John Hammock, the North American director of the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative and co-author of Practical Idealists, came to campus last week as part of a Global Initiatives / Net Impact sponsored event. The mission of Oxford Poverty & Human Development is to build a multidimensional economic model for reducing poverty, grounded in people’s experiences and values. We looked at the current indicator of economic progress — Gross Domestic Product (GDP) — and discussed its flaws. One such flaw is that wars increase GDP, because manufacturing weapons creates jobs, increases business investment, and keeps suppliers in demand. But no society wants to truly measure its progress by warfare. Hammock then talked in more detail about some of the more intangible metrics that he is trying to include in the OPHD economic model. Some of these were things I had heard of, but some were things that I completely took for granted.
• Employment, including both formal and informal employment and with a nod to the quality of employment
• Empowerment, the ability to advance goals one’s values
• Personal safety and security from violence to property and person
• Ability to go about without shame, to emphasize the importance of dignity, respect, and freedom from humiliation
While all of these new metrics are difficult to measure, the last three in particular seem challenging. How can a survey (or other tool) adequately measure a life lived in security, where one is allowed the freedom to do what they wish to do, without feeling shame? And yet, those are the things that matter the most to us.
One country, Bhutan, has already started incorporating some of these human-centered metrics into their measure of progress. Bhutan has a “Gross National Happiness” that is aimed at ensuring that prosperity is shared across society and that it is balanced against preserving cultural traditions, protecting the environment, and maintaining a responsive government. While the model is far from perfect, I think it is a bold step to trying to ensure that social and environmental factors are built into our economic model.