James Leroy Wilson's blog

Monday, June 30, 2008

Be Your Own Policymaker

Greg Wendt at Reality Sandwich examines the fallacies of the Gross Domestic Product. Particularly, many harmful things count toward increasing GDP, while many good things are not measured. Some forms of economic "growth" create profits in the short-term but environmental damage over the long term.

But why measure GDP at all?

It is really a tool for "policymakers."

When politics is about "lawmaking," the fundamental issue is rights. When politics is about "policy," the issue is welfare, that is, well-being.

It can be correctly said that the GDP has no relevance to our rights and is a poor tool to measure well-being. But it could be said that every tool to measure "well-being" is flawed.

Because well-being can't be measured.

For instance, the nation's average life expectancy isn't going to determine how long you will live. Climate changes will affect some people directly and severely, and others more indirectly and less severely.

So when "policymakers" use their surveys and charts to to make plans and programs, which in turn coerce and cajole you into fitting into their norms, they may or may not help somebody else, but at the same time they can harm you. Their smoking bans can harm your business; their taxes can destroy your savings. Their beautification programs and bike paths can infringe on your property, their imposed energy solutions may drive up prices of things you need, their health care policies can make drugs unaffordable or beds unavailable. Their public libraries, museums, and concert halls may feature books you don't care to read, exhibits you're not interested in, and music you don't like. Their humanitarian crusades may portray your own overseas relatives as the "bad guys" in a foreign conflict.

Their attempts to make the world a better place may leave you worse off. That's because statistically-driven conclusions about happiness, values, or quality of life will not reflect your own personal judgments.

Now, if politics was about law, about rights and wrongs but not policy, things would be different. Courts would resolve conflicts, but otherwise everyone would be their own "policymaker." Sometimes, they would voluntarily cooperate with other policymakers to make policies for a voluntarily-formed group, other times their would make policies only for themselves. Individuals would be concerned with their own "gross domestic product," and weigh it against "priceless" things like time with family. Some would agree with Ian Fleming, thinking "I shall not waste my days in trying to prolong them," while others would derive pleasure from health-consciousness. Individual policymakers would strike their own balance between work and play, and not judge others on that score. Most importantly, individual policymakers could determine for themselves if they are well-off in terms of happiness, or not.

It's hard to quantify that feeling of contentment in your gut.

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