31st May 2023

It's Growth Week

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"Fuck GDP" read a banner held up by activists at the recent Brussels Economic Forum, a normally quite mundane affair described as the "flagship annual economic event of the European Commission."

The message, although crassly put, was clear. The activists were protesting against what has been the main measure of prosperity, the Gross Domestic Product; the sum of all goods and services sold by an economy in a given period.

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In common understanding, the dogma with GDP has been, GDP goes up is good, GDP goes down is bad. Slowly, it seems though that this dogmatic approach to measuring good or bad is being questioned.

As Philippe Lambert, one of the main organisers of the Beyond Growth conference taking place in Brussels next week, told James Kanter of the EU Scream podcast, "If you consider that the goal of the economy is to maximize and concentrate the income and the wealth in fewer and fewer hands down, it works perfectly fine," Lambert said.

But if you want a more broad measure, it doesn't. And this is obviously because what GDP obviously does not take into account is human wellbeing or ecological damage resulting from its growth. Or the even simpler fact that we live on a planet with finite resources while expecting infinite growth.

In the past decade or so, this understanding has slowly been trickling through to policy makers, especially on the left and for the greens.

GDP, while concretely measurable, is not an indicator free from morality. Ignoring consequences of optimising for a single variable is just as much a moral (and political) choice as optimising for indicators that in a purely economical sense might be less sound or more qualitative.

But what should we use then? How do we measure prosperity or wellbeing of not only humans, but also the environment and all other organisms?

These are some of the questions that will be discussed in our Growth Week, a themed week exploring what growth is, how to measure it, for whom growth works (and for whom it does not) and if it's actually what we as a society should be aiming for.

Expect interviews with some of the main economic thinkers on the matter, and background articles on moving past our current view on what growth should look like.

Check out all the coverage we publish on our dedicated Growth Week page.

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Paolo Gentiloni: 'We still need growth'

We asked European Commissioner for Economy Paolo Gentiloni and Co-President of the Greens/EFA Group in the European Parliament Philippe Lamberts if Europe can fight inequality and protect the planet without growth.


What even is economic resilience — and does it matter?

GDP is an unreliable indicator of economies' capacity to thrive in times of change. And the over-reliance on GDP won't get our economies on track to meet environmental and social goals when crises hit.


Matthias Schmelzer: 'Changing to an electric car isn't enough'

EUobserver sat down with the economist and historian Matthias Schmelzer to talk about his recent work on degrowth, why growth is such a powerful paradigm, and how to imagine a world not based on ever-increasing consumption and waste.

It's Growth Week

From a human point of view GDP is not a great measure. Yet it's been the economic dogma for decades now. But what should we use then? This is what we'll be exploring (among other things) in Growth Week.


What even is economic resilience — and does it matter?

GDP is an unreliable indicator of economies' capacity to thrive in times of change. And the over-reliance on GDP won't get our economies on track to meet environmental and social goals when crises hit.

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