The GDP-Wellbeing Gap

KUALA LUMPUR – The link between economic growth and human wellbeing seems obvious. Indeed, as measured by gross domestic product, economic growth is widely viewed as the ultimate development objective. But it is time to rethink this approach.

In fact, there is a rising disconnect between countries’ per capita GDP and their citizens’ wellbeing, as rapid output growth exacerbates health challenges and erodes environmental conditions. Given this, people increasingly value non-material wealth just as highly as monetary wealth, if not more.

But persuading policymakers and politicians of GDP’s limitations is no easy feat. After all, it is far simpler to defend a well-understood, long-accepted framework than it is to champion a new worldview.

To be sure, GDP provides valuable information about a country’s production, expenditure, and income streams, as well as the flow of goods across borders. Moreover, it has provided crucial guidance to countries, helping them to track economic gains that have improved citizens’ quality of life considerably – in many cases lifting them out of destitution.