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October 23, 2008

Economics as the Deliberate Mis-measurement of Life

OTC Fellow Jonathan Rowe talks with the Pacific Sun, the Marin County newspaper, about the erroneous ways that economists measure growth and progress – and the consequences for the rest of us. In the question-and-answer exchange with Don Speich, Rowe explains how “the economy” has become an enormous, media-inflated abstraction that celebrates all expenditures of money simply because they add to the Gross Domestic Product.

Unfortunately, even though we see ever-rising GDP as a sign of “progress,” Rowe points out that GDP measures “only a part of the actual economy that sustains us. We don’t pay for sunlight, or the many functions of the atmosphere. We don’t pay to breathe. The same is true in the social realm. We don’t pay for the help and company of neighbors, or to walk to school or to the store.

“A healthy economy is one in which much gets done without the need for money. It is when this non-market economy ceases to function that we have to buy substitutes. We have to buy air conditioners for lack of trees, gasoline because our built environment is designed to make driving so necessary, and on and on. Increasingly, what is called economic function is really social and ecological dysfunction…. Economists should acknowledge the value judgment that they are making, which is that every expenditure means life is getting better.”

Photo by Vlastula, via Flickr, licensed under a Creative Commons BY-NC-SA license.