25 May 2011

The Better Life Index is a better measure

The search for a better measure of standard of living just got a big boost with the launch of Your Better Life Index by the OECD. The need for an alternative to the ubiquitous but misleading, if not outright dangerous, GDP is underlined when the prestigious OECD, with its membership of 34 industrial countries, emphasizes the importance of considering a range of criteria to determine a country's quality of life rather than just income.

According to the OECD, the index is part of a "larger Better Life Initiative that aims to measure well-being and progress. The index allows citizens to compare lives across 34 countries, based on 11 dimensions—housing, income, jobs, community, education, environment, governance, health, life satisfaction, safety, work-life balance." Perhaps the most unique aspect of the index is that people can weight the dimensions themselves to compare the countries according to their own standards.

The choice of dimensions is arbitrary of course but seems to cover a reasonable range of life quality factors. The index joins a number of other indexes offering superior yardsticks to the GDP for assessing the health of a society, such as the Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI) and the Canadian Index of Wellbeing (CIW). We seem to be well on our way to returning the GDP to the place its inventor, Nobel Prize winning economist Simon Kuznets, intended for it, as nothing more than a measure of national income. Upon introducing the GDP to the U.S. Congress in 1934, Kuznets immediately warned "...the welfare of a nation can, therefore, scarcely be inferred from a measure of national income...." Kuznets would, I suspect, have welcomed the introduction of a yardstick that could reasonably measure "the welfare of a nation," such as Your Better Life Index.

No doubt you are now asking how well Canada does on the index. Well, see for yourself. Check how well we are doing by OECD standards and by your own standards, at http://www.oecdbetterlifeindex.org/.

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