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The New Green: Sustainable prosperity, not growth

By Kelsey Sullivan
On February 1, 2013

"Sustainable prosperity" is the ultimate goal of transitoning to a Green Economy. The Worldwatch Institute defines sustainable prosperity as: "a result of sustainable development that enables all human beings to live with their basic needs met, with their dignity acknowledged, and with abundant opportunity to pursue lives of satisfaction and happiness, all without risk of denying others in the present and the future the ability to do the same. This means not just preventing further degradation of Earth's systems, but actively restoring those systems to full health." One of the most important steps towards attaining sustainable prosperity will be to use economic indicators that reflect human and environmental well-being.
Currently, a worldwide movement is underway to oust the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as the standard economic indicator used to evaluate how well a country is doing economically. The problem with the GDP is that it is too simple, too narrowly focused -technically it is just the total dollar value of all goods and services produced by an economy over a specific time period. It has absolutely no mechanism for measuring whether the production has improved the lives of human beings or has in fact made them worse, never mind its effects on the environment. A number of alternative indicators have been proposed in recent years by social scientists and economic experts from around the globe which attempt to measure actual human well-being rather than spitting out a dollar value. One such alternative is the Legatum Prosperity Index, developed by the nonpartisan Legatum Institute based out of London. The Prosperity Index goes far beyond simply measuring production and monetary profit. It evaluates 142 nations based on 89 indicators grouped into eight categories of human well-being, including: economy, education, social capital, opportunity, governance, health, personal freedom and safety/security. Based on these parameters, the top ten most prosperous nations in 2012 were, in descending order: Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Finland, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and Ireland. Notice that the United States did not even make the top ten! In fact, the U.S. worsened in four of the eight categories last year and dropped to 12th place on the list.
We must ask ourselves why we currently use the terms "growth" or "progress" to describe economic activities that worsen human life. Judging whether an economic activity is "good" or "bad" is not a straightforward science, but we can surely improve upon what we have now. Studies such as Legatum's prove that production alone does not necessarily translate into real good or progress for humanity - the dynamics of social well-being are much more complex than that. As explained by Forbes contributor Chris Helman: "Happiness means having opportunity - to get an education, to be an entrepreneur. What's more satisfying than having a big idea and turning it into a thriving business, knowing all the way that the harder you work, the more reward you can expect?" Norway is successful not just because of its high GDP but because of indicators such as 95 percent of Norwegians being satisfied with the freedom to choose the direction of their lives and "an unparalleled 74 percent" believing that other people can be trusted.

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