Moving away from GDP to the Wellbeing Index

Moving away from the Gross Domestic Product as a metric of success was a key solution in the first story of our anthology Climate Gamers, as per the extract from the story below:

The game fuelled fierce debates between proponents of green growth who maintained economic growth was necessary to fund innovation into carbon capture solutions and those who were adamant that planned degrowth with reductions in consumption was the only way. However, the de-growthers failed to get political support and the green-growthers failed to achieve growth without stalling progress on greenhouse gas reduction. EarthTender got points when she suggested changing the metric of political success from the GDP to a Happy Planet Index, allowing degrowth policies to look good on the new metric.

His team were now tantalisingly close to a predicted 1.5, but they were up against the elite and, despite their best efforts, were languishing in fourth. The problem was copycats. Copying didn’t always pay off as it depended what strategies were already in place, but DrGetRekt had amplified the impacts of switching to a Happy Planet Index by pouring money into artworks and culture so that each city had a giant construction showing performance on the index. Prizes were offered for the most engaging way of portraying the figures. Progress was reported in news programmes and school assemblies, harnessing the will of the people towards a common goal.

Climate Gamers

Similarly, at the end of The Awards Ceremony, a professor was criticized for his views on GDP. Whilst in most countries, Gross Domestic Product is the way we currently measure economic success, it doesn’t have to be the only way. In fact, it’s disastrous for our planet if we continue to only look at GDP as our only measure of success. Alternative metrics such as a wellbeing index or happiness index are increasingly accepted as a much better metric for 21st century challenges.

The Assassin also covers this issue briefly as per the extract below:

‘The trouble is,’ said Steve smoothly, ‘that as the economy nosedives due to the drop in consumption, business won’t have money to invest in anything. Something mister Darly Llama here wouldn’t understand, being against material values and all that. There’ll be a huge recession, people will protest and we’ll be rushing back to normal as fast as we can.’

Andrew responded in the same reasonable tone. ‘That’s because a recession is defined as a drop in the gross domestic product – that is, retail sales and manufacturing go down. Let’s do a thought experiment. Imagine everyone could get access to what they want without having to buy anything new, so they didn’t need to work so hard.’ He was pleased to see that they all looked thoughtful, except for Steve. ‘Well-being has gone up, but GDP – gross domestic product has gone down. Recession is just a word. Does it actually matter if consumption has gone down if well-being has gone up?’

‘Our last citizens’ jury decided that switching from the GDP as our key metric of success to a well-being index was a crucial climate solution,’ Sarah added. ‘Then we could change the conversation from what’s good for the economy to what’s good for us. The assumption that they are the same thing no longer holds up.’

The Assassin

Our experts have rated this solution as a gamechanger.

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Example: a mighty oak that captures carbon, provides a habitat for hundreds of species, provides shade in winter and helps prevents floods in winter by slowing down rain has zero value in current metrics of success. If you cut it down, releasing carbon dioxide, causing habitat loss and use t to make things it contributes to GDP in numerous ways.

GDP ignores both the intrinsic value of nature (natural capital) and the human wellbeing that natural assets can deliver now and in the future – GDP will carry on growing until you cut down the last tree.

39 Ways to save the planet

We hope this bank of resources will help to educate you on this solution and give you a starting point for a discussion on how to make it a reality. Perhaps your country could be the pioneer in how we measure economic success?

The idea is to replace the GDP index which measures our Gross Domestic Product with a Well-Being Index (aka Happy Planet Index etc.). Some say that when governments are judged on metrics like the GDP, which are based on consumption this does little to promote more sustainable policies that benefit people. For example GDP increases when there are disasters as more resources are used. It is argued that measuring well-being instead would allow governments to be judged on broader criteria which will lead to more sustainable policies.

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Resource 1: the BBC Sounds episode on the Happiness Index (or well-being index)

“How well is your country doing? The GDP – gross domestic product – has long been a measure of growth and success but some argue judging purely on economics is too narrow-sighted. Tom Heap meets ‘chopsy’ Sophie Howe, the Future Generations Commissioner for Wales who will challenge if a decision being made will be detrimental for children and those yet to be born. If the cost and inheritance to them is high it risks getting kicked out. She takes him to the wetlands she helped save from a planned M4 development. Katherine Trebeck explains alternatives measures of national success, the factors they take in and why many feel happier about using them. Dr Tamsin Edwards assesses what an alternative viewpoint could do for carbon cutting.”

Resource 2: David Cameron’s article in The Guardian talking about the Happiness Index

In the article the ex Prime Minister said: “It’s time we admitted that there’s more to life than money and it’s time we focused not just on GDP but on GWB – general wellbeing.”

There is also a great article that discusses the revolutionary impact of switching our metrics from GDP to well-being in positive news.

Resource 3: Videos on the Happy Planet Index

New Economics Foundation video on the Happy Planet Index
The Sustainable Development Solutions Network video on World Hapiness Report Report 2017

Resource 4: Useful links for further reading

  • OECD Better Life Index
  • Sustainable Society Foundation Report on “measuring wellbeing and progress towards sustainability”, read here.
  • Read about how the convenience store chain the Cooperative have been using the Wellbeing Index to measure success here.
  • This article looks at how the concept of economic growth as something to aspire to is being challenged.

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Interested in progressing this solution further?

Actions for policymakers  
Actions for funding bodies
Actions for business
Actions for public  Join campaign (add links) Write to your local authority/MP asking them to support moving away from GDP to well being index. Email news programmes to ask them to report more social/environmental metrics (good and bad) not just consumption (as that assumes consumption is good).