Beyond GDP

Measuring What Counts for Economic and Social Performance

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Metrics matter for policy and policy matters for well-being. In this report, the co-chairs of the OECD-hosted High Level Expert Group on the Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress, Joseph E. Stiglitz, Jean-Paul Fitoussi and Martine Durand, show how over-reliance on GDP as the yardstick of economic performance misled policy makers who did not see the 2008 crisis coming. When the crisis did hit, concentrating on the wrong indicators meant that governments made inadequate policy choices, with severe and long-lasting consequences for many people. While GDP is the most well-known, and most powerful economic indicator, it can’t tell us everything we need to know about the health of countries and societies. In fact, it can’t even tell us everything we need to know about economic performance. We need to develop dashboards of indicators that reveal who is benefitting from growth, whether that growth is environmentally sustainable, how people feel about their lives, what factors contribute to an individual’s or a country’s success. This book looks at progress made over the past 10 years in collecting well-being data, and in using them to inform policies. An accompanying volume, For Good Measure: Advancing Research on Well-being Metrics Beyond GDP, presents the latest findings from leading economists and statisticians on selected issues within the broader agenda on defining and measuring well-being.

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The release of the Report by the Commission on the Measurement of Economic Performance and Progress in September 2009, was a defining moment. During his presentation of the Report, the then President of France, Nicolas Sarkozy said: “In today’s circumstances, this report is important not just technically (but) also politically. It deals with questions that concern not only economists, statisticians and accountants, but also politics, and as a consequence, the whole world”. The Report’s key message was simple: change the focus of our statistics from measuring the size of economic production, which is what GDP is about, to measuring what shapes the well-being of people today and that of future generations. This change of perspective is crucial, in the words of Nobel laureate Joseph E. Stiglitz – one of the Commission’s chairs: “What you measure affects what you do”.

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