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A provocative critique of the pieties and fallacies of our obsession with economic growth We live in a society in which a priesthood of economists, wielding impenetrable mathematical formulas, set the framework for public debate. Ultimately, it is the perceived health of the economy which determines how much we can spend on our schools, highways, and defense; economists de A provocative critique of the pieties and fallacies of our obsession with economic growth We live in a society in which a priesthood of economists, wielding impenetrable mathematical formulas, set the framework for public debate. Ultimately, it is the perceived health of the economy which determines how much we can spend on our schools, highways, and defense; economists decide how much unemployment is acceptable and whether it is right to print money or bail out profligate banks.  The backlash we are currently witnessing suggests that people are turning against the experts and their faulty understanding of our lives. Despite decades of steady economic growth, many citizens feel more pessimistic than ever, and are voting for candidates who voice undisguised contempt for the technocratic elite. For too long, economics has relied on a language which fails to resonate with people's actual experience, and we are now living with the consequences. In this powerful, incisive book, David Pilling reveals the hidden biases of economic orthodoxy and explores the alternatives to GDP, from measures of wealth, equality, and sustainability to measures of subjective wellbeing. Authoritative, provocative, and eye-opening, The Growth Delusion offers witty and unexpected insights into how our society can respond to the needs of real people instead of pursuing growth at any cost.


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A provocative critique of the pieties and fallacies of our obsession with economic growth We live in a society in which a priesthood of economists, wielding impenetrable mathematical formulas, set the framework for public debate. Ultimately, it is the perceived health of the economy which determines how much we can spend on our schools, highways, and defense; economists de A provocative critique of the pieties and fallacies of our obsession with economic growth We live in a society in which a priesthood of economists, wielding impenetrable mathematical formulas, set the framework for public debate. Ultimately, it is the perceived health of the economy which determines how much we can spend on our schools, highways, and defense; economists decide how much unemployment is acceptable and whether it is right to print money or bail out profligate banks.  The backlash we are currently witnessing suggests that people are turning against the experts and their faulty understanding of our lives. Despite decades of steady economic growth, many citizens feel more pessimistic than ever, and are voting for candidates who voice undisguised contempt for the technocratic elite. For too long, economics has relied on a language which fails to resonate with people's actual experience, and we are now living with the consequences. In this powerful, incisive book, David Pilling reveals the hidden biases of economic orthodoxy and explores the alternatives to GDP, from measures of wealth, equality, and sustainability to measures of subjective wellbeing. Authoritative, provocative, and eye-opening, The Growth Delusion offers witty and unexpected insights into how our society can respond to the needs of real people instead of pursuing growth at any cost.

30 review for The Growth Delusion: Wealth, Poverty, and the Well-Being of Nations

  1. 5 out of 5

    Radiantflux

    78th book for 2019. In this book, David Pilling, decade-long journalist for the Financial Times, does a excellent job of deconstructing what GDP does and does not measure, explaining why in many instances it's a poor policy-making instrument, and touches on briefly a series of other possible alternative measures (that all seem somewhat limited as well). What he doesn't do—and what I perhaps unreasonably hoped for—is any sort of analysis as to why growth per se is unsustainable in a medium/long-ter 78th book for 2019. In this book, David Pilling, decade-long journalist for the Financial Times, does a excellent job of deconstructing what GDP does and does not measure, explaining why in many instances it's a poor policy-making instrument, and touches on briefly a series of other possible alternative measures (that all seem somewhat limited as well). What he doesn't do—and what I perhaps unreasonably hoped for—is any sort of analysis as to why growth per se is unsustainable in a medium/long-term fashion; and the sorts of new alternative economic systems this limitation will engender. The book's focus is simply on how poorly "growth" captures information useful for policy decisions. 4-stars.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Tanja Berg

    This is an insightful book into GDP, gross domestic product. What gets measured matters. What isn't measured - such as environmental damage, pollution, housework, etc - has a tendency to be neglected. What gets measured is at best an educated guess, it isn't a fine instrument. "The invention of GDP has given rise to a class of technocrats and economists who implement policy for the good of the economy, but not alway for the good of the rest of us. They have inherited a Newtonian view of what an This is an insightful book into GDP, gross domestic product. What gets measured matters. What isn't measured - such as environmental damage, pollution, housework, etc - has a tendency to be neglected. What gets measured is at best an educated guess, it isn't a fine instrument. "The invention of GDP has given rise to a class of technocrats and economists who implement policy for the good of the economy, but not alway for the good of the rest of us. They have inherited a Newtonian view of what an economy is, as though it were a rational and predictable system, 'a singular entity with well-defined mechanical relationships between different moving parts connected by metaphorical pipes, cogs and levers'. Too often it is though of as something outside human experience. As one unorthodox thinker wrote, 'Mathematics brought rigor to economics. Unfortunately, it also brought mortis'". "The economy is not real. It is merely one way of imagining our world. Gross domestic product is not real either. It is just a clever way of measuring some of the stuff we humans get up to. Growth was a great invention. Now get over it."

