Book review: Gross domestic problem

9th August 2013

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Gross domestic problem

Lorenzo Fioramonti / Zed Books / Paperback £30 / ISBN 978-1-7803-2272-8

Gross domestic product (GDP) is often used to explain the world. For Lorenzo Fioramonti, the term symbolises the destructive character of capitalist society and is a primary cause of our social and environmental crises today.

The concept of GDP, and the way it is calculated, is rooted in the Great Depression, and was developed in the US plans for engagement in World War II and during the Cold War.

GDP was a driver of consumerism and militarism because consumption and weapons could be counted, and Fioramonti doesn’t contradict the argument that it can be a powerful tool. US generals, for example, saw it transform their ability to decide how much production could be shifted to war purposes from consumer products.

But what of now? Curiously there is no shortage of people who contend that GDP is a highly inaccurate or misleading metric.

Many economists, international bodies and NGOs have tried to develop an alternative for measuring what counts. Yet GDP rests unrivalled. Through economic turmoil, conservative voices have urged the continued need for growth.

However, Fioramonti’s hopes lie in the range of community initiatives, such as local money systems, which seek to dethrone GDP.

One of the pleasures of reading history is the nudge that the commonplace is not there by chance. This book is more of a hefty shove to a standard world view.

Few will instinctively align themselves with the author’s anti-corporate perspective, but environmentalists are likely to be provoked into rethinking how the approach taken to measuring their organisation’s performance has played a constructive role in assessing how well we are doing as a world.

Mike Peirce, director at University of Cambridge programme for sustainability leadership.

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