Guardian: GDP's Shortcomings

We crazy humans.  Sometimes (always?) we set up a goal, or a measure to drive ourselves to success.  But what happens when the goal and success no longer match up?  Well, it seems we just stick with that goal because that is what we understand.  Why we do this is for the neuroscientists and behavioral scientists to explain.  At The Guardian, Diane Coyle uses the UK's soon to be released data on that country's overall wellbeing to remind us of the GDP's shortcomings as a leading indicator. 

GDP is a measure of economic activity in the market and in the moment. So its key shortcoming is that it collapses time and makes us short-term in focus. It counts investment and consumption in the same way – an extra £100 spent on education is equivalent to the same amount spent on fizzy drinks.

Studies have repeatedly shown that the time horizon of the financial markets in particular is ever more short-term. Shaving about 0.006 seconds off the time it takes computer orders to travel from Chicago to the New Jersey data centre which houses the Nasdaq servers made it worth investing several hundred million dollars in tunnelling through a mountain range to lay the fibre optic cable in a straighter line. More than two-thirds of trades in US equity markets are high-frequency automated orders. How has the search for profit so foreshortened our vision?

It wasn’t always so. The term “Victorian values” now speaks to us of characteristics such as narrow-mindedness, hypocrisy and conformity, but it could also speak of hard work, self-improvement and above all self-sacrifice for the future. The list of the Victorians’ investments in our future is staggering. It includes railways, canals, sewers and roads; town halls and libraries, schools and concert halls, monuments and museums, modern hospitals and the profession of nursing; learned societies, the police, trades unions, mutual insurers and building societies – organisations that have often survived more than a century.

Why the Victorians managed to be so visionary is not entirely clear, but it had something to do with the confidence of an age of discovery both in science and other areas of knowledge, and also in geographical exploration and empire building. They made such strides against ignorance and the unknown, firm in their sense of divine approbation, it seems a belief in progress came naturally to them.

Read the full article here.