  3. 5 out of 5

    Keith Akers

    From the title, I thought that this book would address the problems of economic growth. Instead, it addresses the problems with measuring economic growth. The author, a journalist, is debunking ideas about growth, but “limits to growth” is not discussed. This imprecision gave me a bad initial impression of the book, but the author actually does a pretty good job at explaining many of the problems with measuring growth. What did I pick up from the book? Several things. Simon Kuznets (who devised From the title, I thought that this book would address the problems of economic growth. Instead, it addresses the problems with measuring economic growth. The author, a journalist, is debunking ideas about growth, but “limits to growth” is not discussed. This imprecision gave me a bad initial impression of the book, but the author actually does a pretty good job at explaining many of the problems with measuring growth. What did I pick up from the book? Several things. Simon Kuznets (who devised GDP to measure growth) actually understood the shortcomings of GDP fairly well. We should really be measuring wealth, not just income. Many sources of wealth fall outside of the economy and thus are not measured in economic terms at all. In poorer countries, we sometimes hear that people have an income of $1 or $2 a day, and this sounds absolutely horrible. This doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re starving to death, though. They may just be acquiring food and shelter outside of the economic system, and so it’s not measured. If we truly measured the value of all of these goods they are getting outside of the economy, the perceived inequality would be less than it seems today, because it is the poorest who have the most input of goods outside of the economic system. Sometimes, well-being improves out of proportion to income. Just a small rise in income leads to huge increases in health. Ideas broached by ecological economics do make an appearance. Pilling briefly and favorably mentions Herman Daly. But he also discusses a Chinese economist, Niu Wenyuan, whom I’d never heard of and who is sort of the Chinese equivalent of Herman Daly. He proposes a “green” index of something like Daly’s “Genuine Progress Indicators” (GPI). Daly’s idea, by the way, was devised at least partially because the indicators used for GPI were actually measurable and there was data on them. All they had to do was plug in the numbers and there you have it: the GPI. Wenyuan’s index looks at social factors like social quality (inequality is bad), ecological quality (waste and pollution are bad), etc. Pilling also discusses other attempts at measuring the economy. Measuring happiness is another way of evaluating the economy, but there are problems with that. How do you measure happiness? Can’t people be deluded about whether they’re happy, what happened to “Socrates dissatisfied vs. a pig satisfied”? Is mental health better than ending poverty? So Bhutan’s experiment in evaluating the economy in terms of “gross national happiness” is hard to evaluate. If you’re living in grinding poverty but don’t know any better, you may be “happy” even though your children die young and you’re illiterate. So, this book gave me some new insights into the problems associated with measuring growth. Even though it never really discussed “limits to growth” or anything like it, it does raise a lot of issues associated with ecological economics.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Shabbeer Hassan

    GDP, GNP, HDI, and other humdrum abbreviations dominate the newspaper headlines quite often these days. A measure of any country's progress is often encapsulated within a single number called GDP aka GRoss Domestic Product and has been so for quite many decades now. What we often don't realize that it's not a product harking back from antiquity but rather a recent phenomenon developed to tackle the US 1930's recession and looming world wars. The rationale behind it was quite noble, if one can't GDP, GNP, HDI, and other humdrum abbreviations dominate the newspaper headlines quite often these days. A measure of any country's progress is often encapsulated within a single number called GDP aka GRoss Domestic Product and has been so for quite many decades now. What we often don't realize that it's not a product harking back from antiquity but rather a recent phenomenon developed to tackle the US 1930's recession and looming world wars. The rationale behind it was quite noble, if one can't measure a country's inflows and outflows, how can one say were to generate money from, which laws to pass to ease "growth", and how a country is faring on a year to year basis. So, if alles gut with GDP, then why this book? The problem arises when these single number metrics subsumes any talk of a country's development. A case in point would be India! India has been having a record GDP growth since the past few years of 8% or more, its per capita income has grown leaps and bounds, FDI is up but why then it lags in infant mortality rates, or longevity or female education, malnutrition in children under 5, freedom of press, widening inequality amongst its ultra-rich and the burgeoning middle class? Or what to make of the fact, that despite skyscrapers being erected in major cities, major behemoths establishing in India, and growing tech sector, India still remains a farming dependent country with over 50% of the population directly or indirectly involved in it. And much of it is not traded in Dalal Street (India's equivalent of Wall Street), but rather in smaller markets, side stalls on pavements, etc. So, how do we connect these two disparate dots? The answer to all this is that GDP is an ineffectual measure to chart a country's growth. It can tell you about economic growth based on certain commodities sampled across a country, but nothing about crucial inputs like public education, homemaking, natural wealth like rivers or arable land, despite the value these provide to society as a whole. Ultimately GDP measures income and not wealth! And much of the wealth in any developing or under-developed nations lie in their secondary or tertiary sources of wealth all of which fall outside the tradable economy and so are never measured in economic jargons. David then introduces several alternative metrics like Genuine Progress Indicators (GPI) or a Chinese economist, Niu Wenyuan's equivalent of GPI in China's context. The idea here is that until we don't input other metrics of a society's growth like gender equality, ecological harm, education rates, malnutrition rates, etc, nobody can actually tell whether the country is growing in actual, societal and indeed personal levels. It's indeed a book of our times when simple numbers decide a country's fate from Moody's index of credit rating to World Bank/IMF loans to inflation rates. It's time when we look for a more holistic index or metric to chart a country's growth in more meaningful terms than just income flows. We need to chart a country's wealth be it natural mineral, derived like industries or human capital from the industrious homemaker to the free childcare which grandparents provide to any nuclear family. GDP was a product of its times, we desperately need a new one, for our own! My Rating - 4.5/5

