Book reissue is 'depressing' news, says Professor

Published: 3 December 2013 at 10:07

Anglia Ruskin academic says little has changed in 22 years since work was first published.

An Anglia Ruskin University academic says it is “depressing” that a book he wrote 22 years ago has just been republished by Routledge.

Alternative Economic Indicators by Victor Anderson, Visiting Professor at Anglia Ruskin’s Global Sustainability Institute, was first published in 1991.

The book takes a radical look at economic policy, with a focus on how the success or failure of economies is measured by economists and governments. It argues that economic growth, measured by the statistics for Gross Domestic Product (GDP), gives a misleading picture, and does not take into account what is happening to the environment or to society.

Professor Anderson said:

“It’s good to see the book back in circulation, and flattering that Routledge decided it was worth republishing after all this time."

“But it is also depressing.  The continued relevance of the book is an indication of what a short distance the world has come on the topics I wrote about. The book is basically a critique of the dominance of Gross Domestic Product in economics, and a search for alternative ways to measure the success of economies."

“The evidence for the misleading nature of GDP and the importance of other indicators, such as greenhouse gas emissions, has mounted up. Shockingly little, however, has actually changed and GDP remains dominant."

“In some limited respects, GDP is a useful statistic.  However, what it is not useful for is measuring the success of an economy, as its growth is perfectly compatible with both environmental disaster and deterioration in living standards and living conditions."

“The government and media are talking about an ‘economic recovery’ – a recovery which, according to opinion polls, most people say has not reached them.  Maybe a recovery in the economic statistics doesn’t correspond to what is actually happening to people’s living standards."

“Yet I still hear the media say it’s ‘good news’ that the GDP rose by 0.8%.  Governments still pay more attention to every flicker of a decimal point in GDP change than they do to the figures for infant mortality, ecosystem decline, or greenhouse gases.”

The issue of measuring economies is a key part of a major study Professor Anderson is involved in at Anglia Ruskin. The Global Resource Observatory (GRO) project is examining the relationships between the economy, society, environment, and natural resources. 

Dr Aled Jones, Director the Global Sustainability Institute, said:

“The decision by the publishers to reissue Alternative Economic Indicators after a gap of over 20 years, with no changes, shows how far ahead of its time this book was.  I am keen that what we are doing now at Anglia Ruskin should be similarly ground-breaking.”