June 4, 2012
A New Paradigm To Measure Welfare
Although the GDP (gross domestic product) of a nation by definition should not be an indicator of a nation's overall state of welfare of individual wellbeing, in this day and age it unfortunately often is. Originator Simon Kuznets had no intention for GDP to be a clear measure of the sustainable health of the individuals that occupy a particular nation but it has appeared to have evolved that way. GDP today refers to measuring the economic wealth of a nation and it is also associated with the standard of living within that nation.
Generally speaking the higher the wealth of that nation and the higher the economic activity the higher the 'global rank' referring to the standard of living of that country will be. GDP is primarily measured via 3 methods which all revolve around economic activity and exchange. The causal link we may make here is that although not intended the economic activity of that country is a measurement of welfare and wellbeing. This appears slightly absurd and economy should not be the sole measurement of a groups or an individual's status of (internal or external) health, welfare or wellbeing. The concept of consumerism and trade exports and imports, and overall incomes should not be responsible for measuring the health and well being of people. This article may appear repetitive and it is; for this is a grand problem on a socio-economic scale and through repetition we have the ability to learn mastery. Within this context the mastery comes in the ability to conceptualize a new paradigm of managing the health of people. GDP provides us with a false understanding of how people feel, their physiological and psychological health, how they live and their overall personal, interpersonal and relational welfare.
The sum of the wealth of a nation or area cannot possibly equate to the indicative welfare and wellbeing of the individuals of that nation or area. When a few select individuals spend, consume or earn on the behalf of the vast majority that don't contribute (in a way that GDP would consider valuable and worthy) to the GDP of that nation we may actually observe an unfair balance. One may also assume that if material consumption, spending and average wages are high, then the physical and psychological wellbeing and welfare of that group is also high, this correlation may be the case for very few of those individual's but not a realistic representation for all members of that nation or area. An average is not a true indication of an overarching reality and a true representation of the actual happenings, which are occurring for the majority of the members within that nation. When we also throw the concept of credit and financing in to the equation we find that a false sense of security or personal welfare may also be present. Credit provides many with the false sense of “financial freedom” or control. So whilst contributing to GDP (as such), in reality it ultimately contributes to a horrid cycle of debt, which can rarely be balanced or repaid. While GDP may show the wealth of the nation as a working whole and may be useful on a comparative basis to other nations, it is a poor indicator of the wealth and welfare of the individuals within that nation or area and the way they live day to day. The purpose of this article is to bring awareness to the fact that GDP does and cannot be a true indicate of human welfare. If used correctly though GDP has a useful place within today's social context and within our current sociocultural operating system. Used correctly it would only be a marker of monetary wealth of a nation and nothing more.
Social inequity (unfortunately) lies at the heart of economic doctrine. It is a natural by-product of the social system/s we currently adhere to. We must move beyond measurements of economic values to determine human welfare if we actually want to alleviate human suffering and progress as a humanity towards social homeostasis. Human progression is a breaking issue and a discussion in and of itself, which has the ability to rest outside the current discourse surrounding GDP and human welfare. A thought to take away from this area of concern is that our social values surrounding 'human progression' as a measurement of advancement as a species must include the prioritization of human and environmental welfare and integrity over economics and financial doctrines.
Currently our focus as a humanity is clearly economic growth, other social issues trail behind. I am not naive to believe that all people wish to alleviate human suffering, for the suffering of many and the prioritization of a monetary system and a Capitalist economic model serves the selfish and indoctrinated interests of many, what I am suggesting is that we recognize the ABSOLUTE NEED for change within this system and in fact move eventually to alter the current system entirely. We would begin with a transitory phase where the system remains intact but with the application of substantial and meaningful change within. These changes may include: altering the way economic activity is conducted, social reform, the altering of legislation surrounding privatized industry and the redistribution of power and wealth are a start. We also require new measurements of human welfare. Rather than categorizing nations in to tight boxes such as 1st world / 3rd world / developed or developing nations and then measuring their social and economic status by their GDP we perhaps need to move far beyond economics and look at real, tangible life sustaining markers of health and wellbeing. If we cannot address basic physical markers of health as simply outlined by Maslows hierarchy of needs how can we possibly develop a society free of mass social and individualized pathology?
Perhaps some of these markers for the integrity and overall welfare of a nation or geographical area may include the following: (please note that the markers below may vary in depth and detail and are only a guide. Also note that some of the markers would be more applicable to some areas than others and that some of the markers would be more suitable during a period of transition away from the current system of operation and other markers would be an accurate measurement once we have potentially transitioned away from current cultural practices. Either way constant evolution of these 'health markers' would be applied and be dependent on time, place, era, cultural evolution, needs of the Earth and the needs of people).
-Integrity, cleanliness and amount of drinking water available within that region-Integrity and advancement of Sewerage and sanitation systems.
-Integrity of agricultural land available for food production - in other words, the removal of synthetics and harmful chemicals to grow our life sustaining foods. This may be measured by amount of 'clean' agricultural land available per total area or populous. Also note that this would include 'vertical land' available for growing life sustaining healthy food.
