As an economist who has focused on environmental challenges, I've long recognized that in my field it often takes a major crisis before cherished but unsatisfactory theories finally give way to new thinking. So it is with how economists think about growth and the environment. The tragic irony is that all this growth in the past few decades has done little to improve happiness in the 'developed' world. Meanwhile, their growing economies consume the ecological space desperately needed by poorer countries where growth still promises real gains in well-being.
Simon Kuzents, the economist who developed the GDP measurement, warned it was not a good meter stick for national well-being. Still, that's exactly how the GDP has been used globally since the 1940s. GDP is the total value of all the goods and services a country produces in a year. So, creating jobs and producing equipment to clean up an oil spill, for example, adds to the GDP. As does producing guns and bombs for war. GDP is blind to factors like unemployment, living conditions and environmental degradation. Make sense? Not really. Whether it's genuine progress, national happiness, or a system that blends the best of both, the global community must agree on a more holistic way to measure our nations' progress that doesn't just count the money we make.
I almost spit out my coffee the other morning when I stumbled upon this piece by a fellow named Christopher Elliott. In it, he argued that having enough room for your legs on an airplane should be a "human right." One has to be willfully ignorant to not understand that this type of regulation, if adopted, would raise the cost of airline tickets everywhere.
The federal leaders' debate on the economy focused on important issues but no one talked about a different vision for Canada's economy. A better economic vision would support the right of all Canadians to live in a healthy environment, with access to clean air and water and healthy food. It would respect planetary boundaries and provide the moral imperative to decrease growing income disparities. Businesses would be required to pay for environmental damage they inflict, capital would be more widely distributed and ideas, such as employee shareholder programs with ethically invested stocks, would be the norm.
If we were running things "like a business," we would be doing something like a cost-benefit analysis. Somehow, we became obsessed with cost and swept the other half of the equation under the rug. Everything that government does, or does not do, has consequences that go beyond the number of tax dollars spent.
The population in advanced countries is growing at low rates. At the same time, it is also aging. An aging population combined with low population growth rates can have important social and economic policy implications. This may have important effects on economic growth, heath care, pension system and the standard of living in advanced countries.
This week, ministers from 12 countries representing 40 per cent of the world's economy will meet to discuss the Trans-Pacific Partnership, one of the largest trade agreements ever. As talks are rushed to conclusion, Canada is still fighting to have its supply management system excluded from the deal. We wish the government well in its quest to protect supply management, but we wish it would go to bat for other core Canadian values and industries. Unlike our European and even American counterparts, Canadian discussion on the TPP has been limited to chickens, eggs and milk.
Whenever I meet a Hummer, tension rises in my chest, unkind thoughts develop in my head and my hands tighten and tremble, as if they want to signal something. I've long wondered why that happens, and I think I've finally figured it out. It has something to do with a song, economics and the courteous way to walk your dog.
The dismal record of for-profit hospitals illustrates the problem with running hospitals as businesses. The for-profits have higher death rates and employ fewer clinical personnel like nurses than their non-profit counterparts. But care at for-profits actually costs more, and they spend much more on the bureaucracy, a reflection of the high cost of implementing shrewd financial strategies. Canadian hospital administrators don't have to play financial games to assure their survival.
Why hasn't my Facebook feed filled with at least the same level of indignation about our government's disgraceful treatment of our Veterans as it was about the a tobogganing hill? We must learn to calibrate our anger so it's proportional to the injustice or slight. Let's fight for the things that make life fun for us like tobogganing while also fighting the things that make life miserable such as payday loan companies, multinational corporations, venture capitalists, a failed War on Terrorism and the self-serving hacks in the media and government who enable it all.
Different-sex parents, apparently, have a few things to learn about how to run a household from same-sex parents. New evidence concludes that because same-sex couples allocate household chores based on each individual parent's suitability for the job, rather than on gender stereotypes, children from those homes are growing up in happier and more harmonious family environments.
Those who don't outright deny the existence of human-caused global warming often argue we can't or shouldn't do anything about it because it would be too costly. Take Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who recently said, "No matter what they say, no country is going to take actions that are going to deliberately destroy jobs and growth in their country." But in failing to act on global warming, many leaders are putting jobs and economic prosperity at risk, according to recent studies.
In terms of statistics, 12 per cent grew antibiotic resistance and became marginalized from others. Twenty-eight per cent of the population chose a wealthy style, happily living in their gated biofilms. Half of all the bacteria decided to take a middle-class lifestyle, choosing an easy nutrient source and never engaging in any extreme activity.
Recently, a scathing report on the United States' health care system was issued. Surprisingly, little was made of this report in Canada. This was a shocking oversight, given that our performance on this same report was abysmal. Our health care system ranked second last in the study. How did our once-vaunted health care system become such a very expensive failure?
Expenditures on public health care in Canada appear to be slowing, raising the possibility that the health care cost curve is finally being bent and the system transformed. What does this mean? The economy will eventually recover and relax provincial health expenditure constraints, but federal health transfer growth will be reduced starting in 2017.
Governments, media and much of the public are preoccupied with the economy. That means demands such as those for recognition of First Nations treaty rights and environmental protection are often seen as impediments to the goal of maintaining economic growth. The gross domestic product has become a sacred indicator of well-being. Ask corporate CEOs and politicians how they did last year and they'll refer to the rise or fall of the GDP. It's a strange way to measure either economic or social well-being. Whatever we come up with, it has to be better than GDP with its absurd emphasis on endless growth on a finite planet.
The point is not that specific credits or programs should be replaced or specific tax increases should be adopted -- but that it will take change on this scale to introduce a basic income that will make a real difference in terms of poverty. If we are serious about reducing poverty, we must confront these choices head on.
Because Alberta oil is landlocked and therefore traditionally sold below world prices, it's been suggested that bringing it east will lower energy prices for us. It's probably more realistic to expect that Alberta crude will get more expensive as soon as a pipeline links it to us, and the world market.