More than GDP

Nicolas Sarkozy, President of France with his high powered Commission on the Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress (CMEPSP – including Joseph Stiglitz, Amartya Sen and Jean-Paul Fitoussi) form the latest group to join the call for a better measure of progress than GDP.

The CMEPSP’s report (3Mb pdf) highlights current well-being alongside the assessment of sustainability – whether this well-being can last over time. It’s recommendations focus on changing our emphasis from measuring economic production to quality of life, equity and our well being over time and into the future.

It’s not a new argument – famous examples included Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness, Redefining Progress and, The New Economics Foundation. But it is a very prominent call for change.

Nicolas Sarkozy is encouraging a great revolution to economic and well being measurement. Others in France however see GDP here for a long time into the future. GDP criticisms include the non measurement of state expenditure, such as some public health and, the positive value it places on destructive economic activity.

Climate Wisdom

Large groups of people are smarter than an elite few argues The Wisdom of the Crowds. If this is the case and, to the extent twitter is representative of the Australian population, Joe Hockey should pay attention to the twitter results on his climate change question. He twittered hey team re The ETS. Give me your views please… on Friday.

A random sample of responses to his climate change question finds:

  • 51.6% say support the ETS and/or don’t sell out on your previous support for these laws
  • 43.2% say no ETS and/or delay it, it’s just a tax
  • 2.1% say become the leader, presumably implicitly saying no to the ETS as well
  • 3.2% say twitter discussion about this is silly

Details of this sample are here.

Joe Hockey asked this question as the opposition liberal party is pushing him to become leader. This change will overturn his previous position – and the party’s decision last week – to take action on climate change by passing the Australian emissions trading legislation (ETS).

And the current leaders views? “This is not a game . . . We’re talking about the future of our planet. We’re talking about whether we, the Liberal Party, will want to be a credible, progressive political movement of the 21st century” 27/11/09 Malcolm Turnbull quoted in The Age.

Nobel Economics

mainelobsterAlongside Barak Obama there’s a second Noble prize surprise this year – Elinor Ostrom for the Economics Nobel Prize.*

Elinor is a groundbreaking economics win as her work covers how humans look after shared resources – we often collaborate to protect environments such as water resources and fisheries. That is humans do not inevitably act as ‘economically rational’ – out to maximise our profit.

It’s often assumed that without outside intervention we will inevitably see a tragedy of the commons. This tragedy occurs as individuals overuse resources – e.g. the global atmosphere’s ability to absorb carbon – reducing the quality of life for everyone.

In fact there are many examples where people do collaborate and can achieve far better outcomes than purely government action. The graph above is one such example. It compares the lobster catch in Maine (community driven management – red line) with fish (government management – blue line).

So what do we need for a triumph of the commons? Mark van Vugt’s recipe for success is here.

Image: Comparison of landings of ground fish in Maine and lobsters. Source: The Struggle to Govern the Commons, Thomas Dietz,Elinor Ostrom and, Paul C. Stern Science | * The Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel 2009

Cut the Jam – add pedestrians!

Cutting traffic jams in cities is often about more roads and keeping pedestrians safe from cars – off the road. The idea of shared space is turning this logic on its head – mixing traffic with pedestrians and observing real improvements.

The picture, left, shows Zentralplatz in Biel, Switzerland. Biel’s town square has become an encounter zone mixing cars with pedestrians, removing traffic lanes and markings and often traffic lights. Traffic improves for everyone.

This is not just happening in Europe. Bendigo Australia has an ambitious program for shared space* – removing pedestrian crossings and creating an city where people prefer walking over cars.

Dr Rodney Tolley, Director Walk21 and author of the Bendigo transformation study says a study of such shared spaces finds they are incredibly safe. ‘We are yet to find a death’ in such spaces worldwide, he said in Adelaide today.

As a bonus car traffic is actually cut. Previously people drove between shops in the Bendigo space. Now it appears they walk. This has real economic benefits – shopping district come alive, along with more obvious community and environmental outcomes.

* See page 5 | Pictures: Christian Thomas