  5. 5 out of 5

    Karel Baloun

    It is notable that an associate editor of the Financial Times, with decades of business reporting experience, has decided to come out against GDP as a meaningful measure. Yet he still stakes out a very safe conservative position, with completely uncontroversial statements, such as Japan is doing fine even without GDP growth. (p13) Skip any parts that seem like “review” to you, even if they are funny. Pilling takes a long time to move beyond the basics, and his humor doesn’t much make the pages r It is notable that an associate editor of the Financial Times, with decades of business reporting experience, has decided to come out against GDP as a meaningful measure. Yet he still stakes out a very safe conservative position, with completely uncontroversial statements, such as Japan is doing fine even without GDP growth. (p13) Skip any parts that seem like “review” to you, even if they are funny. Pilling takes a long time to move beyond the basics, and his humor doesn’t much make the pages roll by faster. “In pursuit of growth, we are told, we may have to work longer hours,/public services, except where any quality, give up our privacy, and let “wealth Dash creating” bankers have free reign […] The pursuit of growth without” even threaten the very existence of humanity, ransacking by in pursuit of growth, we are told, we may have to work longer hours,/public services, except where any quality, give up our privacy, and let “wealth-creating“ bankers have free reign […] The pursuit of growth without end could even threaten the very existence of humanity, ransacking our biodiversity and driving us to unsustainable levels of consumption and CO2 emissions that wreck the very planet on which are wealth depends. Only in economics is endless expansion seen as a virtue. In biology is called cancer.” (p11) Chapters 8 and nine on India and China respectively, are well written and informative. Yep just when I was sulking that the book is teaching me nothing new, chapter 10 starts with the assertion that nothing measures national balance sheets, which I had somehow overlooked over my life. GDP is all about income and nothing about wealth or assets, which is where Saudi Arabia for example is screwed. Yet even as the need is effectively argued, HOW to measure wealth is not at all deep, leaning heavily on Robert Costanza. Inexplicably, Pilling finds the world bank wealth accounting somehow compelling/credible, even though it says that natural capital is only 2% of the wealth of rich countries. (p188) The Layard / Happiness chapter is lengthy and full on questionable data (really being married and religious is the only path to joy? Better than being healthy even? p207). Bhutan’s “gross national happiness” index components seem more intuitive: Psychological well-being, health, time use, education, cultural diversity and resilience, good governance, community vitality, ecological diversity and resilience, living standards. ( p216) Yet, as noted, Bhutan isn’t living up to its index, as the King has produced only 55% female literacy. The best alternative to GDP is the human development Index, and this HDI only gets five pages in the last chapter. (p232) and the oecd’s Better life index, is only mentioned finally in the conclusion on page 253.

