Moving Away From GDP As A Metric For Civilizational Well-Being

One major problem in contemporary discourse is that we lack a proper philosophical conception and corresponding metric of what constitutes the health, well-being, and progress of a nation and its citizens.

The oft-cited measurement GDP is a purely economic metric–and a poor one at that. The difficulty of using this metric is that adjustments, deflators, and other factors are all manipulated and controlled by the very entity that relies on positive outcomes to pitch its rule as positive. Finagling of factors aside, the idea of using GDP as a measurement of civilizational progress or well-being is fundamentally flawed.

Take for example the change in GDP in an individual state. Since 1980, New York state’s GDP is slated at over $1.25 trillion and has grown significantly (39% since 1997) by nearly 7% in just the last five years. In the winner-take-all nature of the economy and changes in strength of sectors, the rest of New York has lagged or contracted, as opposed to New York City proper and the surrounding counties.

Within New York City, inequality as measured by the Gini Coefficient indicates that gains have accumulated to the wealthiest individuals. A map displaying motion would show an almost funnel-like movement to the city, and not just to the city as such, but to its wealthiest inhabitants. Does the 39% growth since 1997 seem a weak measurement for the society as a whole?

Some politicians have recognized this problem, but are unable to explain it in an easy to comprehend manner. Across the Atlantic, former British Prime Minister David Cameron has put forth the idea of using a “general well-being” metric to put alongside GDP discussions as a method to track Britain’s status, which is a nudge in the right direction at least philosophically, despite the fact that Cathedral metrics of “general well-being” will be a total affront to traditional conceptions of flourishing and will likely include promotion of transgenderism, which boasts a suicide rate of 45% for its participants.

So, we are interested in civilizational-type measurements outside the bounds of the Cathedral. Steve Sailer has discussed the White Death as an indicator that something is wrong with American life as the native, core population has seen a reduction in life expectancy. America has also seen broader problems with depressed fertility, rising illegitimacy, etc., even though nominal GDP has increased. If the majority ethnic bloc and founding stock of the nation is not reproducing and seeing a reduction in life expectancy, there’s likely an air of despair or loss of hope for the future. This despair should be accounted for in any realistic metric of flourishing.

At the tail end of the Obama administration, President Barack Obama held a press conference, in which he made a swipe at Russia’s falling GDP under President Vladimir Putin’s leadership. This press conference notably took place in the midst of a financial attack of sorts on Russia. GDP served as the bludgeon to attack Russia for its lack of progress, but it’s conceivable to flip the script using different metrics of societal well-being in a way that scandalizes not just the Obama administration, but America’s leadership in general. An evaluation of Russia’s ruling clique’s stewardship with Putin at the head reveals drastic and positive changes, though this is not to make any radical claims of Russian political and social superiority to the United States.

Anatoly Karlin has documented the changes in Russia since 1999 by looking at hard data. Considering the idea of death and despair, what has changed? The murder rate is still high but has decreased significantly with the absolute number of murders dropping by half. Karlin’s numbers per 100,000 show a drop of nearly two-thirds. This does not come with a drastic change in incarceration as Presidents Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan implemented with sentencing, so the change is due to some other factor.

While the murder rate could be massaged–and Russia’s government is accused of massaging numbers–suicide and alcohol poisonings cannot; in those two areas, Karlin’s graph shows massive improvements. This all feeds into Russia’s rise in life expectancy, which has increased from 65 to roughly 72 since ’99. This is in contrast to American life expectancy numbers that have stagnated. In some U.S. states, the life expectancy has declined due to obesity related deaths.

Russia’s fertility has also dramatically increased since ’99. There were many articles on the problem of empty cribs awaiting Russia, as it did have a TFR of 1.16 in ’99. The fertility rate in Russia is now 1.76, which is sub-replacement but on par with America’s TFR. America’s TFR dipped below 2.0 in the ’70s and has barely cracked above 2.0 since. Within those numbers, the TFR has been higher solely due to Hispanics.

