Sometimes we can be using the wrong yardstick all along and not know it. Take this anecdote which was originally published in the Adbuster Magazine and requoted by David Suzuki in A David Suzuki Collection: A Lifetime of Ideas:
Joe and Mary own a small farm. They are self-reliant, growing as much of their food as possible, and providing for most of their own needs. Their two children chip in and the family has a rich home life. Their family contributes to the health of their community and the nation … but they are not good for the nation’s business because they consume so little.
Joe and Mary can’t make ends meet, so Joe finds a job in the city. He borrows $13,000 to buy a Toyota and drives 50 miles to work every day. The $13,000 and his yearly gas bill are added to the nation’s Gross National Product (GNP).
Then Mary divorces Joe because she can’t handle his bad city moods anymore. The $11,000 lawyer’s fee for dividing up the farm and assets is added to the nation’s GNP. The people who buy the farm develop it into townhouses at $200,000 a pop. This results in a spectacular jump in the GNP.
A year later Joe and Mary accidentally meet in a pub and decide to give it another go. They give up their city apartments, sell one of their cars and renovate a barn in the back of Mary’s father’s farm. They live frugally; watch their pennies and grow together as a family again. Guess what? The nation’s GNP registers a fall and the economists tell us we are worse off.
So what does a healthy and growing “economy” really mean? It means – I am told by the experts – that for the same food to get to my table the more people involved in the process the “healthier” the economy. How wrong can they get. So next time you see the GNP in the news don’t be fooled.