Monday, March 31, 2003

Something else completely different

I also saw Jeanette Fitzsimons speak the wednesday before last. Her topic was something to do with sustainable development, and the Green vision for New Zealand. Some of the things she said:

  • GDP is a fairly crude measure of social success, in that it counts bads, ignores about 50% of the economy (any work that isn't paid, for instance parenting), and takes no account of resource usage or sustainability. I agree; however I'd also point out that there's a strong correlation between per-capita GDP and all sorts of goods (material wellbeing, educational achievement, health), and so while it's crude, it's not entirely useless.
  • Given that GDP is so crude, why do our politicians focus on GDP growth as the sole end? Why not focus on other goods as well? Currently our main political parties are obsessed with getting NZ's per-capita GDP back into the top half of the OECD, which will require sustained growth which frankly isn't going to happen (even Don Brash admits that). This ignores the fact that NZ consistently rates in the top half (or quarter) of the OECD in all sorts of other goods, like air quality, access to wilderness, leisure time, and education. Again, I agree - there are multiple goods, and an exclusive focus on one at the expense of the others seems to make so sense (and frankly, above a certain level it would be better to have leisure time than wealth). I also think the "top half of the OECD" goal is futile; what this is actually saying is that we should be one of the ten or fifteen richest countries in the world. I don't know about you, but I can think of at least fifteen countries who are richer than us and always will be. Shouldn't we set ourselves a more realistic goal, one we won't destroy our society trying to chase?
  • She gave a brief mention of "ecological economics" systems, that account for resource use and unpaid work.
  • She defined ecologically sustainable growth as growth which does not result in the long-term depletion or destruction of resources, using fishing (and overfishing) as an example. Economies can grow up to the point of maximum sustainable usage, but growth beyond that is only sustainable if it comes from efficiencies in resource utilisation. So the answer to a world in which resources are limited is better technology (though I suspect that not all of the Greens would see it that way).
  • Questions were unfortunately focused on GE and the war, so weren't very interesting.

Again, interesting and informative.