25 October 2011

Measuring social progress—the Canadian Index of Wellbeing

Released last Thursday, the Canadian Index of Wellbeing (CIW) illustrates yet again the folly of using the GDP as a measure of social progress. The GDP is, after all, simply a measure of how much stuff we buy and sell. It doesn't cover areas of our lives such as community vitality, democratic engagement, education, the environment, health, leisure and culture, and time use, all of which are included in the CIW, along with living standards.

The overall trend is quite different from that of the GDP as shown in the attached graph. While our GDP has increased 31 per cent over the period from 1984-2008, our quality of life has increased only 11 per cent. Although our wellbeing improved in a number of areas, we lost ground in other areas including the environment.

Furthermore, the GDP hides some disturbing trends. For example, while Canadians are on average better off in terms of income and wealth, inequality of both has increased.

The CIW is discussed in detail in the report "How are Canadians Really doing?" which can be found here. If you are interested in a comprehensive picture of the trends in Canadians' overall quality of life, the report makes for an intriguing read.

As the CIW website says, "For the first time in our country’s history, we have a transparent picture of how our quality of life—in all of its many dimensions—is changing." Here is a powerful instrument to inform social and economic policy. We will be foolish if we don't take advantage of it to improve Canadians lives.

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