Forget about the GDP take a look at well-being instead

Forget about the GDP take a look at well-being instead

A program on American Public Media’s Marketplace on Saturday morning caught my attention as APM’s Heidi Moore presented the pros and cons of using the GDP and consumerism as a means of measuring how “well” we’re doing. I’ve always thought it was a bit of a conundrum that as we try to reuse as much as we can (right now to the current obsession with vintage clothing) we’re still measuring ourselves on how much we’re consuming. It’s the same when I hear that unemployment is high, but the number of startups is rapidly increasing. Does anyone not see the correlations between these things? I can’t tell you how many of my friends have started their businesses while on unemployment. (Frankly I don’t see anything wrong with that and I’m happy to pay taxes to fund my friends’ and others’ dreams.)

I don’t agree with a lot of what happens in the UK but I was intrigued by the new Gallup-Healthways Wellbeing Index. It’s an index of how well UK residents are doing in terms of their health and well-being. The reporter went on to talk about “why don’t we have one here” and so I looked it up. We’ve had a Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index in the US since 2008. (Shame on you, Heidi Moore that was super easy to find.)
Basically, here’s what it does:

The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index® is the first-ever daily assessment of U.S. residents’ health and well-being. By interviewing at least 1,000 U.S. adults every day, the Well-Being Index provides real-time measurement and insights needed to improve health, increase productivity, and lower healthcare costs. Public and private sector leaders use data on life evaluation, physical health, emotional health, healthy behavior, work environment, and basic access to develop and prioritize strategies to help their communities thrive and grow.

I think well-being is a better index. It takes into account our basic life evaluation, emotional and physical health, our behaviors, work environment…all the things that go toward how we FEEL about ourselves. Of that 9% who are unemployed, how many have the chance now to learn something new or finish their college degree? How many are starting businesses? A well-being index could be used to factor those people out and give us a NET NET unemployment figure. Then we could really focus on those people who have lost their jobs and can’t feed their families.

There’s another factor that we must begin to examine if businesses are to become healthier…and that means so much more than being profitable. What about a spirituality index? One that starts with corporations? What if we measured them by not only income and now increasingly social responsibility, but also by how “good’ they are. I think you’d be surprised at the where Walmart ranks as opposed to Target. But more on that later.

27 Comments
  • Fienna
    Posted at 10:21h, 22 August Reply

    I think everyone will be inspired by this article. As my husband …. Thanks 🙂

  • Famous Networth
    Posted at 12:42h, 22 August Reply

    Do you really think that something like this can be accurately measured though?

    I mean how do you measure well being over the course of a year really, with any kind of accurancy?

    Just curious, love the article but i find this interesting.

    • bonnie
      Posted at 12:46h, 22 August Reply

      To be honest, think social and positive psychologists at institutions like Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania have proven many times that things like happiness, gratitude, and the like can be measured quantitatively. This is simply a roll-up of those types of measurements, to me.

  • Gary Brazzell
    Posted at 07:46h, 22 August Reply

    Excellent points. Glad to see some people are talking about this. Many people in America would be a lot happier if they would watch less news. News brings other people’s problems into your house in a very personal and unhelpful way. It also takes little concerns and blows them into huge emotional bundles.

    I would like to see an index that measures whether people have what they need: a security net for later in life, nutrition on the table, a roof over your head, basic transportation, basic health, and a social life. If you have those things, happiness is simply a personal choice.

  • bonnie
    Posted at 07:56h, 22 August Reply

    I think that’s basically what the index measures, Gary although it’s all self-reported so ratings are not totally objective. Here’s the methodology

  • Gary Brazzell
    Posted at 12:59h, 22 August Reply

    Do you really think that something like this can be accurately measured though?

    If we’re talking accuracy as in space shuttle launch calculations, no. But if we’re talking accuracy as in we have a baseline within social sciences, I think so. Advanced Marketing is very much about the same sort of measurements,except they tend to focus on people’s emotions toward a specific product. I like the measurements that Bonnie pointed out because I look at them as the best report card I’ve ever seen on how well America does for Americans and how well Amercians do for America. Forget watching the stock market like a crazed cat focused on a laser pointer. Those are the measurements that matter.

