Thursday, March 12, 2009
You make what you measure
Posted by Duncan Drennan at 09:17 Tags: economics , environment , innovation , problems , solutions , systemsWe have allowed ourselves to be framed as consumers. We hear it constantly – we are not referred to as people, or producers, or savers, we are referred to as consumers. The more I hear the term, the more it bothers me, and the more I feel that referring to ourselves in that way takes away a part of our humanity. It leaves me with this image of gluttonous people at a table unable to stop eating and waiters who are all too happy to keep bringing food as they picture the giant tip at the end of the evening. We are fed an information diet from news to advertising which keeps telling us that we are consumers and we need to consume. It is degrading and we need to reframe how we see ourselves.
Paul Graham referred to an interesting statement in a recent essay, "You make what you measure." And what is it that we measure? GDP – gross domestic product – a measure of a country's consumption. One of the goals of our incumbent economic system is to keep growing GDP, which is to keep producing more and more, which in turn means to continuously grow consumption. So we measure consumption and we create consumers.
We don't measure happiness, we don't measure how much water is available, we don't measure how much we waste, we measure consumption. Imagine how much would change if our leading indicator was the measure of people's happiness. If you want to know, look at the city of Bogota.
To support our current economic system we seek out ways to create more consumption. Disposable paper cups, nappies, razor blades, and more. Even our "durables" have become disposable – replacement is so cheap...and it is encouraged.
We are left with a world spiralling out of control. We put pressure on our environment to produce more and more so that we can consume more and more. And in the mean time we are not getting happier or healthier.
To stop this we have to fight to regain our humanity. We can no longer accept being referred to as consumers – we are people: mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, children. We are more than consumers: we are creators, artists, workers, partners – we are human.
We need to stop measuring ourselves as consumers, and start measuring ourselves as humans.
Some alternatives to GDP are Gross National Happiness and the Genuine Progress Indicator. The Happy Planet Index (a NEF initiative) measures the efficiency with which nations convert ecological resources into long and happy lives for their citizens – their manifesto is a stimulating read.
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Engineer Simplicity specialises in the design and development of electronic products.
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