Gross Domestic Product: A double-sided power tool
In the next three days, researchers, activists and the civil society get together at the Universite Grenoble-Alpes, in Grenoble, France, to think about development from a non-economic perspective. It’s the International Forum for Well-Being, an event that aims to debate and develop different ways of measuring wealth.
“Can we imagine development without growth?” Asked Pablo Solón, activist and former Ambassador of the Plurinational State of Bolivia to the United Nations. During the panel Towards a fair and sustainable development, Solón and Vivian Labrie, independent researchers and members of the Erasme multidisciplinary team, questioned the global development indicators, which are based on economic and objective indicators.
For Solón, the guiding point for modern societies should be balance rather than unsustainable growth. “Today, we treat nature as a resource, but nature is not a resource, it’s a system with its own vital cycles.” Therefore, rather than growth, it is necessary to understand that balance comes inevitably with both increases and decreases.
“We don’t all have the same vision of what’s good”
Today, the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), represents the monetary value of all goods and services produced within a nation’s geographical borders and is the main indicator of wealth at a global level. However, the GDP has a symbolic power that brings together all economic diversities in a single figure.
That is exactly what the Forum is trying to address. “The symbolic power of GDP reinforces the power of western societies. The GDP is like any other indicator, it’s double sided and it’s a power tool”, said Florence Jany-Catrice, Economist and Researcher at the Centre for sociological and economic Studies and Research of Lille, during the panel Indicators, powers and limits.
Jany-Catrice also argues that all indicators are based on social and political conventions and agreements, which are usually rooted in history. “We don’t all have the same vision of what’s good.” Therefore, the forum promotes a different approach to conceive societal development: the bien vivre or “well-being”.
“The concept of development comes from the idea that we advance, we move forward”, said Solón during an interview for the Youth Press Agency. “For the vision of bien vivre, we not always move forward. Nothing moves always forward” Thus, according to bien vivre, to think about development as an ever-advancing thing is an illusion.
How to measure wellbeing: practical examples
There are practical examples of bien vivre at local and national levels, such as Ecuador, Bolivia, Canada, Bhutan and France. In 2014, Bolivia implemented its first wellbeing indicator, the Living Well project, which takes nature into account and is based on the recovery of traditional values of the Andean region.
In fact, one of the reasons that brought the first forum to ever discuss well-being indicators in Europe to Grenoble, is the Sustainable Territorial Social Indicators – Indicateurs de bien-etre sociaux territorialisés (IBEST) in French, launched in Grenoble in 2017. The IBEST is the first project in France that questions conventional local observation tools, which are now being tested in select regional municipalities.
As an outcome, after a full three-day agenda, the Forum organizers will develop a pedagogical material on well-being indicators and development. The Youth Press Agency has an international team of young reporters on site who are covering the event; you can follow them throught YPA’s website, their Facebook page and Instagram.