New Internationalist

Why success should be measured in chocolate-chip muffins

December 2013

Britain’s Chancellor George Osborne says the 0.6-per-cent rise in our Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is proof that ‘the British economy is on the mend’ and that austerity is working. Which is weird, considering we’ve also learnt that food-bank usage has tripled. Austerity is working to fix Britain, in the same way that a chainsaw works as a serviceable bread knife.

The government says there’s ‘no robust evidence that welfare reforms are linked to increased use of food banks’. Which is true. It’s probably just a coincidence. I expect no-one needs food banks, because everyone’s 0.6-per-cent richer, but people just love being seen at them. They’re highly fashionable. That’s why everyone wears their best cocktail dresses there, sharing selfies of themselves on Instagram next to a big pile of beef jerky.

You’d think 350,000 people requiring food parcels to avoid starvation might actually show that austerity was a heartless system that persecuted the poor. But that’s the problem with us tree-hugging lefties. We spend so long having ‘compassionate feelings’ and ‘caring for the vulnerable’ that we forget what really matters: consumption!

Of course, GDP is a terrible way of judging a country’s success. The idea that you care only about financial gains, but not pollution, education, or even the amount of human happiness, is almost offensive. It’s like making an online dating profile that says ‘I made $250,000 last year. Pretty impressive, huh? PS Please don’t ask about my criminal record, the weird smell in my fridge, or why I cry uncontrollably in my sleep. It isn’t important. Only one thing matters: $250,000! Please marry me.’

GDP in the US is higher than most European countries, but Americans get less holiday time. Which Europeans must hear with a chuckle, as they say ‘Yes, America, you are succeeding and we are failing. Now go back to your job, while I work on my tan.’

Similarly, Obama has referred to GDP increasing while ignoring rising unemployment. In other words: hey, millions of people are without work, but spending on drones is at an all-time high. Yes We Can!

One pro-GDP argument is that judgements about happiness and wellbeing are too subjective to calculate accurately. This is easily overcome by remembering that New Internationalist readers are right about all things, and therefore whatever we believe is definitely correct.

Besides which, there are plenty of variables to judge happiness. Imagine how delightful it would be if we judged the success of a country by the number of people who have learnt a second language; or the number of cakes made per km². You know for a fact we’re doing okay if those numbers go up. I want to see economic reports that say ‘Spain was declared the country with the least reality TV, while Brazil confirmed it has the highest chocolate chip-to-cake ratio in its muffins. Meanwhile, Britain proudly announced that 100 per cent of its Iain Duncan Smiths were thrown into the Thames this year. That’s a 100-per-cent increase! Let’s hope they can maintain that excellent achievement.’

Anyway, we can feel smug, because we already live our lives in ways that GDP would punish. We recycle, we buy ethically, we buy food locally. When the government finally sees sense and starts judging society based on ideals we already hold dear, we can say: ‘You’re very welcome.’ Let’s just hope that smugness doesn’t count as a negative indicator, otherwise we might be back to square one.

Chris Coltrane is a stand-up comedian and anti-austerity activist.
Follow him on Twitter: chris_ coltrane

Front cover of New Internationalist magazine, issue 468 This column was published in the December 2013 issue of New Internationalist. To read more, buy this issue or subscribe.

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This article was originally published in issue 468

New Internationalist Magazine issue 468
Issue 468

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