18 June 2010

The Canadian Index of Wellbeing makes the front page

I have mentioned the Canadian Index of Wellbeing (CIW) in previous posts as an alternative to the GDP for measuring society's economic and social health. Unlike the GDP, the CIW measures more than how much stuff we consume. Produced by the nonpartisan, nonprofit CIW Institute, the index "takes into account the full range of social, health, environmental and economic concerns of citizens." It evaluates our quality of life overall and specifically in areas such as health, quality of the environment, education and skill levels, the use of time, the vitality of communities, participation in the democratic process, and the state of our arts, culture and recreation.

Unfortunately, the media focuses on the GDP to evaluate societies' quality of life. Other, more meaningful, yardsticks tend to be ignored. I was, therefore, both surprised and delighted to see a report by the CIW featured on the front page of Tuesday's Globe and Mail.

The report, Caught in the Time Crunch, finds that more of us are working non-standard hours and looking after children and seniors, while fewer of us are able to participate in social activities. The result is poorer physical and mental health and less satisfaction with the quality of our lives. The report offers a number of public policy suggestions for improving our work-life balance.

The publicity the report and the index have received is a healthy sign that Canadians are looking for better ways of measuring our quality of life than the one-dimensional GDP. Roy Romanow, chairman of the advisory board of the CIW, says he hopes this report and others in the series will complement the GDP in measuring Canadians' well-being. I hope the CIW will do much more than that. I hope it will relegate the GDP to nothing more than the measurement of national income it was originally intended to be.

As the inventor of the GDP, Nobel Prize winning economist Simon Kuznets, warned, “Distinctions must be kept in mind between quantity and quality of growth, between its costs and return, and between the short and the long run. Goals for ‘more’ growth should specify more growth of what and for what.” The GDP cannot make those critical distinctions. The CIW does.

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