Economic growth as a yardstick for a government's success is relatively new on a human historical scale. In my thinking it has arisen out of an expansion of the expected function of a state. States at a minimum are expected to uphold the rule of law and protect its people and its interests. Economic growth arose out of the need to implement not just criminal justice but also social justice. Now with globalisation and the breakneck speed with which developing countries are growing economically, economic growth is so deeply entrenched. However, it is possibly unsustainable and as things stand culturally and environmentally harmful.

Are there ways to either - eschew growth in favour of something better

  • constrain and direct growth in a way that is culturally and environmentally sensitive?
  • $\begingroup$ There is of course the HDI: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_Development_Index $\endgroup$
    – HRSE
    Commented Dec 3, 2015 at 10:56
  • $\begingroup$ Hdi highly correlated to GDP though $\endgroup$
    – Kaleb
    Commented Dec 3, 2015 at 13:49
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    $\begingroup$ If creating a free society is called a success, then maybe the freedom index of freedomhouse. Besides, correlation among such indices is not a bad thing. It is natural that different measures of well-being are related to one another. $\endgroup$
    – HRSE
    Commented Dec 4, 2015 at 2:10
  • $\begingroup$ I'm not sure that GDP was ever the metric to measure a state's success $\endgroup$
    – 410 gone
    Commented Dec 4, 2015 at 12:15

2 Answers 2


Depends on what you mean by "success".

Economic growth is simply change in gross output expressed in market prices. Prices tell you what citizens want and how much of it they have. Equating marginal utility with price is a useful abstraction in this case.

Economic growth is trivially desirable: it's about people making things they need.

When "success" is defined in some progressive terms, it's no longer trivially desirable. Zero employment policies — like those in the Soviet Union — hurt productivity. Premature investments in clean tech worsen intertemporal tradeoffs. You actually get back to GDP to measure these successes.

Still, measurements of economic growth can get better. Like Stiglitz et al's suggestion to use net disposable income instead of GDP per capita (see Commission on the Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress, Mismeasuring Our Lives). Adjusting per-capita metrics for inequality would also be a good idea.


Have you heard about Bhutan's measure of success called Gross National Happiness (GNH)? Several other nations followed suit Bhutan and created their own measure of GNH, given the time I have, I would just recommend you to google "GNH" to find out about an alternative measure.

  • $\begingroup$ Classifying half the population as "not yet happy" is a little too Brave New World for me $\endgroup$
    – Henry
    Commented Feb 17, 2017 at 22:14

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