planning a revolution? contribute to greater net good by doing better
May 16, 2010 8:42 AM   Subscribe

Moving beyond GDP for an information-based society - If indeed[1,2] "A 'Quantum Leap' in Governance" is needed[3] then, as part of the solution,[4] we might start looking past GDP[5,6] and perhaps more toward "betterness instead of business, pursue awesomeness instead of innovation — and maximize good, instead of quarterly profits..."

intent on building your own franchulate? please keep in mind that "economic globalization, political democracy, and the nation-state are mutually irreconcilable."
posted by kliuless (28 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
The problem with GDP isn't that it's an incomplete measurement of society, it's that it isn't one at all. GDP *only* measures economic output. It's not meant to measure anything else. So we have a bit of a straw-man: "GDP doesn't do what I expect it to do, so it's wrong."

Good businesses and good governments have always looked beyond the "top line" as measures of success.
posted by gjc at 9:03 AM on May 16, 2010

more inside? REALLY?
posted by toekneebullard at 9:13 AM on May 16, 2010

Great post!

A discussion probably wouldn't be complete without mention of Bhutan's Gross National Happiness, which has been actively measured for many years, and is implemented by the state as the basic measure of the wellness of the country. I saw a presentation on it a few years back which included a fascinating measure not included on the wikipedia page: Quality of Death, virtually unthinkable as a primary measure in US culture. Bhutan maintains an english-language website with what looks like reams of information on the GNH.
posted by kaibutsu at 9:31 AM on May 16, 2010

Obligatory previously, as a sort of a background.

And make this one of the few multi-link MeFi posts that I actually clicked through a majority of the links and decently half-read some of them.

Good article(s)! Thanks!
posted by JoeXIII007 at 9:31 AM on May 16, 2010

Good businesses and good governments have always looked beyond the "top line" as measures of success.

Sturgeon's Law, my friend, Sturgeon's law...
posted by kaibutsu at 9:35 AM on May 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

I get the feeling some people really like the idea of a single, giant. simplistic metric of wellbeing that the State should concentrate all its effort upon; and think that by pretending that's what GDP is, they can better sell their version. as if it were a replacement.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 9:43 AM on May 16, 2010

I think the real problem, whether you're counting dollars or good vibes, is valuing short-term gains disproportionately over long-term ones. Changing your scoring rubric without bothering to fix development philosophies is arranging deck chairs on the Titanic.
posted by GameDesignerBen at 10:14 AM on May 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

instead of business, pursue awesomeness instead of innovation — and maximize good, instead of quarterly profits

sounds like a Khmer Roughe board meeting.
posted by clavdivs at 10:54 AM on May 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

Given the inherent political, natural, and economic instability in the world, and given how well our current greed-driven and dysfunctional system poisons the planet, increases economic inequality, and generally fucks things up, how about instead of GDP, we develop an ESM, or Environmental Sustainability Metric, to remind us how abysmally out of whack civilization has become.
posted by HP LaserJet P10006 at 11:01 AM on May 16, 2010

...or the positivists history of the scuffed boot.
posted by clavdivs at 11:03 AM on May 16, 2010

GameDesignerBen: The current GDP rubric attaches funding for developing nations to increases in GDP. In order to ensure continued development funding, the state is forced to open itself up to all kinds of bad corporate actors seeking to maximize their profits with little regard for the local people or environment. THE reason this gets a pass from the big world organizations is that GDP is conflated with development. The reasoning is that having Texaco in town will increase the GDP, and thus make the country more developed. It's fucked, but that's the way it runs. Changing the metric would allow one to say, 'Look, we're all for increasing GDP and the overall good of our country, but we need to be advancing in all of these different ways. And Texaco has a long reputation of environmental destruction and exploitation, so we need to be able to work with different players.'

