The Fallacies Of GDP: When More Is Not Better

By Alasdair Macleod at

The common error of confusing growth with progress goes largely unnoticed, though it permeates all macroeconomic analysis. There is no better example of this mistake than the fallacies behind the interpretation of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). GDP is the market value of all final goods and services in a given year. As such, it is only an accounting identity reflecting the quantity of money in the economy.

Econometricians constructing GDP have devised a sterile statistic that should not be used to set economic policy. It leads to the common error of assuming any increase in GDP is desirable. Statistics like GDP tell a story of an economy based on historical prices but devoid of any qualitative value; and progress, the improvement in the human condition, is what really matters.

Transactions reflecting both wealth creation and also economically destructive state spending are included in GDP without differentiation. Far from the government component of GDP being singled out from the total, it is often welcomed as contributing to economic growth. Macroeconomists, with an eye on the statistical impact of cuts in government spending, discourage governments from making them. The lack of distinction between wealth-creation and wealth-destruction is fundamental to their belief that state intervention is beneficial.

More light can be shed on this issue with an example. Imagine an economy with a fixed quantity of money and credit; further assume foreign trade is in balance, and that the population is stable. Products will succeed, stagnate or fail. People will get pay rises, pay cuts or be encouraged by reality to move from the least successful businesses into more successful businesses. The businesses of yesteryear fade and those of tomorrow evolve. Winners will redeploy resources released from the failures. Annual GDP, the sum total of all production paid for

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