  6. 4 out of 5

    David Buccola

    David Pilling's book "The Growth Delusion" is yet another lame attempt at propping up the pseudoscience of economics. There are so many things I disliked about this book I don't even know where to begin. I was often reminded of the old Upton Sinclair quote: "It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it." David Pilling is a man who's salary is dependent on pretending that economics is a science. It's a "science" that according to Pillin David Pilling's book "The Growth Delusion" is yet another lame attempt at propping up the pseudoscience of economics. There are so many things I disliked about this book I don't even know where to begin. I was often reminded of the old Upton Sinclair quote: "It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it." David Pilling is a man who's salary is dependent on pretending that economics is a science. It's a "science" that according to Pilling has made some mistakes in the past but new economists are busy fixing everything and we can all rest assured. Pilling reminded me of a modern day Martin Luther who's seen some flaws among our modern priesthood of economists but thinks we can get them back on track. Missing from his analysis is any realization that economics is not actually science at all. For this review I'm simply going to go through my kindle notes and select some of the glaring quotes I highlighted and make some comments. "But there is another, more philosophical, problem with the future. Why should we care about it? After all, in the end not only are we going to die, but our universe is going to die too. It will turn into a zero-energy soup. Can we really expect them to act now to avoid something in another time dimension for the benefit of the as-yet-unborn, even if they are ever-so-distantly related to us? Philosophically, let alone economically, it is a practically unanswerable question." There is nothing unanswerable about this question. It represents the myopic shallowness that Pilling exhibits throughout the book. In fact we know that many societies on this planet have had no problem respecting future generations of not just human life but the entire tree of life. A recent study published by Wyatt Oswald, Emerson College found that Native Americans had no discernible impact on the environment of North America going back 14,000 years. In fact, it's well known that various indigenous peoples of North America routinely made decisions thinking seven generations into the future. Also note that there is no conclusive proof that our universe is going to die. We have theories that may or may not be true at this point, and given the immense time scales involved the possible crunch of our universe billions of years from now is hardly any reason to disregard our future. "The genius of GDP is that it somehow manages to squeeze all human activity into a single number." This ridiculous quote had me channeling the great Stephen Jay Gould in his classic "The Mismeasure of Man" in which he destroys the absurd notion that a single number can represent human intelligence. What could be further from genius than assuming that a single number could have any meaningful explanatory power for all human activity? If Pilling had given this any serious scrutiny he might have noticed that GDP is really a simple measurement of our destruction of nature. To be fair he has plenty of criticism of GDP, but it's the type of criticism that one would expect from a true believer like Pilling. For instance, Pilling writes, "Rather than replace GDP, we should add to it, so that we can flesh out a more nuanced view of our world." "On the one hand, GDP may actually be underestimating how well off we are." Pilling repeats this a few times throughout the book. Somehow our destruction of the biosphere and pending ecological collapse are not that big of a deal. Here he reminds of someone like Steven Pinker and others who despite reality continue to argue that things have never been better. Never mind that we are living through the planet's sixth extinction event caused by human activity. Never mind the dying oceans and increasingly toxic air and water. Things are great and GDP isn't even telling us how great things are! I'll end with this one. It's a quote from economist Brent Moulton: "Figuring out wealth is particularly important in countries that are dependent on natural resources." Let that sink in for a moment. If there is any doubt that economics is a pseudo-science this should clear that up. Moulton, a member of the priesthood, is implying that there are countries that ARE NOT dependent on natural resources. Apparently these people must eat ideas and live on dreams. Going back to my belief that people like Pilling are as delusional as someone like Martin Luther we essentially have the nonsensical Christian idea--here espoused by a modern priest of economcis--that we can live in this world but not of it. As a professional carpenter I can certainly appreciate the importance of good measurements. However the priesthood of economics has made it abundantly clear that they are incapable of measuring. Take our last global recession where sixty trillion dollars evaporated in the blink of an eye. This priesthood mismeasured by a number that is practically beyond the human mind to even imagine. People like Pilling want to convince us that with a little tweaking we can get better data from these people. He actually argues at one point that we need to invest in these statisticians the way we invest in the physical sciences. This is an awful book.

  7. 5 out of 5

    James (JD) Dittes

    This is a good book for readers like me with a casual interest in economics (1-2 books a year). Pilling's focus is simple, if not over-simplified: GDP is an inaccurate measure of a country's well-being. He spends about 2/3rds of the book taking on GDP: going over the history of the statistic and showing how countries manipulated the system to record huge jumps, as well as the way GDP increases masked social or environmental calamities. Pilling's chapter, "The Good, the Bad, and the Invisible," do This is a good book for readers like me with a casual interest in economics (1-2 books a year). Pilling's focus is simple, if not over-simplified: GDP is an inaccurate measure of a country's well-being. He spends about 2/3rds of the book taking on GDP: going over the history of the statistic and showing how countries manipulated the system to record huge jumps, as well as the way GDP increases masked social or environmental calamities. Pilling's chapter, "The Good, the Bad, and the Invisible," does a great job illustrating GDP-useless inputs like public education, or homemaking, despite the value these provide to families and society. Admittedly, this went on a little long, and I was eager to find Pilling's recommendations. He goes on to endorse more sophisticated measures of wealth like "green GDP" and Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI). I think that Pilling's call for better measures is worthwhile, although it would take quite a political sea change to change GDP's hold on the status quo. As I see it, the wealth cited by the newer indexes doesn't actually profit the elites who run countries like the United States and exploit the human and natural resources therein. The book really made me wish I had finished Thomas Pinkety's Capital in the 21st Century, which this 'casual reader' had started and stopped several times a few years ago. I think it may have lain the groundwork for Pilling's book.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Ionarr