Now, the guys at the IMF have all sold their souls long hence, so maybe changing the metrics wouldn't actually have any effect. But I think it would be a good start, and certainly a good start towards getting economics back to (as Bernake points out) the practical study of how to live well, instead of the study of how to accumulate money.
posted by kaibutsu at 11:06 AM on May 16, 2010 [2 favorites]

sounds like a Khmer Roughe board meeting.

not to be confused with 'cultural revolution' or the return of some ancien régime :P

I'm better, awesome and have maximized my owner personal our own collective good. So you can start shoveling the dollars in my direction at your convenience.

posted by kliuless at 11:11 AM on May 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

Kliuless you may wanna add UmairHaque as a tag as well for future reference

imho, I've been reading these and haven't made up my mind as to how I feel about the concept - its not new, to me Tata as a company exemplifies it, even when managing the tension between minimizing lowest retail price vs maximizing design/product quality and managing to disrupt markets in the meantime

Haque's conceptualizing, while valid, smells faintly of "concept tagging" or "buzzword bingo" - whee, betterness - but I could, of course, be wrong, as I am simply an observer

the conversation on social entrepreneurship outside the mainstream (HBR) has been quite advanced - see Acumen Fund or or Skoll Foundation for examples
posted by infini at 11:19 AM on May 16, 2010

I say we just get rid of the executive and legislative branch and make the Constitution and laws a wiki. Instead of waiting for boring old men to vote for your pet policy, you add it. If it sucks, people will take it out. If it rocks, people will leave it alone.

And you may be worried about what trolls do, but hey; say what you will about 4chan, they get shit done and are consistent in their beliefs. That makes them at least as good as the Bush II administration.

I guarantee funness per capita would rise.
posted by mccarty.tim at 11:50 AM on May 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

Here's an idea: What if we were to find a rather intriguing individual, and then construct a paywall or product around him or her, so that others would pay to live vicariously through him or her?

And then use this model to package and sell other fascinating people, and create a market? You'd buy stock in people you think are cool, and get twitter updates, videos, etc from those people. Buy enough stock and you get to chillax with them at the annual shareholders meeting.

This would use the power of the free market to incentivize awesomeness. It may create a gap between the rad and dull, though.
posted by mccarty.tim at 11:57 AM on May 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

The relevant adbusters commercial from a few years ago.
posted by ceribus peribus at 11:59 AM on May 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

Why not go for the simplest approach and subtract badness from goodness? You don't even need a number. So long as the value of a society comes above "Okay, I guess," it is probably sustainable (as mass malaise, inequities between rich and poor, and environmental destruction would be enough badness to push that below "Okay").
posted by mccarty.tim at 12:11 PM on May 16, 2010

sounds like a Khmer Roughe board meeting. My thoughts exactly! Anytime someone says "reduce profits" they are suspect!
posted by Falcon1976 at 3:10 PM on May 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

Bhutan's Gross National Happiness (previously)
Note that there's a growing GNH movement in the US, including a conference in Vermont early next month.
(Disclaimer: Mrs. Dewd is part of the organizing committee)
posted by MtDewd at 4:16 PM on May 16, 2010

That's a "quantitative leap".
posted by carping demon at 6:18 PM on May 16, 2010

Good post.
posted by carping demon at 6:21 PM on May 16, 2010

Social Returns on Investment as an accounting meme has been with us for some time. In Europe, SROI is often used in valuation diligence when corporations are sold. I've used SROI analysis in a number of business and social policy scenarios.

Quantum leaps in governance could be made if we were able to get out of the "accounting from scarcity" model that double bottom-line accounting represents, especially when the only variables included are finance variables that measure only part of the end result investment or non-investment.

For instance, what is the real cost of letting little kids access unhealthy snacks vs. healthy snacks at school? Most school systems are measuring what it costs to put quality food out there, and then decide to issue unhealthy food to students, instead of healthy food, because "it's too expensive" to provide proper nutrition. This kind of thinking permeates every single policy area in America, and largely in the world.

I think we are evolving toward a more comprehensive valuing of the entire chain of costs and benefits, but it will take some time for this to happen, because the incentives not to pay attention to the whole enchilada are still too compelling to those who mostly pull strings, from high places. Eventually, this latter group will be worn down by coming crises that are sure to come.

