A New Economic Quality Goal

Genesis 1:28 mandates careful resource management to supply mankind’s needs.

But history indicates that one person’s need and greed is often satisfied at the expense of others and of the environment. The current economic goal of constantly increasing growth exacerbates this behaviour, leading to increasing disparity of well-being within and between nations.

We therefore need to establish a new, internationally recognized, economic goal to replace GDP growth as the major policy driver. This must be a (quantitative) quality index which safeguards environmental sustainability, and encourages human flourishing for all.

Thesis Background
Submitted by Andy McWilliam - Acting Chair of Trustees, Jubilee Centre. The old adage 'You get what you measure' was never more true than in current international economics. We have defined something we know how to measure - Gross Domestic Product (GDP) - and many nations have become very adept at increasing their [GDP] growth year by year. But there are two problems here. Firstly, in a world of limited resources, ever increasing growth must come at a cost - somebody or something, somewhere, sometime, must be paying the bill. This creates injustice on a global scale. Related to this is the second issue. The economic model upon which the GDP measure relies, is highly restricted. It is presented as a closed system of monetary flows. Most importantly it excludes anything which cannot directly be expressed in monetary terms. This makes the job of defining, measuring, and increasing the chosen economic target easier. But it also means that the excluded factors - non-financial human well-being, the poor, nations 'outside the system', the environment, the future - are exactly where the cost of ever increasing GDP is being paid. In her new book 'Doughnut Economics', Kate Raworth exposes these issues, and proposes a new approach. The eponymous 'doughnut' arises because she draws a simple diagram of two concentric circles, with the 'doughnut' in between. The inner circle she terms 'Social Foundation' - essentially a set of minimum requirements for human flourishing. The outer circle she terms 'Ecological Ceiling' - a set of sustainability limits on a number of environmental factors. The aim, she says, is to get everyone living in the doughnut, which she calls 'the safe and just place for humanity'. Overall, she says that the economic goal must be 'to achieve human prosperity in a flourishing web of life'. Whilst this book lacks an apparent biblical foundation, it nevertheless is motivated by the very biblical concerns of human flourishing, justice, and creation care. It is therefore a useful resource in the quest for a new economic goal. The challenges in establishing a new economic goal are of course huge. Firstly, there is huge inertia in the current system. It is deeply embedded in the systems of government and business (etc) in many areas of the world. Power tends to lie with those who have benefited from the existing system and therefore have a vested interest in protecting it. Secondly, the identification of a suitable measure is extremely difficult. How do you measure various aspects of human flourishing? What weight do you give to various environmental factors? More philosophically, to what extent can you encourage a better-directed free market to nurture the fullness of human flourishing and environmental sustainability, and to what extent do you need to regulate. Yes this will be difficult. Yes it will take years. And yes it is fundamental to changing the trajectory of human flourishing, and enabling a more just society.

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  • Andy, what do you think of Peter Barnes' 'Capitalism 3.0'? Especially as regards the commons and environmental issues. Also what would you say to an initiative that seeks to add enumerated human rights indices to import product packaging? That would necessarily be quite vague, but maybe a good step and would allow consumers at least some idea of the conditions in the countries where the products are coming from.