I just read a thoughtful article by Eric Beinhocker and Nick Hanauer forwarded to me by my friend Rich Barton that makes the case for a new way to look at economic progress. Instead of single-dimension measurements like income and GDP, we need to look at prosperity.
My parents are both artists, and I grew up poor. In the 1970's I lived for a time on beans and rice, and I saw a doctor every few years. Today, a family on the same income has access to far better food, more effective healthcare, and the kids have supercomputers in their pockets. Now that I’m on the other side of the divide, I often find myself in discussions with people who are so totally focused on an absolute income number in the rich-poor debate, they miss the explosion in prosperity in plain view.
I’m not saying everything is perfect, and we have real issues, but until we’re weaned off over-simple metrics like GDP, we won’t be prioritizing the right things.
Looking at progress through the lens of prosperity, it becomes clear that our #1 world priority must be education. Only education can lead to good choices in what to do with all those new inexpensive calories (the solution for healthcare), awareness of the environmental impact of new technologies and what Rich calls the right “conditions of invention” to continue the march forward. The stakes are higher than ever — I heard recently that the state of Arizona now plans its prison buildout based on the literacy level exiting 2nd grade.
If you can measure it, you can fix it. Let's start by measuring the right thing.