Genuine progress indicator

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Genuine Progress Indicator, or GPI, is a metric that has been suggested to replace, or supplement, gross domestic product (GDP) as a measure of economic growth. GPI is designed to take fuller account of the health of a nation's economy by incorporating environmental and social factors which are not measured by GDP. For instance, some models of GPI decrease in value when the poverty rate increases.[1] The GPI is used in green economics, sustainability and more inclusive types of economics by factoring in environmental and carbon footprints that businesses produce or eliminate. "Among the indicators factored into GPI are resource depletion, pollution, and long-term environmental damage."[1] GDP gains double the amount when pollution is created, since it increases once upon creation (as a side-effect of some valuable process) and again when the pollution is cleaned up, whereas GPI counts the initial pollution as a loss rather than a gain, generally equal to the amount it will cost to clean up later (plus the cost of any negative impact the pollution will have in the mean time). While quantifying costs and benefits of these environmental and social externalities is a difficult task, "Earthster-type databases could bring more precision and currency to GPI's metrics."[1] "Another movement in economics that might embrace such data is the attempt to 'internalize externalities' - that is, to make companies bear the costs" of the pollution they create (rather than having the government bear that cost) "by taxing their goods proportionally to their negative eco-impacts."[1]

GPI is an attempt to measure whether the environmental impact of the products produced and consumed in a country is a negative or positive factor in economic health, and also account for the amount of people currently dependent on the government for support. Businesses are beginning to expand services/products that have actually resulted in the improvement of the environment and are starting to take ecological transparency seriously enough to embed it in their strategic thinking. GPI advocates claim that it can more reliably measure economic progress, as it distinguishes between the overall "shift in the 'value basis' of a product, adding its ecological impacts into the equation."[1](Ch. 10.3)

Comparatively speaking, the relationship between GDP and GPI is analogous to the relationship between the gross profit of a company and the net profit; the Net Profit is the Gross Profit minus the costs incurred; the GPI is the GDP (value of all goods and services produced) minus the environmental and social costs. Accordingly, the GPI will be zero if the financial costs of poverty and pollution equal the financial gains in production of goods and services, all other factors being constant.


Most economists assess the progress in welfare of the people by comparing the gross domestic product over time, that is, by adding up the annual dollar value of all goods and services produced within a country over successive years. However, GDP was never intended to be used for such purpose. It is prone to productivism or consumerism, over-valuing production and consumption of goods, and not reflecting improvement in human well-being. It also fails to distinguish between money spent for new production and money spent to repair negative outcomes from previous expenditure. For example, one million dollars spent to build new homes may be an indication of progress but one million dollars spent in aid relief to those whose homes have been destroyed is not the same kind of progress. This becomes important especially when considering the true costs of development that destroys wetlands and hence exacerbate flood damages. Simon Kuznets, the inventor of the concept of the GDP, notes in his very first report to the US Congress in 1934:

...the welfare of a nation [can] scarcely be inferred from a measure of national income...

An adequate measure must also take into account ecological yield and the ability of nature to provide services. These things are part of a more inclusive ideal of progress, which transcends the traditional focus on raw industrial production.

Theoretical foundation[edit]

The need for a GPI to supplement biased indicators such as GDP was highlighted by analyses of uneconomic growth in the 1980s notably that of Marilyn Waring who studied biases in the UN System of National Accounts.

By the early 1990s there was a consensus in human development theory and ecological economics that growth in money supply was actually reflective of a loss of well-being: that lacks of essential natural and social services were being paid for in cash and that this was expanding the economy but degrading life.

The matter remains controversial and is a main issue between advocates of green economics and neo-classical economics. Neoclassical economists understand the limitations of GDP for measuring human wellbeing but nevertheless regard GDP as an important, though imperfect measure of economic output and would be wary of too close an identification of GDP growth with aggregate human welfare. However, GDP tends to be reported as synonymous with economic progress by journalists and politicians, and the GPI seeks to correct this shorthand by providing a more encompassing measure.

Some economists, notably Herman Daly, John B. Cobb[2] and Philip Lawn,[3] have asserted that a country's growth, increased goods production, and expanding services have both "costs" and "benefits"—not just the "benefits" that contribute to GDP. They assert that, in some situations, expanded production facilities damage the health, culture, and welfare of people. Growth that was in excess of sustainable norms (e.g., of ecological yield) had to be considered to be uneconomic. According to the "threshold hypothesis", developed by Manfred Max-Neef, the notion that "when macroeconomic systems expand beyond a certain size, the additional benefits of growth are exceeded by the attendant costs" (Max-Neef 1995).

