Counting for nothing

Marilyn WaringMarilyn WaringMarilyn Waring is an economist who has critizised how GDP is used.In the article Should Women rule? Sandra Tsing Loh discussses her ideas and how United Nations System of National Accounts and says:

Essentially—and I confess, this was all news to me—the modern system of global GNPs and GDPs has its roots in a 1939 paper by John Maynard Keynes and Sir Richard Stone (who was later awarded the Nobel Prize), titled “The National Income and Expenditure of the United Kingdom, and How to Pay for the War.” Let us set aside the fact that zero value is assigned to the traditional household labor of women, including human reproduction—without which, as Waring points out, the whole system would collapse. (Actually, attending doctors, nurses, midwives, and anesthesiologists have quantifiable value, while the laboring mother does not.) An African female villager’s water-carrying, fuel-gathering, food-preparing, 4 a.m.–to–9 p.m. workday counts as a zero, while a male criminal dealing in drugs and prostitution contributes to national growth (according to how the national income is measured in Italy).

As Waring hammers home with example after absurd example, policies that spring from building national GDPs can be destructive to the planet as well as to humans. In calculations of a GDP, a chemical spill is a good thing (think of the labor and expense—that’s national growth!). A beautiful mountain is worth zip, but strip-mining—now there you have your growth again. Fresh fruit picked off your tree—nada. If you want to create growth, you must buy packaged corn chips. “Peace” itself has no value in a war-based economy—so the value of “safety” is determined by the price people pay for it (a town safe enough to leave doors unlocked gets a zero, while the armored cars and private security guards of São Paulo, Brazil, create growth).