A key economic objective of governments around the world is economic growth, where economic growth is taken to mean growth in Gross Domestic Product (GDP). This can be refined as growth in GDP per head or growth in Net National Income (NNY or NNI) – this takes account of depreciation and net flows of income to and from abroad. But is GDP (or NNY) an appropriate measure? There continues to be much debate about this and there is a lot of support for adopting an alternative measure – the Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI) as a target for economic policy.
GDP measures the market value of production and is the value added at each stage of production. If the value of a nation’s production is what you want to measure or target, then GDP is quite a good indicator. Its main drawbacks are that it uses market prices, which may be distorted, and that much of production in the informal sector is not included.
But if GDP growth is taken to be a proxy for development or growth in wellbeing of the residents of a country, then it has serious shortcomings. This is not to say that GDP gives no indication of progress. Generally, countries with higher GDP per head have a better standard of living, but it is not necessarily the case that, if Country A has higher production in the formal sector than Country B, its residents will be happier, more fulfilled and have fewer economic or other problems.
GDP, by focusing on production, ignores many environmental and social costs of that production. Valuable but not tradable resources, such as clean air, rivers and oceans, may be sacrificed for the sake of extra production and this is recorded as a gain in GDP.
Similarly, unless GDP is specifically weighted by income groups, which virtually never happens, it does not take into account income distribution. Much of the growth in production in both rich and poor countries in recent decades has gone to the richest people. Take the case of the USA. In 1944 the share of income going to the top 1% share was 11.3%, while the bottom 90% were receiving 67.5%. Such levels remained roughly constant for the next three decades. But then things began to change.
Starting in the mid- to late 1970s, the uppermost tier’s income share began rising dramatically, while that of the bottom 90% started to fall. The top 1% took heavy hits from the dot-com crash and the Great Recession but recovered fairly quickly: [preliminary estimates for 2012 by Emmanuel Saez] have that group receiving nearly 22.5% of all pre-tax income, while the bottom 90%’s share is below 50% for the first time ever (49.6%, to be precise).
So what does GPI measure and why may it be a better target for policy-makers than GDP or NNY? The answer is that it includes a number of important items that affect the well-being of a country, such as resource depletion, social activity and income distribution, that are not measured in GDP. So what would cause GPI to rise? According to The Guardian article below, examples would include:
Getting more energy from renewables; increased energy efficiency; reducing the income gap; putting more reliable, durable products on the market (have you heard of planned obsolescence?); volunteering more for your community; preserving wetlands, forests, and farmland; shorter commutes and transport routes. In fact, there are 26 ways the GPI can go up, all measured in dollars that boil down to a single number.
GPI is being increasingly adopted as a measure of progress. In the USA, it is officially used in Vermont and Maryland and is being considered in other states, such as Hawaii, Washington and Oregon.
And there are other alternatives. For example, since 1990, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has published an annual Human Development Index (HDI) As Box 27.1 in Economics, 8th edition states:
HDI is the average of three indices based on three sets of variables: (i) life expectancy at birth, (ii) education (a weighted average of (a) the mean years that a 25-year-old person or older has spent in school and (b) the number of years of schooling that a 5-year-old child is expected to have over their lifetime) and (iii) real GNY per capita, measured in US dollars at purchasing-power parity exchange rates.
The following articles look at the suitability of GDP and GPI and whether, by targeting growth in GDP, governments are guilty of downplaying the importance of other economic and social objectives.
Beyond GDP: US states have adopted genuine progress indicators The Guardian, Marta Ceroni (23/9/14)
Forget the GDP. Some States Have Found a Better Way to Measure Our Progress. New Republic, Lew Daly and Sean McElwee (3/2/14)
Gross domestic problem Aljazeera, Sean McElwee (6/6/14)
Creating the Circular Economy, Part II Environmental Leader, David Dornfeld (17/9/14)
Development: Time to leave GDP behind Nature, Robert Costanza, Ida Kubiszewski, Enrico Giovannini, Hunter Lovins, Jacqueline McGlade, Kate E. Pickett, Kristín Vala Ragnarsdóttir, Debra Roberts, Roberto De Vogli and Richard Wilkinson (15/1/14)
The Problems With Using GPI Rather Than GDP Forbes, Tim Worstall (5/6/14)
- What does GDP measure?
- Does GDP of a country equate to the turnover of a firm?
- If growth in NNY is superior to growth in GDP as a measure of economic growth, why are GDP figures more generally used than NNY figures when assessing a country’s economic performance?
