Must we change our measure of progress?

Must we change our measure of progress?


Over recent years calls have been growing to move beyond the growth of GDP per capita as a measure of progress. The UNDP pioneered the use of a "Human Development Index" to move beyond a vision of development focused on the increase of income per capita alone. The OECD's "Better Life Index", developed more recently, is based on 11 indicators deemed essential to well-being both in terms of material living conditions (housing, income, jobs) and quality of life (community, education, environment, governance, health, life satisfaction, safety and work-life balance).

In 2008, at the initiative of the French government, the Commission on the measurement of economic performance and social progress was established. Chaired by Prof. J. Stiglitz, and supported by Prof. A. Sen as Chair Adviser and Prof. J.-P. Fitoussi as Coordinator, the Commission presented its final report in September 2009. It noted the importance of what we measure and define as "success" on the design of policies, and its members agreed on the need to "shift the emphasis from measuring economic production to measuring people’s well-being", and to measure well-being in a context of sustainability.

The European Commission built on the findings of this report in a communication on "GDP and beyond: Measuring Progress in a Changing World" (COM(2009) 433), and subsequently in drawing up the Europe 2020 strategy, which defines a set of targets for a number of indicators that go beyond GDP, and was adopted by the Heads of State or Government in June 2010.

  • But are these initiatives sufficient? Can GDP growth be part of a broader set of indicators without holding back the transition to sustainability?
  • What would policy frameworks look like if they were no longer centered on achieving GDP growth?
  • Could alternative indicators of progress have a real impact on how policies are shaped and implemented?
  • What provisions would be made to ensure the continued financing of social policies and to manage the burden of public debt?

Read more:

Presentation to EU5P conference: Must we change our measure of progress? by Isabelle Cassiers
Report of the Commission on the Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress, September 2009
GDP and beyond: Measuring progress in a changing world, European Commission, Communication to the Council and the European Parliament, COM(2009) 433 final, of 20.8.2009