Meanwhile, a growing number of highly respected figures speaking outside the Western democracies are turning their backs on theoretically scientific interpretations of global success such as trade statistics and cumulative GDPs. What they see are real people whose actual standard of living apparently has to drop for them to appear to rise in Western-style statistics. How can that be? For example, these people may have been living a life beyond such measurements – perhaps rural lives. They are therefore technically existing on zero income. Then they move to a desperate urban slum where dirty water, sewage and alienation are the norm. But in such a place, even a dollar’s worth of income can be measured. And so Western measurement systems say they have taken a step forwards and upwards.
The Jordanian intellectual Prince Hassan now calls for a redefinition of “poverty in terms of human well-being” rather than in terms of monetary wealth. Malaysia has developed a Growth With Equity model. The Bhutanese, with their hard-headed yet ironic style, work behind something called GNH – Gross National Happiness. And China is now focused on a quality-of-life approach in the place of GDP. Why?
The easy answer is that none of these nation-states sees itself as an outpost of Western economic theory. Each regards itself as a center and one with urgent needs.
And if all this sounds like an anti-Western point of view, you can listen to Vaclav Havel, the Czech writer and political leader, a hero of modern democracy, strongly pro free market… “I don’t understand why the most important deity is the increase in gross domestic product. It is not about GDP. It is about the quality of life, and that is something else.”
– ‘The Collapse of Globalism and the Reinvention of the Word’ by John Ralston Saul, 2005, p23