Joseph Stiglitz, a Nobel laureate in economics, has repeatedly reminded us that economic growth presented in figures does not reflect the severe problems we are facing, including climate change, the wealth gap and the ecological imbalance.
“It’s time to kill the GDP,” Stiglitz said earlier this year.
As early as 1968, then-US senator and presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy sarcastically said: “GDP measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile,” such as “the health of our children,” “the strength of our marriages” and the care for socially disadvantaged people.
Government officials, the media, public figures, academics, non-governmental organizations and business executives should come together, pause for a moment and honestly face all the problems confronting us. By doing so, they would reach the long-overdue consensus that we should not equate “GDP growth” with “social progress.”
Applying GDP as the sole measure of a society’s progress and prosperity is problematic and risky. Taiwan’s development has accelerated along a linear model for too long, and this growth model only exacerbates the damage we do to the environment and harms the otherwise inclusive society we live in.
Taiwan needs more comprehensive and objective performance indicators, above and beyond GDP, to define the nation’s growth, progress and prosperity, and to truly reflect the diversity, inclusivity, compassion, friendliness and kindness that are characteristic to Taiwan.
Applying the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a set of indicators initiated and promoted by the UN to measure a nation’s progress, would be a good start.
As early as 1990, due to GDP’s apparent inadequacy, the UN began to explore alternative measures of balanced growth. The UN selected three indicators — life expectancy, education and per capita income — and compiled them into the statistical composite Human Development Index (HDI).
Following the Millennium Summit in 2000 and the subsequent adoption of the Millennium Declaration, the UN established the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), to be achieved by 2015. The eight MDGs were in 2015 succeeded by the 17 SDGs, which encompass a wide variety of areas such as the economy, the environment and society.
The SDGs have since become the world’s “common language” in defining a country’s growth, progress and corporate responsibility.
If we were to continue blindly pushing for GDP growth, we would be intensifying the destructive and catastrophic nature of the linear model of economic growth. This would further deepen the wealth disparity, economic imbalance, health hazards and environmental pollution of our nation.
In other words, if we follow the government-subscribed path of linear growth, we might find ourselves accelerating in the wrong direction.
A few days ago, I participated in a conference hosted by the Legislative Yuan to promote the SDGs, and it was exciting to see public representatives taking the initiative to push for these forward-looking aspirations.
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced countries to pause, reflect and reset, and numerous governments have leveraged this unique crisis and started to push for “green stimulus” programs to accelerate the transition to a circular economy.
The legislature and the Cabinet should jointly lead all industrial sectors in aligning and collaborating with the global community to go beyond GDP and instead embrace the SDGs, challenging the linear economy growth model and transitioning toward a circular economy.
Charles Huang is the chairman of Circular Taiwan Network.
Translated by Chang Ho-ming
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