On the Measurement of Social Progress and Wellbeing: Some Further Thoughts

Since 2008, the world has experienced several dramatic events: the financial crisis of 2007–08, the earthquake in Japan, the sovereign debt crisis and the revolutions in the Arab world. All of these developments have called into question not just our current policies, but also the measurement systems on which we base their configuration. What we measure affects what we do. Increasingly, there is a demand to go beyond measures of market activity (GDP) and towards measures of wellbeing. Reductions in wellbeing (following deteriorations in people’s physical and psychological health, community life or employment status, or in the provision of environmental goods) that are accepted in the name of maximization of material wealth results in totally misguided policies. This article surveys some recent and clear instances in which our measurements have gone wrong, and suggests revisions that may translate into better informed and more sustainable policies.