According to Lawn's model, the "costs" of economic activity include the following potential harmful effects:[4]

Analysis by Robert Costanza also around 1995 of nature's services and their value showed that a great deal of degradation of nature's ability to clear waste, prevent erosion, pollinate crops, etc., was being done in the name of monetary profit opportunity: this was adding to GDP but causing a great deal of long term risk in the form of mudslides, reduced yields, lost species, water pollution, etc. Such effects have been very marked in areas that suffered serious deforestation, notably Haiti, Indonesia, and some coastal mangrove regions of India and South America. Some of the worst land abuses for instance have been shrimp farming operations that destroyed mangroves, evicted families, left coastal lands salted and useless for agriculture, but generated a significant cash profit for those who were able to control the export market in shrimp. This has become a signal example to those who contest the idea that GDP growth is necessarily desirable.

GPI takes account of these problems by incorporating sustainability: whether a country's economic activity over a year has left the country with a better or worse future possibility of repeating at least the same level of economic activity in the long run. For example, agricultural activity that uses replenishing water resources, such as river runoff, will score a higher GPI than the same level of agricultural activity that drastically lowers the water table by pumping irrigation water from wells.

"Income" vs. "capital depletion"[edit]

Hicks (1946) pointed out that the practical purpose of calculating income is to indicate the maximum amount people can produce and consume without undermining their capacity to produce and consume the same amount in the future. From a national income perspective, it is necessary to answer the following question: "Can a nation's entire GDP be consumed without undermining its ability to produce and consume the same GDP in the future?" This question is largely ignored in contemporary economics but fits under the idea of sustainability.

Applying the genuine progress indicator to legislative decisions[edit]

The best-known attempts to apply the concepts of GPI to legislative decisions are probably the Atlantic indicator[5] invented by Ronald Colman for Atlantic Canada, the Alberta GPI[6] created by ecological economist Mark Anielski[7] to measure the long-term economic, social and environmental sustainability of the province of Alberta and the "environmental and sustainable development indicators" used by the Government of Canada to measure its own progress to achieving well-being goals: its Environment and Sustainable Development Indicators Initiative (Canada)[8] is an effort to justify state services in GPI terms. It assigns the Commissioner for the Environment and Sustainable Development (Canada),[9] an officer in the Auditor-General of Canada's office, to perform the analysis and report to the House of Commons. However, Canada continues to state its overall budgetary targets in terms of reducing its debt to GDP ratio, which implies that GDP increase and debt reduction in some combination are its main priorities.

In the EU the Metropole efforts and the London Health Observatory methods are equivalents focused mostly on urban lifestyle.

The EU and Canadian efforts are among the most advanced in any of the G8 or OECD nations, but there are parallel efforts to measure quality of life or standard of living in health (not strictly wealth) terms in all developed nations. This has also been a recent focus of the labour movement.

Calculation formula of GPI[edit]

The calculation formula of Genuine Progress Indicator presented in the simplified form is the following:

GPI = A + B - C - D + I

A is income weighted private consumption

B is value of non-market services generating welfare

C is private defensive cost of natural deterioration

D is cost of deterioration of nature and natural resources

I is increase in capital stock and balance of international trade

The GPI indicator is based on the concept of sustainable income, presented by economist John Hicks (1948). The sustainable income is the amount a person or an economy can consume during one period without decreasing his or her consumption during the next period. In the same manner, GPI depicts the state of welfare in the society by taking into account the ability to maintain welfare on at least the same level in the future.