- How suitable is using GDP as a measure of a nation’s production?
- What does GPI measure?
- Is GPI superior to GDP as a measure of a nation’s level of development? Explain why or why not.
- Give some examples of where a growth in GDP might correspond to a decline in economic well-being.
- For what reasons could GPI measures be described as subjective?
- Would it be a good idea for a country to target growth in GPI/GDP? Explain your answer.
- In addition to real GNY per capita, the Human Development Index includes measures of education and life expectancy. For what other social objectives might education and life expectancy be useful proxies?
Investment is essential for the growth of any economy, but none more so for an economy recovering from a severe downturn, such as the UK. Not only will it bring in much needed money and then create jobs for UK residents, but it will also continue to build ties between the UK and the world’s fastest growing economy.
George Osborne has been in China promoting business opportunities for investment in the UK and one such investment is into Manchester Airport. The ‘Airport City’ Project will be a combined effort, or a Joint Venture, between the Greater Manchester Pension Fund, the UK’s Carillion Plc and Beijing Construction Engineering Group. The plan is to create offices, hotels, warehouses and manufacturing firms, bringing in thousands of jobs in the process, thus providing a much needed boost to the British economy. Britain is already one of the top nations attracting Chinese investment, with more than double the amount of any other European nation. George Osborne is clearly in favour of further improving business ties with China, saying:
I think it shows that our economic plan of doing more business with China and also making sure more economic activity in Britain happens outside the City of London is working…That’s good for Britain and good for British people.
However, the benefit of such investment from China into the UK, is not just of benefit to our domestic economy. China will also reap benefits from its involvement in projects, such as the development of Manchester’s airport. The Managing Director of BCEG, Mr Xing Yan, said:
To be included in such an interesting and unique development is a real honour…We see our involvement in Airport City as an extension of the memorandum of understanding between China and the UK, where we have been looking to further explore joint infrastructure opportunities for some time.
The airport investment by China is only one of many of its recent forays into the UK economy. Other investments include plans to rebuild London’s Crystal Palace and plans to create a third financial district near London’s City Airport.
Some may see more Chinese involvement in UK business as a threat, but for most it is viewed as an opportunity. An opportunity that both Boris Johnson and George Osborne will undoubtedly exploit as far as possible, with the hope that it will generate income, employment and growth. The following articles consider this investment opportunity.
Manchester Airport Group announces jobs boost The Telegraph, David Millward (13/10/13)
China’s BCEG joins UK Manchester airport joint venture Reuters (13/10/13)
Manchester Airport to receive investment from China BBC News (13/10/13)
George Osborne hails China’s airport investment The Telegraph (13/10/13)
Chinese group in $1.2bn British airport development deal The Economic Times (13/10/13)
China in £800m Manchester airport deal Financial Times, Elizabeth Rigby and Lucy Hornby (13/10/13)
Boris and Osborne in China to push trade Sky News, Mark Stone (13/10/13)
What does China own in Britain? BBC News (14/10/13)
- What is a joint venture? What are the advantages and disadvantages of a joint venture relative to other business structures?
- How important are political ties with China?
- Do you view Chinese investment in the UK as an opportunity or a threat? Make a list for each side of the argument, ensuring you offer explanations for each reason.
- What macroeconomic benefits will the development of the Manchester Airport bring to the city?
- Will there be wider economic benefits to the rest of the UK, despite the investment being located in Manchester?
- Using the AD/AS model, illustrate and explain why investment is so important to the recovery of the UK economy.
It doesn’t seem that long ago when Greece was in the news regarding its deficit and need for bailing out. Back then, countries such as Spain, Portugal and Ireland were being mentioned as the next countries which might require financial assistance from the EU. It is now the Irish economy that is in trouble, even though the Irish government has not yet requested any financial help. The EU, however, is ‘ready to act’.
The Irish economy experienced an extremely strong boom, but they also suffered from the biggest recession in the developed world, with national income falling by over 20% since 2007. Savers are withdrawing their money; property prices continue to collapse; and banks needed bailing out. Austerity measures have already been implemented – tax rises and spending cuts equal to 5% of GDP took place, but it has still not been enough to stabilise the economy’s finances. All of these problems have contributed to a large and unsustainable budget deficit and a significant lack of funding and that’s where the EU and possibly the IMF come in.
If the Irish economy continues to decline and experiences a financial crisis, the UK would probably be one of the first to step in and offer finance. As our closest neighbour and an important trading partner, the collapse of the Irish economy would adversely affect the UK. A significant proportion of our exports go to the Irish economy and, with Irish taxpayers facing troubled times, UK exporting companies may be the ones to suffer.
