Hallstead, Ted and Cobb, Clifford, “The Need for New Measurements of Progress,” in Mander, J., & Goldsmith, E. (1996). The case against the global economy: And for a turn toward the local. San Francisco: Sierra Club Books.
Short synopsis of the article: The authors seek to discover why people and politicians are still focused on the obsolete economic measurement, GDP. Beginning by discussing the economic boom of the 1990s, Hallstead and Clifford explain that while Allen Greenspan was assuring the media that the economy was in great shape many Americans were wondering why they were working longer hours with seemingly less buying power. The media never asked the key question of economists which should have been “How do you define good times in the first place?” The economy in the US has changed over the last 50 years since the introduction of the GDP measurement; however, the measurement remains the same. GDP modeling is based on the Great Depression era economy of World War II. The model does not measure external indicators and the statistics it produces relate to economic theory but not people. The GDP may have risen 55% in 50 years but that does not indicate that people are better off economically or lifestyle-wise. Using a measurement called Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI) the authors outline a way in which they would rather see economists calculate economic growth. GPI takes into consideration such additional factors as pollution, environmental degradation, and sustainability.
Important features, facts, and highlights from the article: The article lists item by item all of the distortions caused by GDP measurements including those that relate to natural resource depletion, increase in family disconnections, increase in disease, shifting of family functions to industry, lack of income distribution, etc. In place of the GDP measurement the authors offer a model they developed called GPI: Genuine Progress Indicator. The GPI measures a less narrow number of factors in order to better assess economic development in the US since 1950.
The article spends one entire section addressing the impact of GDP on measuring the progress of what they refer to as the “South.” They claim that the use of GDP measures has been more detrimental to the South than anywhere else. They refer to a lifestyle difference between the South and the North. For example, in the South women grow and prepare food; however, this type of work is not a consideration in GDP calculations.
Short summary of thoughts/reflections/reactions on the article: The history of the GDP as presented by these authors gave me insight about how the measurement was developed by professional economists functioning during the Great Depression. These economists did not concern themselves with the quality of people’s lives. It was not that they did not care about people in general; it was just that these economists really did not think that what average people were doing on an everyday basis had anything to with the task at hand. In economist terminology, the social welfare of people and the impact of industry on the environment were “externalities” meaning that those factors were outside the consideration of the economic formula. The entire orientation of the GDP therefore is statistical. It does not relate to what is happening in people’s lives and homes. The GDP is a measurement for industry.
The article put me in mind of the push for corporations to be considered entities like human beings. Personhood for corporations is not a new concept apparently. Economists have actually put more emphasis on the welfare of corporations and industries during and since the Great Depression than they have on individuals and families. According to the article the economists do not feel comfortable measuring the welfare of individuals, they consider such analysis “value judgments" and therefore outside their purview as economists.
The writers warn that the environmental and social costs of measuring the US economy in terms of GDP only will eventually result in disaster. They urge a broader examination of economic growth. It is difficult to imagine that this embrace social of justice and the environment may ever hold sway in the terms of reporting the state of the economy because power in the US appears to be held by industry and corporations.
Hudson, I., & Hudson, M. (December 01, 2003). Removing the Veil?: Commodity Fetishism, Fair Trade, and the Environment. Organization & Environment, 16, 4,
Short synopsis of the article: The authors seek to answer the question whether or not fair trade can solve the problems caused by commodity fetishism. This article addresses the issue of commodity fetishism and how economists compare things, such as products, rather than comparing people's lifestyles. Thing to thing and product to price comparisons dominate when judging the success of the economy. The beginning of the article explains Marx’s concept of commodity fetishism; the second section examines alternative trade otherwise known as fair trade; and the final section looks at how well fair trade practices can correct the damage caused by commodity fetishes. Two classical economists, Karl Marx and Adam Smith, are discussed throughout the work. Much of the article uses fair trade coffee as the example commodity.
List of the important features, facts, and highlights from the article: he authors compare Marx’s warnings about commodity fetish to what they conclude would be Adam Smith’s assessment. For Smith the embrace of commodities by most of society was not originally a problem. In fact, the popularity of commodities was great indeed. The idea of commodity fetishism was explained by Marx as the inclination for people to start comparisons of success in terms of things. This resulted in discussions about things rather than people’s lives. In fact, commodities take on lives of their own, as do corporations and industries.
The impact on the labor force of commodities is that these things have a direct relationship to how people work, where and when they work, and how much they are paid. The money earned by people ceases to the due to labor such as working to bring in a crop and has more to do with producing a thing and selling that thing. Presumably, the thing, the commodity is being sold to other laborers. According to Marx, this results it the ultimate exploitation of the worker force.
Marx’s concept of abstract labor deals with people who work in a commodity based country and how their labor is different from traditional notions of labor. Because the laborer meets the demands of his employer through an exchange of commodities in the marketplace labor itself is distilled down into “quantifiable units,” it is no longer appreciated in terms of its quality.
Another modern aspect that further distances the laborers from his work is long distance transportation and sale of commodities. The act of laboring becomes increasingly quantitative instead of qualitative because the laborer does not even see the person who benefits from his labor and vice versa. In this situation, money becomes the pivotal point. Money induces the laborer to work to make money and on behalf of making money. People are urged to consume, sell, and desire more commodities because that is the way in which people earn their living. Without a demand for commodities, there is no demand for laborers.
Short summary of your thoughts/reflections/reactions on the article: It is interesting to note that as far back as Marx people were complaining about how economists measure the success of a nation’s economy based on how well industry is doing in terms of products and prices. The viewpoint of industry and corporations has been the dominant one for many years and the viewpoint of people has all but been excluded from economic theory and calculations. Society in terms of people and families has long been relegated to the sphere of study outside economics. According to this article, economists did not think it relevant or worthwhile to try to incorporate and analysis of persona welfare into economic equations. Because the welfare of people is not worth discussing, or is outside the realm of mathematical equations, corporations and industry have taken over the world market without any resistance. This is and always has been an exploitation of people who work for a living, but it has occurred with comments and criticisms coming from philosophers and other critics on the periphery who go largely unnoticed or unacknowledged.
Commodities were not forced upon consumers then, as they now appear to be, with overt threats that if a person does not buy enough they are practically unpatriotic. The give and take between buyers and sellers is supposed to be voluntary and remains so as long as the corporate and industrial markets are satisfactory. However, the reality is that money is spent in ceaseless commercials that encourage people to by all sorts of things for all sorts of reasons. The reasons that people should consume ore commodities are numerous but one of the most important messages is that by consuming commodities workers are ensuring a string economy and thereby safeguarding their own employment status.