Climbing back into the saddle after an amazing trip to Bhutan.
‘Twas that delightful serendipity, whooping cranes and family support that got me there, will tell you more later.
Why Bhutan? .. . .
For years I have been troubled by our economic indicators (Gross Domestic Product (GDP)). We are delusional. We use “growth rates” to tell ourselves how great we are at making money. Insanely, the indicators don’t measure resource depletion or the value of the “economic activity” to the society. The indicators are badly flawed, a form of intellectual fraud.
The 4th King of Bhutan recognized the destructive force of Western economic indicators and initiated in its place the Gross Happiness Index. Internationally that has morphed into what some are calling the Genuine Progress Index. (The 4th King stepped down after establishing democracy and passed the kingship to his son, the 5th King of Bhutan.)
I will get some updates out on topics we’ve been working on (really exciting things happening), and reply to your emails.
And then I would like to help add weight to the international efforts to transition to new economic indicators, even if it’s only by circulating information to increase the level of awareness (enlightenment in Buddhist terminology!) of the great work being done. I am certain that others of you will also be interested. If Bhutan can do it, so can the rest of the world!
I am privileged to have been able to travel to Bhutan, but as I said, more on that later.
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Earlier postings related to Economic Indicators (which explain why I was thrilled to be able to go to Bhutan, leaders in change to economic indicators)
1. Please see 2007-11-03 The Need for Helpful Economic Indicators
(Also, I ran for the provincial Green Party in 2007. My election brochure was a single theme: economic indicators. Nothing like using the election process to get information to people, even if it will never get you elected!)
SaskWater used to be a Government Department, but now it is a commercial crown corporation. Item #4. The more water SaskWater sells, the more money it makes. And that is the measurement of its success. . . . . Goldarn! Some people will be making lotsa money. Our flawed indicators of “success” (“economic development”, “GDP”) do not measure resource depletion – – with drastic consequences for those who come behind us.
It is insane to deliberately create a situation where you know that, in the not-distant future, there will be fights over who has access to a dwindling water supply, and at what cost. (If you can pay the legal fees for the fight.) I highly recommend that you talk to everyone you can, especially people in local and provincial Government. When the trend line reaches, let’s say, 10% of the 1912 water volume (down from today’s approximately 16%), let yourself imagine how things will be.
All of today’s actions ensure that it will hit 10% of the volume of water in 1912, after which comes 5%. We do not have any measurements or goals that require the volume of water in the River to stabilize. All we have is mindless language around “economic development”
EXCERPT, from item #2:
We also must mandate an end to indicators such as GDP that are a sad and inadequate measure of waste created, but paraded as a measure of “progress”. Also in the corporate interest
Which takes me to the College of Commerce now known as the Edwards School of Business.
Before Dean Grant Isaac went to a million-dollar job as Senior Vice-President at Cameco I had a 45-minute talk with him. Earlier I had tried to bring together a group of economists from the University.
There is a pressing need to change our economic indicators. We allow corporations to transfer the environmental (health) costs of their operations for the public purse to pay. We do not account for resource depletion in our measure of progress, the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The College of Commerce, the Agricultural Economists, the Economists in the College of Arts all become nothing more than a Conditioning Centre for the corporations. They are not aggressively attacking the very serious problem of economic measurements that do not provide the feedback we need in order to make intelligent decisions. These false indicators allow us to blissfully destroy the things we are dependent upon for life. They tell us we are making “progress”, which is anything but the truth
I had a 45-minute conversation with Grant Isaacs while he was still the Dean of the Business School. I disagree with your assessment that he would be very good as University President. He is obviously good at some things; you have to match what is needed at the University against what he has to offer.
At this time in our history we badly need people who are agents-of-change. Grant is an agent of the status quo (elaboration below). The status quo is taking us to the brink. What looms ahead for your children is a much-degraded and more violent world if we are incapable of change.
The University is in the business of deciding who in our society will be “influential”. Influential people are either obstacles or they can play a significant role in aiding the society to make the changes (“change” is what “learning” is all about). Agents of the status quo are obstacles to making the needed changes.
Grant as agent of the status quo:
The conversation I had with Grant was about economic indicators such as Gross Domestic Product (GDP). We use the indicators to measure our “success”. They guide and mould our path. Many people know that they are false (misleading) indicators to the point of being dangerous. GDP for example does not measure resource depletion. How bad is that? But nor does it associate value with the economic activity measured. The cost of cleaning up the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is a great addition to GDP. The accompanying resource depletion (killing off of the fisheries, etc etc.) is “off-the-books”. . . . Hey! no need for a BP or Bhopal or Exxon Valdeez or other disaster to affect our great economic “success” as measured by GDP! . . . It is obvious that through failure to measure resource depletion and the value of the economic activity to the society, we have a wonderful economic indicator that tells us we are hell bent for glory when in fact, using the Gulf example, we are creating the basis for future lives lived in poverty.
The argument “We will find a technological fix” only works if the interests who are benefitting from the status quo can prevent the economic indicators from being thrown out and replaced with indicators that are rational. We need not only an “agent-of-change” as the next president of the University; the person has to be a leader and a fearless one. The financial interests in the status quo are huge.
Another example: The economic activity generated by a child with cancer or asthma involves drugs, radiation treatment, inhalers, nurses and doctors’ salaries, hotel accommodations for family and parents whose child is in hospital, ambulance rides, funerals – – altogether a lot of economic activity. The way in which we measure the economic activity generated by treating the 25% increase in childhood cancers and 40% increase in asthma in children tells us that we are doing just great! We have a thriving economy! We turn a blind eye to the poisons that are going into the environment to create the 25% increase in cancers and 40% increase in asthma in children (figures from the Canadian Institute of Child Health in about 1992). . . . And we simultaneously congratulate ourselves on the quality of our educational institutions?? No thinking person would TEACH these economic indicators. They’d work hard with other people to make sure that we stopped deluding ourselves.
Our economic indicators are a very serious problem in need of urgent action. We have known this for a long time. That was a big part of the conversation I had with Grant.
Grant has no will to change things, to find solutions. His attitude is: if there was a way to solve it, it would have been found by now. . . . That is not the truth. The truth is that the people who need to provide the drive to find the solutions are comfortable where they are. The system serves them well. Grant’s willingness to serve the status quo got him a senior Vice-President position at Cameco. I don’t know what Deans of Business Schools make. A senior VP job at Cameco would be a million-dollar-a-year job.
Would Grant have gotten the Cameco job if he had been an agent-of-change??
Corporate money is, unfortunately, corrupting. I have no problem with Grant. I just disagree with your statement that he would be very good as pres of the U. The consequences of maintaining the status quo is short term illusion of wealth and grandeur. If you have any aspirations to longterm survival of civil society, we cannot afford the Grant Isaacs of the world in positions like the president of the university. He is welcome to his job at Cameco.
The university is our knowledge base, it is responsible for helping the society to find solutions. The status quo is killing us while providing short-term delusions and influence to an increasingly small percentage of the population (income gaps). The University is a significant part of the problem; it is not helping to address the fundamental problems – – not everyone at the University, of course. But still, if the “influential” at the University are agents of the status quo, then it is serving to create a credentialed elite. It is not doing the truly innovative work that is needed to do things like throwing out dangerous and false economic indicators. (I used the example of GDP. There are others.)
“The preoccupation with the GDP, which has become the all-encompassing surrogate for everything with respect to well-being, is wrong,” he (Romanow) said.