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Bigger not better

John Coulter

Thank you Crispin Hull for again setting an important matter (the budget) in a wider context (The Canberra Times, “Grown-up UK and NZ make Abbott look undergraduate”, Forum, May 16, p2). But on this occasion even Crispin has not set the budget within the broad context that it misses completely.

It is now widely recognised in scientific circles that humanity is not living sustainably on planet Earth, and that continuous exponential growth is driving us ever further from a sustainable future. This truth is unrecognised by Joe Hockey and Bill Shorten. The latter used the word environment once in passing in his budget reply; Hockey did not utter the word once.

A second major flaw in both the government budget and the opposition’s response is taking gross domestic product growth as the principal goal.

By now all should know how misleading and defective GDP is as a measure of improved human welfare. The costs of growth are added to the benefits in this crazy index and because the costs of growth are now exceeding the benefits, we have a situation in which GDP is increasing while people are actually becoming worse off. Crispin’s mention of the real costs entailed in adding more infrastructure to cope with government- encouraged population growth could have pointed out that these are real costs which exceed the benefits, yet they are added to GDP.

Comparison between GDP and the genuine progress indicator (GPI, a more comprehensive index) shows that in the UK, US and Australia while per capita GDP has been increasing, since the mid-1970s per capita GPI has been flat or going downhill.

Just one of the flaws in GDP is well illustrated in the latest intergenerational report, another document authored by our federal Treasurer. If a parent stays at home and cares for children, the value of this work does not show up in GDP, for GDP only counts dollar-based transactions. If the parent goes out to work and spends the income on some- one else caring for the children, both incomes are added to GDP. But is the quality of childcare any better? This is not to argue that women (it’s especially women) should not go out to paid work, but the principal reason Mr Hockey gives for the second arrangement is that it will add to GDP.

Source: Published by the author in the Canberra Times on 19 May 2015.

Dr John Coulter is a scientist, former senator, former vice president of Australians for a Sustainable Population, and is an ERA member living in SA.

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