Discuss: The Mismeasure of All Things
It’s hard to know what to say when the writer has stated the obvious. Killing the goose that lays the golden eggs no matter what temporary benefits it accrues to ourselves and a small support staff of species is not progress in any meaningful sense.
Putting a price value on everything as in GDP curiously encourages its ultimate scarcity. Pollute a river and the price of fresh water goes up. Great if you are in the water business. Folks might want to explore Lauderdale’s Paradox and the “perverse subsidy” it gives rise to.
That’s a very good point—that GDP creates a scarcity that then fuels GDP. Capitalist theorists have liked to argue that when something becomes expensive, demand for it falls, sending the market to another resource thus allowing the scarce one to rebound. But when something becomes expensive more people want to sell it. This is what happened to the California sardine, the passenger pigeon, and other animals once they became attached to markets. Conservation laws, very early on, sought to isolate environments and species from markets for just this reason.
Wild Connections asked Dr. Tadini Bacigalupi to explore the value of all ecosystem services, including especially natural capital, provided by the Pike-San Isabel National Forest in Colorado. It totals $2,208 per acre! Genetic information, pollination, fresh water and its purification and recycling, carbon sequestration, religious/spiritual and aesthic values, cultural heritage,among other things and all in addition to the values that acrue to the wildlife living inthe forest, are not counted by the Forest Service when it plans for logging or road construction. His report is on our web site at http://www.wildconnections.org/library.html
Good comments however right now I’m trying to deal with a link perversity in my previous post. For some reason “Lauderdale’s” loses an apostrophe, transmuting into “Lauderdales” and thereby misdirecting to a nonproductive article. So I’m going to try again and see if it simply the post or there is some glitch in the comments section.
Same problem but I should have picked up on the obvious solution. Simply restore the apostrophe in the address section ie Lauderdale[’]s and open again.
The “Measure What Matters” movement is gathering energy world-wide. The UN has convened a working group to articulate the design elements of a sustainable global economy for the 21st century (and beyond), and one key element of it will be an alternative indicator set, one that measures sustainable delivered well-being (or what Bhutan has been calling Happiness in its measure of Gross National Happiness). In Vermont, the Governor has issued a dashboard of indicators that do a better job of surveying the breadth of various aspects of human well-being, and the legislature has commissioned the Gund Institute for Ecological Economics to compile an updated Genuine Progress Indicator for the state. The GPI (says the enabling legislation) should be reported for use in budgetary decisions. This is the next step in the alternative indicators movement: integrating the alternative indicator set into policy decisions. Bhutan, again, has led the way in this work. One way to accomplish the integration is through (for instance) a GNH or GPI Impact Statement process for policies. Another: integration of the indicator set with program benchmarks set by an Outcomes-Based Budgeting process in state and local governments. If enough states adopt this approach, the Feds will have to follow.
The author says “people can only evaluate what they can measure”. This is a paraphrase of Lord Kelvin’s statement that “If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.” The author further suggests that “Measuring differently is itself a revolutionary act.”
I say that a truly revolutionary act would be to let go of the illusion that we can measure what matters, that we can quantify the ineffable, even that “progress” - moving “forward” or “advancing” in linear time or technological sophistication - is a social or ecological good.
I disagree, as you might expect. Your position seems at bottom nihilistic. If we can’t measure what matters, and if there’s no progress of any sort, then it’s all pretty much the same and there’s hardly any point in discussing it. That’s a formula for preserving the status quo, not for dramatic positive change.