GDP was an accounting tool that originated in the 1930s to measure the size of the US economy. Somewhere along the way, governments started to treat it as a measure of the health of our economy and human wellbeing—a purpose for which it was not intended.
The flaws of measuring success in this way have been known for years—back in 1968, Robert Kennedy gave a famous speech in which he noted that if you look only at the aggregate number, the US looked to be in fine shape, but he went on to say that:
“(GDP) does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials….it measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile.”
Kennedy’s words still ring true. B.C. has enjoyed the strongest GDP growth in the country, but the benefits of our economic growth aren’t felt by many.
Younger British Columbians, in particular, are being squeezed by the extremely high cost of living. GDP doesn’t capture this pressure, nor does it tell us how difficult it is for British Columbians to start a business, or how long it takes to save money for a down payment on their first home. It doesn’t tell us about the state of our natural environment, or whether our resources are being managed sustainably and for the benefits of local communities.
We need to move away from an exclusive focus on GDP and start measuring what really matters to the health and wellbeing of people in this province. Other countries are already embracing this approach. New Zealand has adopted Wellbeing budgets, which force Ministers to work together closely, focusing on how they could collectively address the wellbeing priorities.
We can do the same thing here, adopting budgets focused on health and wellbeing, and measuring our success with a suite of genuine progress indicators that more adequately capture the real health of our economy and our society.