders, public-sector officials, and politicians, along with analysis of relevant documents. The hopes of Canadian proponents of new wellbeing measures have been largely disappointed to date, as no impact on federal or provincial policy is evident. Obstacles facing both a transformative and more limited reformist vision are examined. The Canadian case also suggests that use of new socio-economic indicators is best seen as one product of political efforts to bring ecological and social values into decision-making, rather than as the transformative force that will cause a change in societal priorities.

Suggested Citation

  • Anders Hayden & Jeffrey Wilson, 2016. "Is It What You Measure That Really Matters? The Struggle to Move beyond GDP in Canada," Sustainability, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 8(7), pages 1-18, July.
  • Handle: RePEc:gam:jsusta:v:8:y:2016:i:7:p:623-:d:73277
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. repec:cup:apsrev:v:90:y:1996:i:03:p:475-487_20 is not listed on IDEAS
    2. Betsey Stevenson & Justin Wolfers, 2008. "Economic Growth and Subjective Well-Being: Reassessing the Easterlin Paradox," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, vol. 39(1 (Spring), pages 1-102.
    3. Isabelle CASSIERS & Géraldine THIRY, 2014. "A High-Stakes Shift: Turning the Tide From GDP to New Prosperity Indicators," Discussion Papers (IRES - Institut de Recherches Economiques et Sociales) 2014002, Université catholique de Louvain, Institut de Recherches Economiques et Sociales (IRES).
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    5. Dolan, Paul & Layard, Richard & Metcalfe, Robert, 2011. "Measuring subjective well-being for public policy," LSE Research Online Documents on Economics 35420, London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Library.
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    9. Jeffrey Wilson & Peter Tyedmers, 2013. "Rethinking What Counts. Perspectives on Wellbeing and Genuine Progress Indicator Metrics from a Canadian Viewpoint," Sustainability, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 5(1), pages 1-16, January.
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    More about this item

    Keywords

    “beyond GDP”; socio-economic indicators; wellbeing; redefining prosperity; Gross Domestic Product; green state;

    JEL classification:

    • Q - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics
    • Q0 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - General
    • Q2 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Renewable Resources and Conservation
    • Q3 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Nonrenewable Resources and Conservation
    • Q5 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Environmental Economics
    • Q56 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Environmental Economics - - - Environment and Development; Environment and Trade; Sustainability; Environmental Accounts and Accounting; Environmental Equity; Population Growth
    • O13 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - Agriculture; Natural Resources; Environment; Other Primary Products

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