The components of GPI[edit]

Individual components, that increase (+) and decrease (–) the value of GPI, are the following ones:

 + Personal consumption weighted by income distribution index + Value of household work and parenting + Value of higher education + Value of volunteer work + Services of consumer durables + Services of highways and streets - Cost of crime - Loss of leisure time - Cost of unemployment - Cost of consumer durables - Cost of commuting - Cost of household pollution abatement - Cost of automobile accidents - Cost of water pollution - Cost of air pollution - Cost of noise pollution - Loss of wetlands - Loss of farmland -/+ Loss of  forest area and damage from logging roads - Depletion of nonrenewable energy resources - Carbon dioxide emissions damage - Cost of ozone depletion +/- Net capital investment +/- Net foreign borrowing = GPI 

Development of the GPI in the United States[edit]

The calculation methodology of GPI was first adopted to US data in late 1990s.[10] According to results, the GDP has increased substantially, but at the same time the GPI has stagnated. Thus, according to GPI theory, the economic growth in the USA i.e. the growth of GDP, has not increased the welfare of the people during last 30 years. So far, GPI time-series have been calculated for USA and Australia as well as for several of their states. In addition, GPI has been calculated for Austria, Canada, Chile, France, Finland, Italy, the Netherlands, Scotland and the rest of the UK.

Development of the Finnish GPI[edit]

The GPI time-series 1945 to 2011 for Finland have been calculated at the Statistics Finland. The calculation has followed closely the US methodology. According to results in 1970s and 1980s the economic growth, measured by GDP, clearly increased the welfare, measured by the GPI. After the economic recession of early 1990s the GDP continued to grow, but the GPI stayed on a lower level. As can be observed there a widening gap between the trends of GDP and GPI that arose in the early 1990s. In 1990s and 2000s the growth of GDP has not benefitted the welfare of an average Finn. If measured by GPI, the sustainable economic welfare has actually decreased due to environmental hazards that have cumulated to environment. The Finnish GPI time series[11] have been updated by Dr. Jukka Hoffrén at Statistics Finland.

Development of Finnish regional GPIs[edit]

Within EU's Interreg IV C FRESH Project (Forwarding Regional Environmental Sustainable Hierarchies) GPI time-series were calculated to Päijät-Häme, Kainuu and South-Ostrobotnia (Etelä-Pohjanmaa) regions in 2009-2010.[12] During 2011 these calculations were completed with GPI calculations for the Lappland, Northern Ostrobothnia (Pohjois-Pohjanmaa) and Central-Ostrobothnia (Keski-Pohjanmaa) regions.


GDP is held up as a value neutral measure. It is relatively straightfoward to measure compared to GPI. Competing measures like GPI define well-being to mean things that the definers ideologically support. Therefore, opponents of GPI claim that GPI cannot function to measure the goals of a diverse, plural society. Supporters of GDP as a measure of societal well-being claim that competing measures such as GPI are more vulnerable to political manipulation.[13]

Finnish economists Mika Maliranta and Niku Määttänen write that the problem of alternative development indexes is their attempt to combine things that are incommensurable. It is hard to say what they exactly indicate and difficult to make decisions based on them. They can be compared to an indicator that shows the mean of a car's velocity and the amount of fuel left.

They add that it indeed seems as if the economy has to grow in order for the people to even remain as happy as they are at present. In Japan, for example, the degree of happiness expressed by the citizens in polls has been declining since the early 1990s, the period when Japan's economic growth stagnated.[14]

Supporting countries and groups[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e Bensel, Terrence; Turk, Jon (2011). Contemporary Environmental Issues. Bridgepoint Education. 1935966154. 
  2. ^ Daly and Cobb book reviewed
  3. ^ P. Lawn at
  4. ^ Lawn, Philip A. (2003). A theoretical foundation to support the Index of Sustainable Economic Welfare (ISEW), Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI), and other related indexes 44 (1). p. 108. 
  5. ^ GPI Atlantic
  6. ^ Alberta GPI
  7. ^ Mark Anielski
  8. ^ Environment and Sustainable Development Indicators Initiative (Canada)
  9. ^ Commissioner for the Environment and Sustainable Development (Canada)
  10. ^ [1]
  11. ^ Finnish GPI time series
  12. ^ [2]
  13. ^ GDP and its Enemies, Centre for European Studies, September 2010
  14. ^ "Politiikanteon ohjaamiseen ei tarvita 'onnellisuusmittareita'", professor Mika Maliranta and research manager Niku Määttänen, Helsingin Sanomat 2011-02-06, page C6
  15. ^ Canada planning applications
  16. ^ Redefining Progress
  17. ^ Publications of Redefining Progress
  18. ^ Beyond GDP

Further reading[edit]

News articles[edit]

Scientific articles and books[edit]

External links[edit]