Monday, March 02, 2009

Do We Really Want Dirty Naked People Blocking Traffic?

I mean, it's annoying enough when fully dressed people approach you at a traffic light, once in a blue moon. But dirty, naked people...at every traffic light?!? Even worse...when you find yourself amongst the dirty, naked people, dirty and naked. What will our children think?


Keeping that in mind - our cars covered in bodyprints of the naked and dirty - what kind of economy do we want and/or need? Do we want the kind we have now? Based solely on the calculation of the expansion of gross domestic product (GDP), and gross national product (GNP)? If so, we should ask ourselves what exactly does the GNP/GDP measure? What does the GNP/GDP encompass and what kind of growth does it encourage and/or discourage?

Most economists believe that anything that can be exchanged for money counts as wealth. In the book, The System: It's How the World Works, Andy Turnbull, the author, quotes Alfred Marshall, author of the book, Principles of Economics, who said a little over 100 years ago, "a lawyer's brief is just as real as a sack of potatoes". Since that time, the measurement of these items, and everything in between, is the only measurement that is given any attention regarding the health of our economy.

However, the problem with boiling down the health of our economy to one calculation - GNP/GDP - - is that it counts every exchange or transaction as positive, even when the economic activity measured is clearly negative.

Take the incarceration rate, which has tripled over the last two decades. Every time we add a prisoner to the system, it increases GNP. Then, there is the level of environmental degradation...by omitting environmental degradation from the calculation; it increases the value of the GDP because degradation is often a result of commercial transactions. The 1993 World Trade Center and the 1995 Oklahoma City Murrah Federal Building bombing added more than a billion dollars to the GNP. In addition, the Murrah Federal building bombing generated a continuous increase because of the extra security put in place at the federal buildings.

Then, there is the question of the way we determine and measure value. Adam Smith questioned the fact that some things, such as water, has almost no exchange value even though it has great use value, and in some cases, are necessary to life. In other words, something that has limited or no use may be expensive (jewels) and something that is useful may be cheap. The problem with this type of value system is that it makes it much more profitable to produce useless items (luxuries) for the rich than useful items or necessities for the working poor or disenfranchised. When monetary cost is the only measure of worth, there is very little incentive to protect, produce or distribute "goods" that are vital to at the very least, quality of life, and sometimes even survival.

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