This is a very important book. Many people should read it. All who offer evaluations of how people are faring around the world, and every single politician and policy maker, needs to take its recommendations into consideration. The topic at first seems way too specialized for the general reader: why GDP -- gross domestic product, a monetary figure that claims to sum up all the goods and services produced in a country's economy and has reigned supreme as the most cited economic statistic -- is misleading as a straightforward indicator of human well-being. But this brief book is intended for a wide audience.
"Mismeasuring Our Lives" tells us, in clear, concise and non-technical language why GDP is a problematic measure, what other measurements we should use or develop, and why this is so important for all citizens to understand. The book is the report of a commission called together by French president Nicolas Sarkozy. The lead authors, who convened a broad and distinguished international panel of experts, are the Nobel Prize-winning economists Joseph Stiglitz and Amartya Sen, along with Jean-Paul Fitoussi, head of the French center for economic research. They begin by pointing out how much economic activity GDP leaves out, such as the work of a stay-at-home parent or the full benefit of government-provided health care. And GDP can be misleading: rising national output can still leave behind middle and low earners; China, despite authoritarian rule, can appear to be a "better" society than democratic India, if you just look at GDP per capita; France, with more guaranteed vacation time for workers, rates lower than the frenetic U.S.; selling more expensive, gas-guzzling SUVs raises GDP, but at the cost of raising global temperatures and reducing oil reserves.
The report suggests ways to rectify these problems, both using currently available statistics and calling for new measurements. But the commission clearly recognizes that measures of economic performance, particularly the GDP focus on market activity, do not equate to human satisfaction. So they call for a new and extensive move toward better understanding -- and measurement -- of the quality of life. A final third of the book seeks to do the same for sustainability -- how do we improve life for everyone now in such a way that we are not robbing from our children's future? As President Sarkozy points out: "We will not change our behavior unless we change the ways we measure our economic performance."