Is the Gdp (Gross domestic product) a correct way to measure the progress of a nation? The problem is well known to statisticians and economists, with controversies that you can read in wikipedia and in many papers. Even the United Nations through its agency Undp, has launched a few years ago a new indicator, the Human Development Index, which takes into consideration not only the economic wealth, but also education and life expectancy.
In recent times, the Gdp problem is becoming more and more political and not only statistical. For many reasons:

  1. The revolution in the Gdp rankings due to the development of countries like China, which in the year 2005 for the first time has a bigger Gdp than Italy and will soon overgrow other G7 countries like Canada. But the meaning of this overtaking is debatable, considering that the per capita income of the Chinese population is one twentieth of the Italian.
  2. The growing importance of the environmental problem, casting doubts on the opportunity of policies aimed to increase the Gdp, not measuring the consequences in terms of pollution and destruction of natural resources. See for instance the Report about the economic value of the Manitoba forests.
  3. The striking demographic contrast between countries whose population is still growing fast and countries that are shrinking. According to a recent comment by the Economist, Russian population, for instance, is expected to fall by 22% between 2005 and 2050. Governments do not like to see their Gdp shrinking, but since the per capita is what really matters, even the Economist says that a declining Gdp sometimes could be a good thing.
  4. The fact that the no global movement is getting more and more sensible to the Gdp issue. A recent example shows the trend and its risks. Two French researchers, Jean Gadrey and Florence Jany – Catrice, have printed an intelligent and interesting booklet: “Les nouveaux indicateurs de richesse“, the new wealth indicators. In Italy it has been reprinted with this title: “No Pil – Contro la dittatura della ricchezza“, which translated means: “Stop Gdp – against the wealth dictatorship”. A technical book has been transformed in a political pamphlet.

We all know that the Gross Domestic Product cannot be the only indicator of the performance of a nation. In many countries new tools are under study, and international discussions have taken place, like the world conference organized in Palermo in 2004 on “Statistics, Knowledge and Policy” to evaluate new indicators for decision makers, by Oecd. But it is difficult to discuss in the same time about policies and about the instruments to measure them. May be it’s time to try to reach a consensus on which statistics really are important; non only among governments, but also among the political movements who care for the future of the Earth. Otherwise we risk to discuss policies and accomplishments without any accepted quantitative. In other words let’s not disregard Gdp, till we have a better accepted indicator. Don’t throw your compass into the sea, unless you know that you have a better one.

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