Singapore’s GDP for 2014 Q3 was reported as 2.8%. This news came with much disappointment, as it was lower than what analysts expected. Granted, Singapore, being a small country, must abide by the rules of the global economy. And thus must improve productivity to achieve sustainable economic growth that will fund an improving quality of life (as PM Lee mentioned in his 2015 New Year Message).
But, imagine for a moment if we could rewrite the rules of the global economy. And we were able to question our most basic assumptions. We might ask does it still make sense to have growth every year? Does it really measure a nation’s prosperity? Does that “prosperity” really trickle down to everyone equally? Or does it make us more unequal? And is GDP even the right way to measure how well we’re doing as a nation or as a society?
Problems with GDP as a Measure of Prosperity
I’ve always had a problem with GDP, primarily because it does not account for environmental degradation and inequalities within a country. It seems that as GDP grows, so does the gap between the very rich and very poor; as GDP grows, there is more and more damage to Earth’s resources. How do we measure these consequences on future generations? Are we doing too much damage for the sake of “growth” and “prosperity”?
I’m not Catholic, but I do respect and admire Pope Francis’s edicts on climate change and capitalism. He has urged his church to become good environmental stewards on a planet “frequently exploited by human greed and rapacity.” In recent months, the pope has argued for a radical new financial and economic system to avoid human inequality and ecological devastation.
The monopolising of lands, deforestation, the appropriation of water, inadequate agro-toxics are some of the evils that tear man from the land of his birth. Climate change, the loss of biodiversity and deforestation are already showing their devastating effects in the great cataclysms we witness,” he said.
Since the new year began, greetings of “Happy New Year” fill the air. But every now and then someone will wish me “a Prosperous New Year”. For me, I do not wish for prosperity. If I am honest with myself, I know I already have more than I need. Yet I also know there are many who have very little.
Let prosperity go to others who need it more. Let it go to the subsistence farmers that have been devastated by extreme climate events, to the 3 billion people who lack access to modern electricity requiring them to heat and light their homes using methods dangerous to their health, to the 54% of people in India who do not have access to toilets and good sanitation, or to the 40% of the world population that live on less than $2 (USD) a day. Prosperity should go to these people.
Considering More than Just Economic Growth
Being frugal is not just about hunting for the cheapest price or hoarding a lot of cheap stuff. But one must consider a multitude of factors including environmental stewardship and sustainability.
Being frugal is really about not excessively consuming. And by not excessively consuming, this will allow you to save time and money for what really matters. Sometimes prosperity is achieved at the expense of other things. Because GDP doesn’t encompass this, I think it’s misleading and not a good indicator of a nation’s prosperity (let alone the prosperity of the people who reside in that nation).
If I could rewrite the rules of the global economy that compel Singapore to emphasise economic growth, I would rewrite them in such a way as to allow Singapore to focus more on environmental sustainability and minimizing inequality.
Instead of wishing me a prosperous new year, wish me a sustainable new year. Because that is what I wish for Singapore.