THE wealth of a country should not only be determined by “gross domestic product”, but should include other factors such as birdsong, sleep levels and access to lollipops, a United Nations advisor has claimed.
Governments should look beyond monetary wealth and take into account benefits which are less tangible, such as forests, a good night’s sleep, and being able to wash clothes in a washing machine.
Prof Anantha Duraiappah, director of the UN University’s International Human Dimensions Programme on Global Environmental Change, said policymakers were “missing some of the most meaningful and simple signs” of successful societies.
He argues that the presence of teenage schoolgirls on a city street, as birds chirrup in the background is an important sign of a wealthy nation.
In poorer countries young girls are often forced out of education, while overcrowded and polluted cities discourage wildlife.
“New research has begun to show that people often value nonmaterial wealth just as highly, if not more, than monetary wealth,” said Prof Duraiappah. “When you wake up to the sound of chirping birds, you are listening to one of the simplest indicators of local environmental health.
“More sleep has been proven to lead to better interpersonal relationships, emotional intelligence and empathy toward others. A crowd of teenage schoolgirls lining the streets of an African town is a rare sight. Fewer than one in five girls in sub-Saharan Africa are able to attend secondary school.”
GDP is one of the primary indicators used to gauge the health of a country’s economy. It measures the value of goods and services that a country produces during a given period.
But Prof Duraiappah believes that social and environmental wellbeing is as important to society as economic production and income.
He suggests monitoring smiles, random acts of kindness and access to lollipops, washing machines and spectacles.
He said: “Without glasses, school kids miss out on their potential to learn, and adults are unable to make the best of their most productive years,” he added. “A man pulling his laundry from a washing machine is more well-off than a big portion of the world population.”
Prof Duraiappah added: “With policymakers focusing on complex indicators to measure societies’ success, it often seems as if they are missing some of the most meaningful and simple signs there are.”
Sir Partha Dasgupta, an economist at Cambridge University, said governments need to change how they quantify “investment” when calculating GDP.
He argues that policymakers should start appreciating the value of allowing green areas to flourish for future generations to enjoy.
“To leave a forest unmolested would be to invest in the forest; to allow a fishery to restock under natural conditions would be to invest in the fishery, and so on,” he said. – The Daily Telegraph