A more humane way to measure prosperity (Financial Times)

When my wife and I recently travelled to Japan, I was worried about how supposedly expensive everything was. With the blessing of a high-valued Pound Sterling, most items, such as eating out and gifts, were less expensive than in the UK. Of course, with the Pound having lost a third of its value since we were there three months ago, the story has changed.

But what impressed me more was that although economic growth is now negative in Japan, and its output production down by a huge 30%, it’s still a wealthy, high-income, industrialised economy. Brought home to me that GDP on its own doesn’t provide any guide to financial and social well-being of any location.

Simon Briscoe, writing for the Financial Times, brings back the discussion on exploring additional/alternative ways to measure prosperity. I’ve always favoured such initiatives.

I was pleased to learn that Ireland, Australia, Spain, and Canada apply a “dashboard” approach, whereby dozens of indicators are brought together, to see if overall trends are positive or negative. The idea is to create more useful tools to support evidence-based policy making.

The biggest project coming online in the months ahead is a non-profit called “The State of the USA”. Its website will “provide easy access to credible, reliable local and national information as well as a forum that allows Americans to engage on the issues that matter”. Covering the economy and education, health and the environment, families, children and public safety, it is desgned to “help those to assess where our nation is moving forward and where it has stalled”. David Walker, former comptroller general of the US, endorses the scheme, saying: “to be a leading democracy in the information age means producing … scientifically grounded, and widely shared quality information on where we are and where we are going”.

Such projects actually relate to work that my organisation, the Northern Ireland Foundation, is getting involved with locally. The idea is to collate and present data that matters more immediately to local communities, to enable them to be more proactive in setting and realising priorities for their neighbourhoods.

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