Economic growth, the overriding objective of governments everywhere, is measured by Gross Domestic Product (GDP). GDP is an indicator designed to track total economic activity, developed in the 1930s and 40s amidst the upheavals of the Great Depression and two World Wars. Its inventor, Simon Kuznets, the chief architect of the United States national accounting system, cautioned against equating GDP growth with economic or social well-being in 1934. Yet eighty years on, economic growth is seen as the pathway to prosperity and wellbeing.
However, as an indicator, GDP is a blunt instrument in that it adds up the total monetary value of economic activity, but does not distinguish between the desirability of that activity. It does not count the value created in the non-market economy of social productionâ€Š—â€Šcaring work, volunteering, domestic labour, ‘work for the world’. Yet every car accident, razed forest, oil spill, heart attack and break-in is counted as ‘growth’ because it results in greater production and exchange of goods and services.