    More like a 3.5 but I rounded up because, well, it's an economics book. And I read it. And enjoyed it. A lot less dry and a lot more entertaining than I expected, so pretty much a joy to read. It's basic enough that at times I wished it was more advanced, but at other times I wanted more detail and a more extensive breakdown of concepts to make sure I was understanding them correctly, so it balanced out nicely. Pilling is not here to teach you economics 101, but he will clearly lay out why growth More like a 3.5 but I rounded up because, well, it's an economics book. And I read it. And enjoyed it. A lot less dry and a lot more entertaining than I expected, so pretty much a joy to read. It's basic enough that at times I wished it was more advanced, but at other times I wanted more detail and a more extensive breakdown of concepts to make sure I was understanding them correctly, so it balanced out nicely. Pilling is not here to teach you economics 101, but he will clearly lay out why growth and gdp is vastly overrated and how that can be damaging to us as humans - even while sticking to a tried and true liberal economist viewpoint, which at times annoyed me (being further left the him and with an academic basis in not jumping to conclusions or putting too much stock in correlation, at least not without considering other causes and personal bias; something which I've long suspected and saw in this book is sorely lacking in economics.) This book could get torn apart or swept aside and ignored, or it could be a drop in a revolution in changing how we measure our society and what we focus on when making policy. I sorely hope it's the latter although I expect it won't be. Either way this book is definitely worth a read, and it's well written enough that even if you aren't keen on Pillings conclusions it's not a slog to get there.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Natrila Femi

    I don't normally read books about economy but this one covered a lot of aspects of what we think when we talk about growth and GDP (quite hefty too, 400-ish pages). Full review soon! I don't normally read books about economy but this one covered a lot of aspects of what we think when we talk about growth and GDP (quite hefty too, 400-ish pages). Full review soon!

  10. 4 out of 5

    crimson

    The Growth Delusion was my first proper introduction to various models of economic measurement. Today GDP is taken as standard unit of growth. David Pilling has attempted to show us how our existing model of measuring growth and economic development (GDP) is flawed. For example, Any measure that values a gun several times more than a bottle of milk is bound to raise serious questions about its relevance to human progress (A question asked by HDI founding Pakistani economist Mahbub ul Haq). Other The Growth Delusion was my first proper introduction to various models of economic measurement. Today GDP is taken as standard unit of growth. David Pilling has attempted to show us how our existing model of measuring growth and economic development (GDP) is flawed. For example, Any measure that values a gun several times more than a bottle of milk is bound to raise serious questions about its relevance to human progress (A question asked by HDI founding Pakistani economist Mahbub ul Haq). Other interesting questions asked include why a woman making beds, doing grocery, washing at home doesn't contribute to economy when another woman doing same at an old age house does?? Simply because she is not in the state's tax system? David also draws our attention to issues such as natural resources and their rapid consumption, renewable energy, other models of measuring growth such as GPI, Green economy, HDI, etc. Overall, an excellent read.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Bellish

    I can't quite remember why I got this - maybe a 3 for 2 Audible sale - but it didn't turn out to be what I expected. I thought it was going to be a critique of economic growth as a desideratum, given the unsustainable environmental impact. I'm glad it wasn't, since that would just have been preaching to the choir. Rather, Pilling gives a history of the invention of GDP and discusses in detail its shortcomings. He does a really good job of illustrating that any index we might use will be inherentl I can't quite remember why I got this - maybe a 3 for 2 Audible sale - but it didn't turn out to be what I expected. I thought it was going to be a critique of economic growth as a desideratum, given the unsustainable environmental impact. I'm glad it wasn't, since that would just have been preaching to the choir. Rather, Pilling gives a history of the invention of GDP and discusses in detail its shortcomings. He does a really good job of illustrating that any index we might use will be inherently subjective and the result of value judgments on what to include. I had never thought before about the fact that not only does environmental pollution and destruction contribute to GDP, but so does the work involved in cleaning it up. Not only does the sale of cigarettes contribute to GDP, but also the cost of trying to treat the diseases they cause. Why do we use a measure that considers spending on crime prevention (police, jails, burglar alarms) a net positive, that doesn't take account of increased efficiency, and that doesn't take account of the distribution of the wealth being generated. Why do governments thoroughly aware of its weaknesses - like the UK government that has commissioned research into alternatives - not push away from this? I feel like - as an economic layperson - the only alternatives to GDP I have seen presented in the media are too extreme for most people to accept. But this book showed me that it doesn't have to be a "happiness index" or anything hippy sounding (though I'd be all in favour of that). It could just be a similar measure that excludes or, better still, detracts activities that society agrees are harmful: there are plenty of those that would not be hugely controversial. Or it could be GDP in combination with any of the other indices Pilling mentions, such as the Gini coefficient. Is the lack of change on this front in nearly 100 years really the result of lobbying from the industries that would be disadvantaged? Is it concern about the reactions of voters? Is it sleepwalking? This book made me want to read more.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Koit