One thing that this crisis has done is to provide eurosceptics with an opportunity to argue their case and blame the euro for the collapse of Ireland. With one monetary policy, the Irish economy is tied in to the interest rates set by the ECB and low interest rates fuelled the then booming economy. The common currency also increased capital flows from central European countries, such as Germany, to peripheral countries, such as Ireland, Spain and Portugal. In themselves, capital flows aren’t a problem, but when they are used to fund property bubbles and not productive investments, adverse effects are inevitable, as Ireland found to its detriment.
As prices collapsed and banks simply ran out of money, the government stepped in and rescued not only the depositors of Irish banks, but also their bondholders. Unable to devalue their currency, as it’s the euro, the Irish economy was unable to boost exports and hence aggregate demand and in turn economic growth. Although, the Irish government has not requested any financial help, as the French Finance Minister commented about a potential bailout: “Is it six months or a few days away? I’d say it’s closer to days.” The following articles look at this developing situation in Europe.
EU plays down Irish republic bail-out talks BBC News (17/11/10)
Ireland bailout: the European politicians who will decide Telegraph, Phillip Aldrick (17/11/10)
Don’t blame the Euro for Ireland’s mess Financial Times, Phillipe Legrain (17/11/10)
Britain signals intention to help Ireland in debt crisis New York Times, James Kanter and Steven Erlanger (17/11/10)
Ireland will take aid if ‘bank issue is too big’ Irish Times, Jason Michael (17/11/10)
Irish junior party says partnership strained Reuters (17/11/10)
Ireland resists humiliating bail-out as UK pledges £7 billion Telegraph, Bruno Waterfield (17/11/10)
Markets stable as Ireland bailout looms Associated Press (17/11/10)
The implausible in pursuit of the indefensible? BBC News blogs, Stephanomics, Stephanie Flanders (16/11/10)
Ireland bailout worth ‘tens of billions’ of euros, says central bank governor Guardian, Julia Kollewe and Lisa O’Carroll (18/11/10)
The stages of Ireland’s grief BBC News blogs, Stephanomics, Stephanie Flanders (18/11/10)
Q&A: Irish Republic finances BBC News (19/11/10)
Could Spain and Portugal be next to accept bail-outs? BBC News, Gavin Hewitt (19/11/10)
- Why will the UK be affected by the collapse of the Irish economy?
- If Ireland were not a member of the eurozone, would the country be any better off? How might a floating exchange rate boost growth?
- The Financial Times article talks about the euro not being to blame for the Irish problems, saying that ‘tight fiscal policy’ should have been used. What does this mean?
- Why is the housing market so important to any nation?
- What are the arguments (a) for and (b) against the euro? Would Ireland benefit from leaving the euro?
- Should the UK government intervene to help Ireland? What are the key factors that will influence this decision? What about the EU – should Ireland ask for help? Should the EU give help?
- Austerity measures have already been implemented, but what other actions could the Irish economy take to increase competitiveness?
’The steepest and longest recession of any developed country since World War II.’ This has been the case for Ireland, which has seen national income fall by 20% since 2007. Many countries across the globe have experienced pretty bad recessions, but what makes Ireland stand out is how it has been dealt with.
In the UK, the government has continued spending in a bid to stimulate the economy and to use Gordon Brown’s phrase from 2008, we have aimed to ‘spend our way out of recession’. Ireland, however, did not have that option. With too much borrowing, Ireland was unable to stimulate the economy and needed to cut its debts in order to maintain its credibility in the eurozone. Last year, significant cuts in government spending were accompanied by tax rises equal to 5% of GDP. Similar action is to be expected in the UK following the election, where popular benefits may have to be reduced, as transfer payments do account for the majority of government spending. Whoever is in government following the election will have some hard decisions to make and everyone will be affected. Read the article below and listen to the interview and think about what the UK can learn from Ireland.
Irish lessons for the UK (including interview) BBC Stephanomics (9/4/10)
- In the interview, Brian Lenihan said that the UK was expecting too much from the falling value of sterling. What was the UK expecting following significant depreciations in the value of sterling and why has that not happened?
- What is a deflationary spiral? Why has it caused Ireland’s public debt to rise so much?
- Why does Brian Lenihan argue that there are limits to how much taxes can be increased? What are diminishing returns to taxation?
- Would the UK be any better off had we joined the euro? What about other countries: would they have benefited had we joined the euro?