Politicians and economists fixate on "growing the economy" – measured by a country's gross domestic product. But this yardstick counts harmful activities such as greenhouse gas emissions, plastic waste, and cigarette sales as gains, and it ignores environmental protection, voluntary community work, and other benefits. What we measure is a choice, and what is and isn't counted determines what sorts of policies are enacted. How can we shift the focus to well-being and quality of life?
What Really Counts is an essential, firsthand story of the promise and challenges of accounting for social, economic, and environmental benefits. Ronald Colman recounts two decades of working with three governments to adopt measures capable of quantifying factors that GDP overlooks. Chronicling his path from Nova Scotia to New Zealand to Bhutan, Colman details the challenge of devising meaningful metrics, the effort to see alternatives realized, and the obstacles that stand in the way of implementing new systems. Reflecting on successes and failures, he considers how to shift policy priorities from a narrow economic growth agenda toward a future built on sustainability and equity.
Colman has taken the critique of GDP outside the academy and attempted to realize an alternative. The lessons he offers in What Really Counts are vital for anyone interested in how we can measure what matters – and how better measures can help build a better world.
Ronald Colman is the founder and former executive director of GPI Atlantic, a nonprofit research group that built an index of well-being and sustainable development in Nova Scotia. He has worked with New Zealand government bodies and communities on measures of well-being and spent ten years in Bhutan assisting the government’s development of holistic progress measures, a new global economic paradigm, and other initiatives.
"This moving firsthand saga explains why brilliant solutions so often languish on the periphery of public policy. What Really Counts is the compelling and inspiring story of a life dedicated to promoting holistic progress measures. It charts a practical and painfully learned path to the saner sustainable future we all need."
– Jigmi Y. Thinley, former prime minister of Bhutan
"What Really Counts is a fantastic journey on a topic – the measurement of well-being – that should be at the core of the transformation of our economies and societies. We urgently need this perspective, especially after the coronavirus outbreak, to take our world onto a sustainable development path."
– Enrico Giovannini, University of Rome Tor Vergata, former OECD chief statistician
"Ronald Colman is an unstoppable pioneer recognizing the need to "measure what you treasure". His roadmap, built on creating a Genuine Progress Index in Canada and on his many years working with the government of Bhutan, is a must-read for anyone interested in building a future that works for all. A page-turner!"
– Mathis Wackernagel, co-creator of the Ecological Footprint and cofounder of the Global Footprint Network
"Unique, important, compelling, and timely, What Really Counts gets below the surface of what keeps our misguided reliance on GDP in place. Colman uncovers the political forces and vested interests involved with GDP measures and how they work together to stifle meaningful change toward a sustainable well-being economy and planet."
– Robert Costanza, Australian National University, cofounder of the field of ecological economics
"I had the pleasure of working with Ronald Colman on the establishment of GPI Atlantic. He worked tirelessly on this mission in Nova Scotia and Bhutan, producing first-class, thoroughly researched reports that push for political change on levels from local to international. This book is timely and readable in its understanding measures of progress in terms of social and intergenerational equity."
– Hans Messinger, former director of industry measures, Statistics Canada