    The question Mr Pilling considers here is a very straightforward one, and it is whether our statistics represents the measures we care about. In short, the answer is a resounding ‘no’ in the most important field — the economy — that we care about. It is suitable to be reviewing this going into a new year as the one New Year’s Greeting I listened to included pointed references to economic growth. I have for a while now been disillusioned with GDP. GDP has its definite problems (though also its use The question Mr Pilling considers here is a very straightforward one, and it is whether our statistics represents the measures we care about. In short, the answer is a resounding ‘no’ in the most important field — the economy — that we care about. It is suitable to be reviewing this going into a new year as the one New Year’s Greeting I listened to included pointed references to economic growth. I have for a while now been disillusioned with GDP. GDP has its definite problems (though also its uses as Mr Pilling relates). There are some alternatives, and popularising the use of these alternatives — whether PPP, GPI, HDI, or something else — is the way to develop past the situation in which our targets emphasise sustainability but our main measure notes activity of any kind. Yet, what makes GDP even worse than its simple statistical bleakness is the way everything in today’s world has come to represent the adage “growth is good, stagnation bad”. It should be clear that growth for the sake of growth — growth that is either unsustainable or causes more negative societal aspects than the cost of the project — is not worth it. It is the quality of peoples’ lives that should be improving. Mr Pilling makes for a very good case on these issues. The prose is good, and the narrative flows rather well. The way the author focusses on China, India, Nigeria, Canada, and other places in turn in his effort to expand on what measures make sense for which communities and also when and where GDP fails these people makes for an entertaining read. I would definitely recommend this. This review was originally posted on my blog.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Kim Noel

    GDP in the US has more than doubled since 2000, but we don't seem to be any happier with our lot. Huh? I thought it was the economy, stupid. David Pilling addresses many of the questions I had about why the measures that economists and politicians tout, which deign to explain “how we are doing”, are not tracking with our lived experiences. I learned a lot from this book and recommend it to anyone who is interested in GDP, growth, wealth, well-being, and the pitfalls of measuring it all. Pilling ma GDP in the US has more than doubled since 2000, but we don't seem to be any happier with our lot. Huh? I thought it was the economy, stupid. David Pilling addresses many of the questions I had about why the measures that economists and politicians tout, which deign to explain “how we are doing”, are not tracking with our lived experiences. I learned a lot from this book and recommend it to anyone who is interested in GDP, growth, wealth, well-being, and the pitfalls of measuring it all. Pilling makes the case that we need to look beyond GDP for economic and political guidance. GDP is an outdated and arbitrary index. Its worst flaw (my opinion) is its failure to discount costs it doesn’t measure (harms to the natural environment, community cohesion, public trust, health, etc). Pilling mentions other proposed indices such as the Genuine Progress Index, Human Development Index, and Green GDP, to name a few. These alternative indices are interesting to read about but raise problems of their own. Because no one index perfectly captures all that we care about, he advocates that we use multiple measurements together to get the full picture. Pilling strikes a balance between criticizing economic indices and conceding that some statistics are important for us to make informed decisions. I, myself, am quite skeptical of anything that seeks to put a number on well-being or on a subjective benefit, but we live in a world of “big data” and, unfortunately, it’s not going away. The problems with assigning numbers to everything will only grow more pronounced over time, so let’s at least optimize for what we actually care about.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Otto Lehto

    Lightweight, delightful, balanced. The book is no miracle, but it surveys the contemporary literature and debate around GDP in an evenhanded manner. Written by a journalist, the book carries the DNA of an extended midbrow journal article. Without much analytical depth, it scratches an itch without providing any lasting remedies. Superficiality is a cost to be paid by attempting to appeal to the everyman, but few authors embrace the cautious, noncommittal middle position as ardently as Pilling doe Lightweight, delightful, balanced. The book is no miracle, but it surveys the contemporary literature and debate around GDP in an evenhanded manner. Written by a journalist, the book carries the DNA of an extended midbrow journal article. Without much analytical depth, it scratches an itch without providing any lasting remedies. Superficiality is a cost to be paid by attempting to appeal to the everyman, but few authors embrace the cautious, noncommittal middle position as ardently as Pilling does. Reputable sources are generally accepted with minimal objections and moderate criticisms are only included if they jive with the consensus perspective that emerges from these sources. This makes the book delightfully sane, but also a little bit boring and unadventurous. Weak on theory and short on credible suggestions as it may be, the Growth Delusion is a pleasant piece of prose. It contains enough interesting data to make up for its distinct lack of original thesis.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Anthony Watt