Human beings tend to go into "change" mode only when they have to, so expect more of the same, or worse, for quite some time, until most are unable to rationalize their way out of the mess we've put ourselves in over the last 70 years.
posted by Vibrissae at 7:49 PM on May 16, 2010 [3 favorites]

but is anyone willing to say the whole idea-edifice of the nation state is busted in an 'information-based society'? or will we continually have nation-building exercises; something sorta like...

william lecky : teilhard de chardin :: richard florida : robert wright
posted by kliuless at 8:42 PM on May 16, 2010

Invisible capitalism (video from TEDx Tokyo)
posted by infini at 1:38 AM on May 17, 2010

I'm more than a little conflicted about that Invisible Capitalism talk, surely it's just positing some kind of idealistic view of a past which never existed? To use the timeframes the speaker refers to: a "few decades" ago were things (or even the ideological, value-based substrate of things) really any better? If we could "go back" what would make things stay there? I suppose I see a certain inertia at work; wistful reminisces and wishful thinking don't help us understand where we are today, or where we are heading/being propelled. Maybe I'm being a little harsh.
posted by nfg at 6:00 AM on May 17, 2010

Who is John Galt?
posted by joecacti at 6:08 AM on May 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

Who is John Galt?

There's a guy in a brand new silver BMW X5 who parks in my lot and is wondering that too. His license plate says "? IS GALT".
posted by freecellwizard at 12:27 PM on May 17, 2010

i was just reading this on tea party capitalism -- "Is The Tea Party A Reaction To Capitalism?"
We're at a weird point in history, and the Tea Party is a symptom of it. Now, if you’ll allow me to get all Clay Shirky on your ass, we are in a point in history when institutions that appeared solid are dissolving. The internet has thrashed the old information asymmetry, the monopoly on data that institutions used to have back when the boomers were young and new models aren't appearing fast enough. And of the models that do arise, not one is going to dominate. It'll be, for good or bad, a world of choice.

The costs of organizing people has fallen through the floor, so large institutions, while still extant, are going to have to shrink and take up new policies of transparency in order to survive. We're going through a cycle of demystification, so it makes sense that folks are clinging to symbols.

It doesn't help demographics are going bonkers through movement of people, changing birth rates, rates and types of technology adoption, anchor industries disappearing or shrinking, and that this disruption will be semi-permanent because the rate of innovation is going nowhere but up and the price of innovation is next to nothing. This is life in the big city.

The tea-partiers are actually responding to the creative force of CAPITALISM, which despite the temporary straits we find ourselves in now, is churning along with more vitality than at any point in history.

Think about how short the cycle of innovation is these days! And think about how alienating it is to people who have other concerns than keeping track of technology trends. One downside to all the constant tidal pressure of innovation that is our postmodern condition is it becomes very easy to cling to outmoded ideologies (I mean ideology in the broadest sense here, not just politics, but modes of life).

When the world you knew is upended, all you can depend on is your grievances.
here's p.krugman on Going to Extreme - "to the extent that the power of the party's extremists really is on the rise, it's the economy, stupid... That's the message of a recent paper by the economists Markus Brückner and Hans Peter Grüner, who find a striking correlation between economic performance and political extremism in advanced nations," cf. Why Bad Beliefs Don't Die & The Field Guide to Cognitive Biases, viz. The Atlantic's Observance of Confederate History Month :P
This is who they are—the proud and ignorant. If you believe that if we still had segregation we wouldn't "have had all these problems," this is the movement for you. If you believe that your president is a Muslim sleeper agent, this is the movement for you. If you honor a flag raised explicitly to destroy this country then this is the movement for you. If you flirt with secession, even now, then this movement is for you. If you are a "Real American" with no demonstrable interest in "Real America" then, by God, this movement of alchemists and creationists, of anti-science and hair tonic, is for you.
posted by kliuless at 6:42 PM on May 17, 2010

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