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Making our Metrics Count

March 18, 2018

Ten years ago, the global financial crisis set then-French President Nicolas Sarkozy on a personal mission. To him, the crisis was in part caused by the international community’s fixation on unreliable metrics like GDP. A “cult of figures,” as he quipped, had blinded us to the deeper malaise beneath. Sarkozy charged two Nobel laureates, Drs. Amartya Sen and Joseph Stiglitz, with rethinking GDP, and a year later their commission concluded with an unorthodox idea: a modern metric of economic wellbeing must include dimensions like happiness and social connection.

If this sounded superficial in a time of profound economic pain, Sarkozy has only been vindicated by the decade since. On the one hand, the global economy looks healthy. Global manufacturing has picked up and companies are adding to their payrolls in record numbers. Last November, The Wall Street Journal declared, “U.S. Manufacturing Rides Rising Tide, Buoyed by Global Growth, Optimism.” And yet, the world over, people are feeling disconnected, lonely, isolated — an experience I describe, metaphorically, as sitting at the bottom of a well.

In Canada, for instance, GDP has more than rebounded since the Great Recession. But according to the Canadian Index of Wellbeing’s 2016 report, “The wellbeing of Canadians took a significant step backwards” since the recession, “and has only begun to recover.”

In the UK, five years of rising GDP and increased employment have had no correlation with reports of happiness or life satisfaction. Despite having the third largest economy in Europe, Britons report feeling far lonelier than other Europeans. The problem has grown to such a degree that Prime Minister Theresa May appointed a Minister of Loneliness earlier this year.

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