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A High-Stakes Shift: Turning the Tide From GDP to New Prosperity Indicators

Listed author(s):
  • Isabelle CASSIERS


    (UNIVERSITE CATHOLIQUE DE LOUVAIN, Institut de Recherches Economiques et Sociales (IRES) and Institut d'analyse du changement dans l'histoire et les sociétés contemporaines (IACCHOS), and FNRS)

  • Géraldine THIRY


    (Collège d’études mondiales, Fondation Maison des Science de l’Homme, Paris)

For more than half a century, Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has been viewed as the dominant indicator of economic and social progress. Its visibility and increasingly widespread use have contributed to the incorrect identification of economic growth (that is, increased GDP) with improved well-being for all. GDP’s supremacy as an indicator is being challenged, however: around the world, its limits are being questioned and solutions proposed for overcoming them. Given the broadly accepted idea that indicators affect reality, changing them is a high-stakes issue. Potentially, re-fashioning progress indicators may change our representations of the world, redefine our ends, and reinvent the means by which we pursue them. Such a change is part of a complex transformation currently taking place in our economic, social, political ideological systems. The four sections of this paper put forward the argument that the debate over new progress indicators is symptomatic of an historical turning point, and for this reason deserves careful attention. The first section reviews the specific context in which national accounting was established as an economic policy tool rooted in post-war social compromises. The second section discusses the three major justifications for the search for alternative indicators: social goals which economic growth captures inaccurately or not at all; the gap between economic growth and subjective assessments of "life satisfaction"; and, finally, the complex and urgent issue of the environment. The third section presents a concise overview of existing indicators that claim to supplement or replace GDP, dividing them among the three categories of justification described above and demonstrating the inextricable link between methodological and normative questions. From this follows the fourth and final section, which addresses the core questions raised by GDP and the problem of replacing it, and examines the hypothesis that our societies are at an historical turning point in which new compromises are emerging, in ways not yet entirely discernable to social actors.

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Paper provided by Université catholique de Louvain, Institut de Recherches Economiques et Sociales (IRES) in its series Discussion Papers (IRES - Institut de Recherches Economiques et Sociales) with number 2014002.

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Length: 19
Date of creation: 16 Jan 2014
Handle: RePEc:ctl:louvir:2014002
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  1. Andrew E. Clark & Paul Frijters & Michael A. Shields, 2008. "Relative Income, Happiness, and Utility: An Explanation for the Easterlin Paradox and Other Puzzles," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 46(1), pages 95-144, March.
  2. Isabelle Cassiers & Catherine Delain, 2006. "La croissance ne fait pas le bonheur : les économistes le savent-ils ?," Discussion Papers (IRES - Institut de Recherches Economiques et Sociales) 38, Université catholique de Louvain, Institut de Recherches Economiques et Sociales (IRES).
  3. Isabelle CASSIERS & Géraldine THIRY, 2009. "Au-delà du PIB : réconcilier ce qui compte et ce que l’on compte," Discussion Papers (IRES - Institut de Recherches Economiques et Sociales) 75, Université catholique de Louvain, Institut de Recherches Economiques et Sociales (IRES).
  4. Jeroen C. J. M. van den Bergh & Giorgos Kallis, 2012. "Growth, A-Growth or Degrowth to Stay within Planetary Boundaries?," Journal of Economic Issues, M.E. Sharpe, Inc., vol. 46(4), pages 909-920, December.
  5. Fleurbaey, Marc & Blanchet, Didier, 2013. "Beyond GDP: Measuring Welfare and Assessing Sustainability," OUP Catalogue, Oxford University Press, number 9780199767199.
  6. Geraldine THIRY & Isabelle CASSIERS, 2010. "Alternative Indicators to GDP: Values behind Numbers. Adjusted Net Savings in Question," Discussion Papers (IRES - Institut de Recherches Economiques et Sociales) 2010018, Université catholique de Louvain, Institut de Recherches Economiques et Sociales (IRES).
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