A Book Worth Reading.

What Really Counts:
The Case for a Sustainable and Equitable Economy

by Ronald Colman
Columbia University Press

ISBN - 9780231190985

“Indicators are powerful. What we count and what we measure reflects our values as a society and literally determines what makes it onto the policy agenda of governments. As we proceed in this new millennium, these indicators tell us whether we are making progress, whether we are leaving the world a better place for our children, and what we need to change.”

Our world faces serious problems. What Really Counts shows how the future will look brighter when we formulate and share measures of both the problems and the factors that contribute to their improvement or deterioration.

Imagine putting the children on a school bus that had only a speedometer for guidance and a driver whose only objective was to drive as fast as possible. It would be madness, yet, it parallels how our world is governed. GDP growth is considered the ultimate goal and governments aim to make it grow as fast as possible.

GDP has its place. Historically, as a total of all monetary expenditures it first indicated where tax money could be raised.

As a measure of well-being, however, GDP is misleading. If there is a car crash near your home, there will be expenses: car repairs to start with, police time, possibly medical bills and legal expenses. All these expenditures would be added to the GDP. While they make the GDP grow, it would be folly to wish for more car crashes.

At the same time, GDP makes no account of time volunteered to raise children or build community. It doesn’t account for the quality of the water we drink or the air we breathe; it pays no attention to the depletion of natural resources nor people’s health or their democratic involvement. Without portrayal, these things and more are overlooked.

Colman describes how, over more than two decades, he worked in Nova Scotia, New Zealand and the Kingdom of Bhutan developing indicators to better monitor well-being. In What Really Counts he chronicles how he and his team collected information about issues of concern to people, citizens’ groups and institutions, how they assembled the information into reports that indicated trends over time and, how they encouraged use of the indicators to inform decisions for improved outcomes.

If adopted, a Genuine Progress Index (GPI) would open society’s eyes. From a darkness where issues of climate, inequality and social breakdown emerge, seemingly from nowhere, measurements and trend indicators would reveal the issues along with their causes, and possible solutions. The shroud of uncertainty would lift and problems could be addressed directly. With concerns backed up by solid information we would be much better able to repair damages and build resilience for the time ahead.

Not all flowed easily in Colman’s work, however. While he and his associates produced thoroughly researched indicators and found broad acceptance among interest groups, the full potential of their work encountered roadblocks at the institutional level.

I encourage you to read What Really Counts. Become familiar with how a GPI can prepare us to recognize and resolve challenges. A GPI can open the eyes of our whole society so that the work at hand is obvious and together we can make the world work for the generations following. What Really Counts shares much experience toward this end.