The gross domestic product (GDP) is a key figure for measuring the economic success of a country. Countries are rated based on how much of it they have.
Governments rise and fall based on the efficiency with which their economies are wealthy. However, the economic tool has serious concerns recognized even by one of those who found it, Belarusian-American economist Simon Kuznets.
When asked to paint a realistic picture of a post-crash America in an indefinite recession, he was doing a lot of “digging,” but conceptually he wanted something different. In a book GDP: A Brief But Affectionate History, the author warns that GDP is an “artificial construct”, an invented entity, a relic of the industrial revolution.
Like many, I am consistently stunned by the “fandango” and “public ritual” that surrounds its quarterly release. Even when the dates are supposedly within the margin of error and routinely changed, we still give them as much meaning as a priest does to his liturgies. Perhaps that is why the book Economics: The User’s Guide takes a cunning look at our economic assumptions.
One of the major shortcomings of GDP is the inability to “measure” services. It covers spending on environmental protection, health and education, but not the level of environmental cleanliness, health or education.
It takes into account the cost of buying pollution control equipment, but doesn’t take into account whether the air and water are cleaner or dirty. GDP includes medical expenses, but does not show whether life expectancy or infant / maternal mortality has increased or decreased.
It tracks education spending, but does not go into how many people can read, write, or do basic math. It is illogical to say that rural-to-urban migration has been economically beneficial when Nairobi is densely populated with rural people and has seen an increase in housing construction.
It is equally wrong to claim that Kenya is now the sixth richest economy on the continent based on some GDP data, while our people are still battling disease, systemic vulnerability, inadequate health systems and above all poverty.
Our poverty rate is 32.4 percent. The health effects of poverty seep through and lead to “health poverty” as shown by the national health indices: Infant mortality is 34,056 deaths per 1000 live births.
No attention has been paid to the intersection between poverty and health because the former is not viewed as a disruption of normal physiological function, little resources are devoted to combating it, suggested solutions are incorrect, and concerns about expert-led top-down decision-making abound .
-The author is a Life Scientist and Global Fellow at the Moving Worlds Institute.