  • Alan Frost
    Posted at 17:19h, 22 August Reply

    I completely agree about the happiness index being a more relevant metric. After all, what could be more important than the welfare of a country’s citizens.

    I am not entirely sure about spirituality though; it sounds extremely hard to define (and it has a bit of a religious connotation). I would rather see an ethics index for companies.

  • Rufus Dogg
    Posted at 08:29h, 23 August Reply

    No wonder everything feels so hopeless! OH-03 is 408th in well being and happiness. In fact, it’s like a whole dark cloud of gloom and despair rules the state. It may be time to move… maybe tomorrow when I feel better about moving… 🙂

    Seriously, where you live matters. Who you surround yourself with matters. Place matters. The great thing about social media is you can build place and people around you easily (at least in your head) which is 90% of the way to being there. Something else that may need some research. Where are we when you tweet?

  • Steph
    Posted at 04:10h, 24 August Reply

    i too lost my job years ago and then started a business ( offline ), it took a while but it is alright now, getting a decent income.

  • ascentive
    Posted at 23:21h, 23 August Reply

    I love Marketplace. I subscribe to the podcast on my Android smartphone and listen to every episode.

    >>One that starts with corporations?

    I think first we need to start by chaging the technical definition of corporations so that they’re no longer treated by law as “individuals” 🙂

    Also I actually think there have been fairly significant efforts to get the word out on Walmart vs Target as far as spotlighting the way they truly act in the world.

    • bonnie
      Posted at 07:19h, 24 August Reply

      Walmart is demonized by the media due to their non-union policies. They are actually the most charitable corporation in the world. At Walmart, anyone is eligible for health insurance despite how many hours they work. At Target, they purposefully keep employees below 32 hours a week so they don’t have to give them insurance. Walmart was the first to do sustainable green roofs. Our friends’ house was destroyed by the tornado in Hugo a few years ago. The Walmart truck showed up 2 hours before the Red Cross. Target is about to be the subject of a class-action lawsuit for firing middle-aged women. (Sorry, I could go on and on)

      • Gary Brazzell
        Posted at 07:41h, 24 August Reply

        I have to bring the demonization of WalMart up from time to time with marketing consulting clients. Much of the negativity fired at that company came not because they were so different but because they were the most successful. When you’re the best, the mediocrity will try to scratch and pull you down. This occurs in local markets and in internal employment situations as well. Differentiating and handling real complaints versus negative PR campaigns is a delicate task.

        • Rufus Dogg
          Posted at 08:02h, 24 August Reply

          Meh. Walmart is only the “most successful” because they took advantage of the Interstate highway system that was paid for by tax dollars. They kinda cheated their way to the top of the retail food chain by climbing on the back of others and claiming to have gotten up there all by themselves.

          Google did the same thing. So did Apple, So did Microsoft. I don’t mind that so much as they did recognize the advantages first (or best) for their business. But to champion like they got there due to their own efforts is disingenuous and dangerous as a historical narrative for future success. Each generation owes the previous. To deny that is like building castles on sand … which explains why most third-generation companies fail.

        • bonnie
          Posted at 09:42h, 24 August Reply

          Gary, this would make an excellent guest post for the Wax blog if you ever find yourself with a few extra minutes…:)

      • Rufus Dogg
        Posted at 07:55h, 24 August Reply

        Bonnie, I disagree with the non-union policies being the driving force behind the media demonizing WalMart. Like any good corporation, the driving force behind anything they do is a profit motive, even if it is a wide arc.

        The water truck showing up for Hugo and Katrina was a small price to pay for some good PR and the everlasting gratitude of its core customers. It is really that simple.

        Walmart keeps working people poor. Most people who work there can’t really afford the health insurance, even if it is offered. It’s like saying “all elephants gets free ice cream today.” There are no elephants in the parlour and they don’t even eat ice cream.

        The tax drain they put on a local economy is also devastating, with cities (like Englewood, Ohio!) so eager to claim 600+ jobs, gives them a 12 year tax abatement, builds out the freeway exit ramps, etc. Then, the employees move from Dayton, into rental units on the edge of the city surrounding Walmart that can only be described as tenement slums and send their kids to schools already busting out that are supported by property tax dollars. And Walmart, the main beneficiary, pays no taxes to build out the school system, public health or road maintenance. The City will eventually have to raise our taxes and its fees to buy salt and asphalt to repair the roads that the non-stop trucks in and out wear and tear the roads.

