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Thursday, April 28, 2011

Why GDP can decline following improvements in quality of life

Standard of living decreases along with declines in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) due to an intrinsic correlation between the two. Consequently, GDP is the only measurement of progress needed. This article will expand upon the connection between GDP and quality of life in addition to illustrating why GDP is the more important of the measurements.

'Progress' is a relative term open to debate and depending on who one asks. However, if the concept of more is tied with progress, then more productivity as measured by Gross Domestic Product is not the only metric a society can attain increases in. More happiness, more health, more freedom, more rights etc. are all gains in life some might consider progress. 

A significant question of possibility emerges out of this divergent view of progress however. Specifically, can progress be sustained if other metrics of progress besides GDP and related measurements such as Job growth are not the only indicators of progress? In other words, can productivity continue grow side by side with other types of progress? After all, people might get lazy when they're happy so having more of other things considered progress might just be counterproductive to progress. This article will discuss other types of progress side by side with GDP in light of the above considerations.

Since gross domestic product measures the total output of goods and services produced by a country, that measurement is a measurement of total material wealth produced for a given year as valued by currency prices for the cost of those goods and services. The first question one might ask is ,if the GDP were to decline, could other aspects of 'progress' continue to rise? For example, if there is less medical equipment, fewer doctors produced, less health care services etc. one can draw the connection progress in health care may also decline along with the decline in GDP if such GDP declines are comprised of declines in health related products and services. The result becomes less progress in this case, and may be further debilitated by declines in production related to other aspects of the economy.

To further illustrate, progress is linked to the economy and the economy is measured by GDP. While GDP is not the only measurement of an economy, it is a key indicator of the wealth available to a 'population'. The less wealth there is, the lower the standard of living becomes. Since standard of living is related to quality of life, a decline in GDP which is a measure of standard of living means there is likely to be a correlation between GDP and quality of life. So from this perspective, GDP is a measurement of quality of life in so far as the two are related. So why then does the question of quality of life indicators even arise? This is a good question.

The need for quality of life indicators can be thought of as a cry for help regarding disproportionate distribution of Gross Domestic Product. To illustrate, if everyone were to suddenly become rich, a great majority may find it simply unnecessary to work, or their productivity would decline in their lack of need to work. After a short while, inflation would rise, GDP would decline due to so many people being rich, and the quality of life would fall. Granted, some may still be motivated to work for love of labor, and other forms of gain such as social status, or even some kind of ethical conviction. However, the principles of human nature tell us, we are motivated by greed and that greed includes greed for a worry free life. That worry free life would end up leading to a decline in the overall quality of life.

So how can this apparent paradox between GDP and quality of life be solved? That is another question for another day. For the time being, one might realize quality of life is merely the call for more share of the GDP. If one is still not convinced of this relationship consider the notion of quality of life further. Love, comfort, harmony, amenities, entertainment, luxury, services etc. can't all be bought with money but certainly can be facilitated by wealth. 

Since wealth is measured by GDP at the macro-economic level, the correlation between the two is theoretically sound. As we have seen, a micro-economic distribution of GDP that is spread more evenly, has a strong possibility of leading to a decline in GDP and thus quality of life. Human nature is at the bottom of issue but who has the time to worry about that when everyone is chasing the GDP?