Last updated 2/28/23
- Most countries use the GDP (gross domestic product) as a measure of economic progress, but the GDP ignores the benefits or harms of how the money is spent.
- Current alternative measurement and assessment tools neglect to include the indelible connection between the rights, health, and wellbeing of humans, other animals, plants, and the rest of the natural world.
- PZI is working with other experts to develop a Just One Health Impact Assessment Tool that can be used to determine the impact of proposed or existing policies, projects, and industries on people, animals, and the planet.
How does the world currently measure progress?
Countries around the world—including the US—use GDP (gross domestic product) as a measure of financial health, and a basis for creating policies.
The US has been using the GDP since 1934, and after the Second World War, the World Bank adopted the GDP as a primary measure of economic progress.
GDP measures how much money is spent in a country. But it doesn’t pay attention to whether that money is spent on something helpful or harmful.
As a measure of economic vitality, GDP ignores whether money is spent in ways that matter. And it discounts fundamental aspects of economies, such as education, worker productivity, adequate social services, and durability of infrastructure.
Additionally, the GDP doesn’t take into account non-monetary benefits, such as volunteerism and mutual aid, or grandparents watching their grandchildren, or the value of strong communities.
It also doesn’t include the natural benefits of our environment—such as trees’ ability to ingest CO2 and help prevent erosion, or the benefits of clean air and water, or the intrinsic value of pollinating insects.
Often GDP reinforces and amplifies systemic violations of basic rights.
Fortunately, more countries are beginning to look for alternatives beyond GDP and economic growth. But we need a global evolution in how we’re defining and measuring progress.
What Alternatives to the GDP Have Been Tried?
Many attempts have been made to “correct” GDP to better measure economic progress.
However, any serious reference to GDP as indicative of rights, health, or wellbeing remains a problem. Social, ecological, legal, and other determinants of health and wellbeing often cannot be monetized.
Additionally, since GDP only measures spending, the concept of legal or moral rights is irrelevant to the metric.
And, GDP will always be a measurement of activity or conditions confined within a country’s borders.
Numerous alternative indexes have been created to try to measure a more comprehensive set of metrics related to wellbeing and/or sustainability. Some of these include
- the Sustainable Welfare Index, which compares countries and their progress in implementing the SDGs while also addressing some of the shortcomings of the SDGs
- the Genuine Progress Indicator, which incorporates environmental and social factors
- the Happy Planet Index, which strives to measure “sustainable wellbeing”
- the Good Country Index, which measures “what each country contributes to the common good of humanity and to the planet”
- the Human Development Index, which measures a country’s “average achievement in key dimensions of human development: a long and healthy life, being knowledgeable and having a decent standard of living”
- the Environmental Performance Index, which ranks 180 countries using 40 performance indicators related to the climate emergency, environmental health, and “ecosystem vitality”
There are also indexes that strive to address the welfare of certain animals in certain circumstances, including
- the Animal Cruelty Index, which ranks “the animal welfare performance of 50 countries selected among the largest producers of farmed animal products in the world”
- the Animal Protection Index, which ranks 50 countries according to their policy and legislative commitments to protecting certain species of animals in certain situations
PZI partnered with IAMECON to research some of the best practices in alternative measures to the GDP (either meant to replace it or to supplement it).
These alternatives to the GDP are a good start, but what’s missing is an acknowledgment of the indelible connection between the rights, health, and wellbeing of humans, other animals, plants, and the rest of the natural world.
What Should We Be Measuring, and How Do We Do It?
The evidence is clear that, for humans to thrive, other animals and the shared environment on which we all depend also must thrive.
The questions we should be asking include
- How can we adequately measure advancements in the rights, health, and wellbeing of people, animals, and the planet?
- What are the best ways to determine if municipalities, states, nations, and regions are meeting the needs of their residents?
PZI is working with experts in public health, medicine, economics, the sciences, and government to create a comprehensive impact assessment tool and related metrics. This tool can be used by advocates, professionals, communities, and policy makers to determine the impact of proposed or existing policies, projects, and industries on people, animals, and the planet.
One of the primary differences in PZI’s assessment tool is that it is based on recognizing moral human and nonhuman rights, as well as attention to interspecies justice and the environment.
These elements are necessary precursors to determinants of health (e.g., social, legal, environmental)—and thus to physical and mental health outcomes (e.g., morbidity, mortality, quality of life, wellbeing) for human and nonhuman beings.
PZI will be modeling the impact assessment tool after other impact assessment tools. For example, child impact assessment tools enable stakeholders to gauge the impact of a proposed policy or intervention on the health and wellbeing of children.
The IAT will be a simple, user-friendly, but comprehensive tool that can incorporate other relevant measures. Some of the elements it will contain include
- Both qualitative and quantitative assessment opportunities
- A combination of structural, process, and outcome indicators
- Measures of rights, health, welfare, and wellbeing for humans and other animals, as well as environmental measures
The tool will be able to inform global, national, and local policies, practices, and budgets. PZI will also strive for the tool to be incorporated into international treaties and intergovernmental organization reports and strategies.
Exploring Alternative Measures to GDP
Life in a “Degrowth” Economy, and Why You Might Actually Enjoy It
Measuring a Population’s Progress
On Wellbeing, Sustainability and Wealth Indices Beyond GDP
Pushing Past the GDP: A New Framework for Measuring Progress and Wellbeing