        I’m sure that if Englewood ever ran out of water, though, WalMart would send out a truck….

        I could go on about how Walmart in a nearby township made a deal with the township to collect a direct tax that pays for additional police and fire. Walmart isn’t paying this; their mostly minimum-wage employees are paying for police services.

        I could go on and on about this as well… but I’ll stop here.

        • Gary Brazzell
          Posted at 09:15h, 24 August Reply

          Thanks for proving my point. Downtown businesses who can’t compete in price or convenience with WalMart are one of the main instigators of the negative PR campaigns that have been waged for decades. My local WalMart pays more in local taxes in one day than many downtown businesses pay in a year. Yes, it’s tough living on the wages of a retail worker. But the wgaes WalMart pays are not out of line with what many of our downtown businesses pay cashiers, janitors, and stockers. Granted, their management structure is more efficient, so they have a higher ratio of low wage workers compared to managers than a locally owned main street business would. But on the flip side of that, WalMart sells products at lower prices, making life a little easier for low-wage workers. WalMart is not to blame for minimum wage jobs in America. Those existed long before WalMart, and WalMart is not in any position to fix America’s minimum wage culture.

        • Rufus Dogg
          Posted at 10:09h, 24 August Reply

          @Gary I woud challenge the tax payments a bit. Most Walmarts get a lot of tax concessions from the local municipalities for the promise of jobs, so there is a lot of tax revenue displacement. As the initial flush of jobs abates, the lower wages drives lower tax revenues per capita, but the services that are needed to support the influx of population increases.. eventually, it just hurts those who own property within the area Walmart “serves.” And it really hurts when they just up and leave because the store is under-performing.

          Short-term, WalMart is a fantastic story of market dominance, no question. But government can and should take the long view of things. Walmart has a history going back to 1962 which is enough time to assess their history properly about how they use the tax code to drive revenue (it’s not all selling stuff at great prices!) and their policies of non reclamation once they have sucked all the resources (human, land and tax revenues) from a community.

          In the beginning, it was about low prices, great value, playing fair, being the best — all those things we admire from leaders. Now, it’s all about market dominance and leveraging laws and legislation to stay on top. Wages are really a red herring. It’s not about wages hardly at all.. it is about the abuse of a tax and legislative system to increase profits and drive out competition unfairly.

  • bonnie
    Posted at 09:16h, 24 August Reply

    Rufus you’re right, and Best Buy Corporate does the same thing in Bloomington as do their big box stores and others like them. As Gary pointed out, the “best” gets the criticism.

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  • Pingback:Walmart vs Target...do we really see the true picture or PR spin? | Wax Blog
    Posted at 11:21h, 29 August Reply

    […] not going to argue the merits of Walmart with everyone but comments on last week’s post made me wonder how much we really know about Walmart or Target…and how much misinformation has […]

  • Rev Jain
    Posted at 03:08h, 30 August Reply

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    Posted at 14:43h, 09 September Reply

    I am not entirely sure about spirituality though, its hard to define if anything.

  • California Free mls
    Posted at 02:44h, 02 November Reply

    Hey Bonnie,
    I’ve discovered some truths about Walmart unknown to me. I had a dark picture about Walmart after what happened and what made it fail years ago. I really didn’t know that Walmart was the first to do sustainable green roofs. I’m getting a broader picture about Walmart from your blog.

  • registro de la propiedad
    Posted at 07:04h, 26 February Reply

    I would like to see an index that measures whether people have what they need: a security net for later in life, nutrition on the table, a roof over your head, basic transportation, basic health, and a social life. If you have those things, happiness is simply a personal choice.

  • Gary Brazzell
    Posted at 11:07h, 27 February Reply

    Index that measures basic health: I just advertised an entry level office position. I’ve received a little over 50 resumes so far. All but two are people over 35 years old. Of the many people I have interviewed, only one had any form of health insurance – or any reasonable means to pay for a major health problem. I’ve never seen the state of health protection this bad.

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