I've been reading up on the call for the switch from GDP (Gross Domestic Product) to GPI (Genuine Progress Indicator) lately. I'm interested in this mostly due to my self-proclaimed role of a consumer advocate first, but also in regards to the research we are undertaking with Citizen Agency on how to measure the health of communities. I won't try to masquerade as someone who understands the depth of these economics debates, but years ago in one of my university classes, we were assigned a book that changed my way of thinking forever, Counting for Nothing, by Marilyn Waring. Her basic premise in this book was that by measuring GDP as the sole indicator of progress, governments would continue to prioritize economic growth at any cost: human, environment, social, etc. Previous to reading Warings book, I had no idea that something like the Exxon Valdez oil spill was considered progress. Furthermore, Waring discusses how the drug trade, child pornography, war, clear cutting, terrorism, and many other horrifying things are not only counted towards the GDP, but sometimes they are the most profitable industries (for example, there is selling drugs, which counts as economic growth, then there is the cost of rehabilitation, which counts as economic growth, not to mention the cost of policing for drugs...).

Thus, while general social wellness takes a plunge, the GDP gets healthier and healthier. Marilyn Waring argued that the cost of this is too great to continue down this path, that this is not a long term or sustainable measure for looking at things and that we needed to rethink our measures to make us accountable for the long term. In fact, even employing basic business accounting practices would account for the depletion of our natural resources (oil & gas companies get to write off their resource depletions for long-term hedging).

What is really interesting to me is the 'proof' of how that has played out over the years. Redefining Progress, a California non-profit organization commissioned a study years ago to measure a comparison between GDP and GPI since the 1950's and found that, yes, the GDP showed a healthy and steady growth while the GPI not only stagnated, but it actually fell after a minor growth to the 70's as indicated here:


Some even said their measurements were conservative and predicted a 45% reduction in the GPI from 1970-1999. Since then, we've seen 9/11, the war on Iraq, a further spread between the rich and poor and devestation of our natural resources.

Months earlier on my blog, I asked the question, "Is purchasing power the only power we have left?" It isn't. Not if we change the way we measure 'progress'. The issue today is that policy is influenced by these indicators. No, not influenced...set. And it 'trickles down' - it also influences what we value as a society. When success is measured by pure $$ coming and going, everything else becomes noise. Instead of taking diversity of interests for granted, we have to fight for policies to protect human rights, the environment, the arts, and everything else that isn't considered part of economic growth (although some arts are, it's not an influential sector in this measure) under a system that values 'the bottom line' above all else.

But rant aside...I'm actually looking at the GPI as a potential model for the way to think about how customer interests become core indicators on the success of a web service. Currently, it is measured by 'growth' or 'new customer acquisition' - especially in the cases of web apps as abandoned accounts still count for 'members' in many cases. As I've indicated before, I don't think raw numbers have much to do with the health of anything, and I want to go beyond 'gut' instinct so that we can get some more leverage in adoption of this.

I'm actually going to be looking for grants or other alternative revenue sources so that I can hire a research assistant or two over the next while on this and, hopefully, turn it into an e-book or even publish it in the future. If anyone has any hints or help in that area, I'd love to hear them.