-Level of poverty that plagues that nation
-Level of homelessness
-Debt of that entire nation
-Level or amount of individuals actively and voluntarily engrossed in educative practices
-Is the nation currently engaged in war - war has the potential to place extreme stress emotionally, psychologically and financially on social support systems, governments and families alike. As local resources are stretched, the cost benefit of war or nations favours the act of war itself. The side effects of placing energy, input, resources and human power in to war leave local health systems, education and communities suffering both practically and existentially. The only ones to benefit from war are those part of the privatized sector who supply the war with weaponry and who may have a vested financial interest in that particular war. Basically during a transitory phase of moving away from our current social system this identification process would involve a redirection of financial input towards social health rather than weapons of destruction and the extreme costs associated with war.
-Amount of free medical treatment available to the general public & how this is structured
-General level of collaboration executed by groups and individuals - quite hard to measure and arbitrary in a sense but with more sophisticated and educated brain storming what this marker provides us with is the ability to move away from a selfish platform of pursuit; and one which promotes a healthy existence and an inner feeling of outward success through collaboration.
-Local level of productivity and output efficiency - this would include levels of unemployment, involvement from individuals and groups towards assisting their local community grow, prosper and develop; A healthy collaborative social existence.
-Suicide rates - this is quite complex, clearly individuals to do not choose to commit suicide purely for reasons related to finance or economics. What suicide rates is a marker of is the overall health of that community. As a society we NEED to ask questions as to why this is occurring, we must connect the dots and allegorically asses why both personally and interpersonally people are deeply suffering.
-Level of relative technological innovations - this is an interesting marker, and again involves the global society working together as a collaborative whole. The aim here is to move towards an era where technology is not limited or hindered by monetary restraints or concepts such as systemic planned obsolescence. The aim is to move to a space and place where technology is not used to create profits for a select few but rather technology is used for the sole purposes of advancing human progression for the greater good of all, whilst simultaneously preserving and maintaining the natural environment.
-Amount of natural landscape that has a world heritage listing - this is purely linked to the respect a nation has for its natural environment and surroundings and is intrinsically linked to a higher understanding; simply put "one should not s**t where they sleep. It has been documented multiple times over that if a community or an individual is placed in a healthy environment the opportunity to grow, develop and prosper positively is significantly heightened. Groups or individuals who live amongst severe environmental degradation or are surrounded by violence or various forms of pathology will physically and conceptually experience a deeply negative experience in relation to their level of health and wellbeing.
-Level of social pathology - again the assumption here is not suggesting that the level of monetary wealth one obtains determines psychological health. Rather this is an opportunity to look beyond economics and as a globally connected social organism (society) look at the various reasons as to why people are suffering and attempt to alleviate them through recognizing the ecological connectedness of life.
-Legal matters processed - the motivation behind this marker is to move away from a litigious society and promote equity, social justice, fairness and collaboration through action and survival. The need for complex and unnecessary legislation (which favours a selfish way of life rather than a collaborative way of life) would slowly be removed and the goal is to create social homeostasis so that the terms: developed nation / underdeveloped nation would eventually be non-existent and have no meaning attached to it. In order to achieve this (in part) a nation must not be entangled in complex litigious practices, our overall values as a society must shift and be re-prioritized towards an inclusive, giving, selfless and collaborative society.
Is this process pressing, complex, highly correlated and integrative? Yes, but it is also very achievable. A strong ideological shift in the way we conduct our lives and a tremendous shift in our value systems that revolve around collaboration and reliance upon each other (or currently rather a lack thereof) is required in order to break the constraints of current system parameters. As a society we could gauge what people want by simply listening, observing and recording. What is it that truly makes people happy? And rather than simply dismissing what perhaps the majority are seeking because the current system has no room within it for those wants and needs, we would actually look at changing our value systems which are entrenched within this limited social model of operation. This model truly shifts from a 'selfish society' to a more inclusive and reliant society. It is necessary for countries, areas and various cultural groups to work collaboratively to achieve overall and relative health for us the people and the natural environment (including all of its inhabitants). This means the people NEED to also be involved in the decision process regarding their own personal health and wellbeing.
Let us keep all this in context, I am certain there would be more but for the time being this is a start. The purpose of this article is to invite the reader to think beyond the norm that sets our social standards and dictates where the level of welfare is today. GDP is not a true marker or indicator of human health. There is currently far too much inequity amongst society where minor percentiles of people hold extreme amounts of monetary wealth, which influence greatly the level of GDP, which currently isn't the benchmark for the physical and psychological health of that nation. How can this be? Unfortunately the intrinsic restraints embedded within a monetary system entrenched in economic doctrine and that which is of human focus at the present cannot alleviate social disharmony. We must move towards altering our strategies towards regaining balance within society and clearly identify what causes disharmony to human welfare. It is imperative we move towards a model of systemic health that embrace's and encompasses the prioritization of environmental integrity & balance, human equity & justice and overall social homeostasis.
Stefanos S Sifandos has a degree in Behavioral Science and Philosophy and is currently earning a master's degree in Environmental Science and Management. He works on a daily basis assisting individuals in bettering their lives and reaching a higher inner potential. The Labyrinth of Life is the first of many books, which provide an insightful approach to an ever-changing world.