    Growth leads to death Grow and grow and grow for infinity on a planet with finite resources and what happens? The death of humans as we know them now! A bit dramatic perhaps but this book highlights the insanity of the way we live and measure. The lack of value placed on essential things and in the UK free things from the government like healthcare. It doesn’t say what the magical measure is but it provides examples of better ways of measuring a successful country. We need to stop growing and becom Growth leads to death Grow and grow and grow for infinity on a planet with finite resources and what happens? The death of humans as we know them now! A bit dramatic perhaps but this book highlights the insanity of the way we live and measure. The lack of value placed on essential things and in the UK free things from the government like healthcare. It doesn’t say what the magical measure is but it provides examples of better ways of measuring a successful country. We need to stop growing and become sustainable. In the long term nothing else works.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Patrick

    truth in advertising--the jacket described this as a provocative book, and it was. Objectively argues for the need to consider new metrics to describe a nation's economy, augmenting the historical use of GDP, which considers too many factors, all of which are assumed to be positive. Compelling and thoughtful, particular as it related to prospective policy. truth in advertising--the jacket described this as a provocative book, and it was. Objectively argues for the need to consider new metrics to describe a nation's economy, augmenting the historical use of GDP, which considers too many factors, all of which are assumed to be positive. Compelling and thoughtful, particular as it related to prospective policy.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Francisco

    Interesting premise and well-rounded execution. A tale of GDP and its enormous flaws as a proxy for human well-being, and along with it a timely critique of progress and our insatiable thirst for it. Very fluid writing and an absolute joy to read, a rarity in economics books.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Mariann Tóth

    The title is quite misleading, I thought the book is on economic growth, its limits and other sustainibility issues. Unfotunately it was not the case, I could read hundreds of pages solely about GDP.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Nancy

    Does More Equal Happiness or Prosperity? We are conditioned to look at GDP (Gross Domestic Product) as a measure of economic progress for the country. The economists love this number. It gives them a standard to measure against. But, for the average person what does the GDP say about our lives? Are we happier because it’s high? Is the quality of life better? These are interesting questions tackled by The Growth Delusion. This book, while examining difficult economic concepts, is written for the a Does More Equal Happiness or Prosperity? We are conditioned to look at GDP (Gross Domestic Product) as a measure of economic progress for the country. The economists love this number. It gives them a standard to measure against. But, for the average person what does the GDP say about our lives? Are we happier because it’s high? Is the quality of life better? These are interesting questions tackled by The Growth Delusion. This book, while examining difficult economic concepts, is written for the average person to understand. This may not be appropriate for experts, but it gives the average person insight into what the experts are talking about. Economists are traditionally caught up in looking at the wealth of nations and ranking countries on their economic progress. They believe that they understand the workings of the economy and are therefore justified in telling people whether they should be happy with the way the country is going. In this book, the author discusses three major areas: the problems of growth; what growth tells us about ourselves and the developing world; and finally a look at the factors that relate to happiness and well-being. Although I enjoyed the first two sections, I found the last section most persuasive. The Industrial Revolution was great for the wealthy, but the poor suffered mightily. Are we heading for the same problems with our emphasis on growth? The poor and middle class plus the environment may suffer most for our emphasis on growth. I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Tunde Ajao

