Wellbeing versus GDP: The Challenge and Opportunity of Human Development in the 21st Century

David C. Korten of the Stanford Business School in his essay as part of the Rearticulation of Human Development project asks – Is humanity’s defining economic goal to grow GDP or to secure the wellbeing of people and the living Earth?

Long Read

During May, the ISC will be featuring essays written by experts on Rearticulating Human Development. This is a joint project with the UNDP. ISC members and your networks are encouraged to participate. Visit the project homepage here.

A rearticulation of Human Development for the 21st century is much needed. I am honored by the invitation from the International Science Council and United Nations Development Programme to contribute to the discussion. I suggest that a defining focus of the discussion be on a question that the UN has long evaded: Is humanity’s defining economic goal to grow GDP or to secure the wellbeing of people and the living Earth?

A global commitment to the economic development of low-income countries began to gain international traction shortly before the end of WWII. By the mid-1980s, many of us who had dedicated our lives to that cause concluded that something was badly amiss.

Important progress had been made in extending people’s lives through immunizations and other public health measures. The focus on growing formal sector production and consumption as measured by GDP, however, ignored the essential needs of most people and completely ignored the requirements of Earth’s natural systems. People were being stripped of control of their means of living and Earth was being stripped of its capacity to sustain life. Those alarming outcomes have continued to worsen. Read more.


Image by Quinn Dombrowski on Flickr.

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