26 April 2006

Economy or well being?

Here in Thailand, the difference between a successful economy, as indicated by a few well-chosen economic variables, and the welfare of much of the population is especially graphic. Focusing, in particular, on Gross Domestic Product per head, and its rate of growth, can obscure what's really going on. The failings of GDP as an indicator of social well being are well known and well documented: it fails to account for destruction of the physical and social environment and it takes no account of leisure time. There are other defects, but these are ones that strike me most forcibly in Bangkok. I doubt whether most Thais or anyone else for that matter, would rank maximising GDP per head as a high priority. A successful economy is a means to various ends, not an end in itself. The challenge to policymakers is to articulate what these ends are, and to help achieve them, rather than simply to chase growth in GDP at all costs.

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