Even within that figure, there is another story of well-being. The American TFR also comes with an illegitimacy rate of just over 40%. Family formation is an issue. Russia’s illegitimacy peaked at 30% in 2005, but has since declined to 23%. This has happened despite a rise in absolute numbers for illegitimate births. Married couples are having more kids, which is a sign that more people see a positive future and feel comfortable forming families. Russia has also introduced social welfare programs to incent married couples to have children, but as shown by other nations, throwing money at the problem does not work on its own.

This number is not as high as European nations with lavish social welfare programs. Those nations are allowing material wealth to cover for social rot within. Suboptimal outcomes for illegitimate kids are well known, and the high rate of illegitimacy is recent enough that we have yet to see the full effects. Material wealth may not be sustainable to cover for the social decay. Nations in the European Union have also funded these social programs thanks to being vassals of the American Empire with no need for defense spending.

This is not to say Russia has not seen economic gains, as well. Traditional measures like GDP and the Gini Coefficient reveal a growing economy with a little more sector diversification and equality. If social measures were purely correlated with economic growth, we would see improvements to American measurements, as the economy has grown since 1980. But there is a major disconnect, and this is where the stewards of our society and culture come into play.

Russia’s leadership has problems it needs to address. Not all is well. They still have not figured out how to pacify the ravenous State Department. It is surprising that the nation which created Potemkin villages has not figured out how to create a social Potemkin village for U.S. media and LGBT advocates. Yet there is still something to Russia’s leadership that has changed the dynamics concretely observed at the turn of the century.

America’s elites, on the other hand, are finally coming to grips with the opioid crisis, but the causes are too damning to admit. Why do deaths of despair rack up in America? Why have they declined in Russia? The core of any argument, which requires more work than this cursory introduction here, must be that a nation is at its core a collection of families, and that healthy individuals forming healthy, growing families is the key to national well-being.

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6 Comments

  1. Alistair Hermann August 13, 2017 at 5:16 pm

    So lets look at an actual growth(decay) metric based upon those notions. Call it Gross Civic Product for lack of a better term at this time.

    On one hand you have TFR, but this needs to be limited to those who are part of the defined civilisational community. It needs to exclude the temporary, and the ‘other’, and account for those who leave, and those who merge.

    The second component – which is of civilisational health – can probably be measured by change in median IQ per generation amongst that community.

    So GCP = TFR x CMI.

    Its a little reductionist, but I suspect it gives a good approximation to that which is outlined above, and is relatively robust. TFR being always positive, CMI being potentially negative gives the correct sense to any outcome.

  2. It’s hard to have a common measure of well being in an officially multicultural society. Diversity appears to elevate capital and Mammon.

  3. Philosophically I agree with that fertility rates can be a good proxy for national well being, both for the reasons you mentioned, and because married couples with children not only tend to lead the most fullest and fulfilling lives, but also necessarily have a lower time preference and a stronger moral compass. The obvious problem is that population growth can’t continue unabated forever. Geographically vast and resource rich countries like the USA still have much room to grow, but places like Japan are already very close to their carrying capacity. A massive wave of deurbanization, which I see as unlikely, could increase the carrying capacity of the country (there’s still a lot of empty space in the small towns, and as the farming population ages there will very soon be a lot of opportunities in agriculture) but there’s still a point where there will simply not be enough space or resources.

    Reconciling the obvious social and moral benefits of natalism with the eventual problem of overpopulation seems like a significant problem for reactionary theory to tackle.

  4. (((Media organs))) will forever concentrate on GDP, because that’s what is important to TPTB. Their wealth and power come from skimming a vig on GDP.

    Any heresy against GDP is going to be dealt with Very Seriously.

    Alternatives will be stifled just like alternatives to the eGOP and c(linton)DNC have been stifled.

  5. Niger, Mali, Burundi, and Somalia all have a TFR above 6. I would not say that they have national well-being. There must be some ideal range here, and TFR significantly above or below that indicates problems.

  6. This reminds me of the Moldbug classic “Sam Altman is not a blithering idiot”, where he takes the young startup founder to task for thinking that everything in American society would be just hunk-dory if we could just find a hack to turn that 2 into a 3, or maybe even a 4. Man doesn’t live by bread alone.

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