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Gross Domestic Problem

Gross domestic product is arguably the best-known statistic in the contemporary world, and certainly amongst the most powerful. It drives government policy and sets priorities in a variety of vital social fields - from schooling to healthcare. Yet for perhaps the first time since it was invented in the 1930s, this popular icon of economic growth has come to be regarded by a wide range of people as a 'problem'. After all, does our quality of life really improve when our economy grows 2 or 3 per cent? Can we continue to sacrifice the environment to safeguard a vision of the world based on the illusion of infinite economic growth? Lorenzo Fioramonti takes apart the 'content' of GDP - what it measures, what it doesn't and why - and reveals the powerful political interests that have allowed it to dominate today's economies. In doing so, he demonstrates just how little relevance GDP has to moral principles such as equity, social justice and redistribution, and shows that an alternative is possible, as evinced by the 'de-growth' movement and initiatives such as transition towns. A startling insight into the politics of a number that has come to dominate our everyday lives.
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Table of Contents

Introduction: The world's most powerful number 1. The history of GDP: from crisis to crisis 2. The Frankenstein syndrome 3. The global quest to dethrone GDP 4. Change from below Conclusion: Supremacy and resistance

About the Author

Lorenzo Fioramonti is Jean Monnet Chair in Regional Integration and Governance Studies and Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Pretoria (South Africa), where he directs the Centre for the Study of Governance Innovation. He is also Senior Fellow at the Centre for Social Investment of the University of Heidelberg and at the Hertie School of Governance (Germany) as well as Associate Fellow at the United Nations University. He is the author of numerous books and articles about development policies, alternative economies and social progress indicators and the director of a short film documentary on GDP and climate change, which can be viewed at his blog:


'This book is long overdue. Finally, the political interests behind the GDP mantra have been unveiled, forcing us to rethink mainstream economic views and build a more just and sustainable world. It is indeed the most important struggle of our generation.' Kumi Naidoo, Greenpeace International Executive Director 'As the planet's ecosystems and local and national economies collapse, going beyond GDP has become a survival imperative. This is the challenge that Fioramonti has taken up in Gross Domestic Problem. Further to tracing the short history of GDP, its roots in mobilising for the war, its artificial construction of wealth erasing nature's contributions and the wealth created by women and all who work for sustenance, the author introduces us to new initiatives, like those of Bhutan, to measure real wealth as well being and happiness.' Vandana Shiva 'Going beyond the flaws of using gross domestic product which many have highlighted, this inspiring book by Fioramonti provides a much needed history of the development of GDP and an analysis of how it has been (mis)used to define progress. Further to pointing out the problem of how government policy priorities have been led astray, Fioramonti provides a thorough and up-to-date picture of the various initiatives that have emerged to demote the role of GDP. Not naive in its recognition of the challenges faced by this endeavour, Gross Domestic Problem is an excellent read for academics and activists alike.' Saamah Abdallah, New Economics Foundation 'Never before has one single measure shaped our world so profoundly. Incisively illuminating the politics behind its numbers, Fioramonti has reinforced the urgent need to reset our coded image of ourselves.' Dr Simon Zadek, award-winning author of The Civil Corporation 'Since WWII, we've been willing to sell our grandchildren's tomorrow for a bump in GDP today. Fioramonti reveals the insanity that rules economic thinking by giving us a simple, clear account of "the world's most powerful number," while also surveying the superior alternatives.' Richard Heinberg, author of The End of Growth: Adapting to Our New Economic Reality 'Gross Domestic Problem tells the amazing story of how GDP became the king of all measurements, against the warnings of its very architects. In brilliantly excavating the history of national income measurement, the Depression-era birth of GDP and its politicization in the Cold War, and the rich body of work behind today's global movement to transform national accounting systems, Fioramonti illuminates the politics of GDP like no one else has. This is a singular contribution on a vitally important subject.' Lew Daly, Senior Fellow, Demos (USA), author of Beyond GDP: New Measures for a New Economy 'GDP numbers are quoted all the time, but the power of GDP relies on the fact that hardly anyone knows what it means. As Fioramonti shows in this indispensable guide, there are at least three things wrong with gross domestic product: it's gross, it's domestic and it's a product. That is, the GDP number takes no account of the depletion of capital goods or natural resources, treats income accruing to foreign investors as a measure of national success and focuses on the means of economic activity, production, rather than the ends. Gross Domestic Problem explains why GDP is both so useful and so misleading, and gives a readable history of this most powerful and mysterious of numbers.' John Quiggin, University of Queensland 'Fioramonti shows convincingly that ever since its invention the measurement of GDP has rested on highly controversial ideological assumptions. GDP is thus an ideological weapon, not a neutral scientific measure. There is no hope of escaping the current crisis until we recognise the role that obssession with GDP has played in causing it.' Jonathan Aldred, Director of Studies in Economics, University of Cambridge

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