Monday, April 23, 2012

We Need a New Indicator

GDP is so yesterday. All it does is count every expenditure, and having totaled them all up, publishes the number, the worthy minions of the Bureau of Economic Analysis having labored long and hard—because it’s tough to find all of the expenditures—or their equivalents, all the receipts, reported as the Gross Domestic Income (GDI). We need something more meaningful, something now.

My proposal is that we develop the GDE. Those letters here should, in the future, be known to every breathing soul past twenty. They stand for Gross Domestic Elite. And just as the economic accounts are divided into two, so could the GDE. Here I propose GDE-W and GDE-C. The W stands for wealth and will measure how concentrated wealth becomes. The C stands for culture and will measure (alas) how culture declines. The ideal monthly and quarterly reports will happily say that GDE-W is up and GDE-C is down. The best of all worlds.

As the two old indicators are always supposed to produce the same number, so W and C will be complementary. If one goes up, the other must go down. Supposing a huge chunk of wealth is donated to a cultural enterprise. C goes up, but W goes down. So here, too, we can keep government honest in its reporting.

The new Bureau of Elite Analysis will have its work cut out—beginning with the problem that its initials are the same as those of the BEA, the GDP folks. But its all about toughness, isn’t it. When things get tough, the tough get going. GDE-W will be easier to measure because money is involved. One measure, the Gini Index, could be immediately applied. It measures income inequality—and I’m happy to report that Gini is pointing up—so inequality is increasing.

The GDE-C will be a little harder; BEA2’s motto therefore might be, “The difficult we do today, the impossible will take a little longer.” The C measure would, of course, sometimes go down, sometimes up. It went up today because, as a spokesman for BEA2 might  have noted at the morning briefings, that the viewership of American Idol is dropping sharply, hence culture is on the rise. But the other day I noticed that our principal NPR station has begun to fill the afternoon hours with musical programming—not actual music but talk about music and musicians, including long and intimate explorations of how this or that song came to be. The station has also decided to import the Canadian program Q, which is (you guessed it) mostly about music. If BEA2 already existed, I would immediately alert them of this fact so that it could be factored into next month’s C report. NPR is caving to the new; we should note that in real numbers!

Much work lies ahead. The Obama administration, wishing to create jobs, should make it Job 1 to announce the GDE and to form BEA2. Let’s roll up our shirtsleeves!


  1. Ummm... This is a little hard on us prodigal daughters... I prefered your poking fun at Simone a few days ago...

    1. To enjoy this post, Michelle, one has to be deeply steeped in the "real world," don't you see. Those of you who are concerned with peripheral matters, like bringing vast quantities of babies into the world--and rebuilding civilization from the ground up--will, of course find yourselves a little out of touch...


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