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GDP Is broken, it can't help make the world more resiliant

By Rob Tyrie

I am mad. I am angry. COVID-19 has affected us in our homes wherever we live. Our loved ones have been affected. People have died needlessly. Our leaders have been in disarray. It seems no one has learned from history, or from the warnings of the last decade during outbreaks like SARS and MERS, and crises like 9/11 or the housing bubble.

There. Has. Got. To. Be. A. Better. Way.

We have to react and plan to find a new way of learning for the next 100 years. Before we move forward 100 years, let’s go back to Friday, March 13, 2020. Just thirteen weeks ago.

In the world, and in the city where I live—Toronto, Ontario, Canada—the governments, the experts, and the scientists, were debating about huge zero-sum arguments: elders over the economy or the economy over elders. It is a false dichotomy. I am angry that more people don’t understand that. I am mad at people that don’t know that this battle is not the argument. Those politicians on either side of that argument should step down or at least be voted out of power—

Here in Canada, and everywhere this desperate choice was irresponsibly dumped on citizens. We want both humane safety and care of elders, the weak and infirm; and we want stable, vibrant economies that do not just blindly grow based on statistics developed in reaction to the depression before World War II. After first offering it in 1934, almost 30 years later, Simon Kuznets, the proposer of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), criticized the limitation of the statistic. It still became broadly used as a common measure an comparison of government performance and a very narrow view of progress.

“Distinctions must be kept in mind between quantity and quality of growth, between costs and returns, and between the short and long run. Goals for more growth should specify more growth of what and for what.”

Many economists also argue that GDP, does not consider welfare. It does not focus on people. In 2020, it cannot cope with climate change, global companies, the growth of internet e-commerce, massive deregulation, and low-cost labor matched to high margin goods, where masssive profits in historic proportions move to families. Not to governments. Not to the public. To families. To oligarchs. Our global systems and supply-chain pay off an astoundingly few families. Pickety illuminated it, and I will extend that wealth inequality is an existential threat to humans and the planet.

I have an idea and more things to say. We need another measure that optimizes for welfare, or happiness, or Universal Basic Income or education, or the four-day work week or free education or universal health care and dignity in dying. I don’t know the confounded answer. No one does. Not right now. We have to work through this triple threat of disease, fear, and economic viruses. They are all exponential. I don’t know the answers and neither do you. If you think you do, you’re lying to yourself. We are in the territory of the unknown unknown and emergent phenomena.

Here is what we can do. Demand free education. Learn. Be skeptical. Use principles, logic and math, or learn to trust those who have these tools and capapility. Respect change. Embrace innovation. The tools are not answers. No technology alone is the answer. It takes education and collaboration and the love of humanity to seek the answers we need. Let us try to get that done before the singularity. I am still angry. I am mad, but I am optimistic.

Let us lean on Rumi: “You are not a drop in the ocean. You are the mighty ocean in a drop”

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