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. After reading about 23 things they don't tell you about Capitalism. I develop a yearning for reading things on Capitalism and finance especially after working in finance myself and doing short courses. I would like to say and believe, that I have a more than average knowledge of it. However, it will seem that everything was not necessary as we have been made to believe and we all been lied to and deceived over the years, by our governments and some very smart people - like Alan Greenspan (Chair After reading about 23 things they don't tell you about Capitalism. I develop a yearning for reading things on Capitalism and finance especially after working in finance myself and doing short courses. I would like to say and believe, that I have a more than average knowledge of it. However, it will seem that everything was not necessary as we have been made to believe and we all been lied to and deceived over the years, by our governments and some very smart people - like Alan Greenspan (Chair of the Federal Reserve of the United States from 1987 to 2006.) and some others. Maybe, I am being hard on them, in that they were actually telling us what they believed to be the truth, as they were very apologetic when it turns out not to be so. With the technocrats and the financial wizards who had developed complex algorithms that will detect any changes in the market immediately, we put our faith in them. They had complex financial instruments that were hedged, either way, hence the underline entity of any financial transaction was covered and protected and insured. People had so much confidence in the financial markets and the fact that it would correct itself that Gordon Brown the then Chancellor of the Exchequer (Minister of Finance) - later Prime Minister announced the end to "Boom and Bust" in Parliament in 1997. David Pilling is the author of this book and is the current Africa editor of the Financial Times. He was previously Asia editor, his column ranges over the business, investment, politics, and economics. He joined the FT in 1990. He has worked in London as an editor, in Chile and Argentina as a correspondent and covered the global pharmaceutical and biotechnology industry. Most of us believed that the increase in GDP in many countries is synonymous with an increase in their economy. But underneath we knew there was something wrong despite what all the experts were telling us otherwise. Wages were not increasing for the middle class and only for the very rich - i.e. the top 1%, things were also getting more expensive. Jobs were moving overseas from advanced countries to the developing world. People were becoming angrier and angrier .... the populist was gaining in every sphere, UKIP, BNP, and other far-right and far-left parties were increasing in numbers. There was the belief that the market would always correct itself, and we should allow it, we were told. All the laws and regulation that was put in placed since the great depression to protect us were repeal or modified (Glass-Steagall Act Repealed) over the years. It turns out the world was running on debt (and credit cards) - and it seemed Chinese debt, the cycle of Chinese buying US Treasury bonds to finance the US buying evermore things being made in China. GDP is the Gross Domestic Product. The GDP is the total expenditure of the economy. The total expenditure includes consumption spending, government spending, investment, and net exports. For a GDP to be maintained, there has to be a continuous production and for an industry to be continuously producing their has to be a demand for that particular product, hence a continuous consumption. Companies do have an incentive to make things that break or can't be maintained but replaced. This model is unsustainable over time but it is pushed by advertising, social pressure, and culture. The problem is with the fact that the GDP is an average and says nothing about the level of inequality in a society and there are other things it does not take into consideration - like crime, the informal sector, etc. With increasing inequality the result is skewed with the top 1% seeing their wealth or portion of the economy increase by a factor of four, the rest have become poorer relatively. GDP says nothing about which services, technology and products are available. Also, it did not discriminate between the cause i.e. it could be rebuilding construction after a deversation war, hurricane, crime wave, etc. It could be people spending more on the rising fear of crime, buying burglar bars and alarms and beefing up security. Also, there is a lot of stuff not counted and goes under the radar, general health, quality of education, second-hand goods, private transfer or payments, illegal business activity, unreported legal activity, intermediate goods, informal business activity, etc. Happiness is a relative term as it depends on others and what you see around you. Happiness is not directly proportional to GDP. When people are working harder for an increase in GDP but are constantly stressed and tensed. Does having more money make you happier or is it dependent on the people around you? Capuchin monkeys who have been seen to be fairly happy and contented with cucumbers after doing a simple role become frustrated and angry when they felt that they should have received sweeter grapes as researchers in Atlanta, the US found out. Hence, most of the time it is dependant upon our environment and what is happening around up and a situation that only the top 1% get richer will led to problems. Hence, the measure of the growth of wealth of a nation is measured as a new term. We have the Domesday book, which recorded in 1086 everything in England, and after the Norman Conquest, as a means of raising the tax. Usually, the kings did not need to know whether the nation's economy was growing or not. They just wanted to know whether they could raise money for war, hence giving them more money - and that how nations grew their economy in the fixed agrarian pre-industrial economies by conquering more land and getting more subjects to pay tax. The author reminded us of the saying "if you cannot measure it then you cannot manage it". Hence in Africa countries with a variety of degree of success. It is hard to obtain accurate statistics due to a large informal sector and "lack of institutional capacity". One way in which in developing countries is measure light intensity via satellite and it has been found to correlate well with GDP. The GDP has done well but it should not alone to use to measure the growth of the economy. Another thing is that they measured the GDP and other parameters and believed that people are living on less than $1 a day - using the old method and not calculating the informal sector. But they found out that the majority of the people had access to mobile phones and there was a lot of credits based on these. If they were to use the western way of calculating GDP a lot of people would be starving or dead. Hence, it seems their financial model was not correct. By applying some creative accounting estimation they found that Nigeria's economy increased by more than 65% and overtook that of South Africa now becoming Africa's biggest economy. Image result for africa's biggest economy Also, how do we measure development, the GDP is great but does not measure the environmental damages, like pollution? China has actually been damaging its country due to its rapid rise in GDP. “In cities, you have wastewater from measure development, the GDP is great but does not measure the environment sewage, shops, factories, and agriculture, which add other pollutants like persistent organics and heavy metals. It’s usually not fit for drinking or for crops,” explains Dr Wolfgang Kinzelbach from the Institute of Environmental Engineering in Zurich, Switzerland, an expert on China’s water management. But China is extreme, the question is should we use the only GDP for development. In the middle of the Pacific are some islands known as the Easter Island and when the Europeans arrived there on Easter Day, 1722 they were confronted by huge massive statues. They believe that they would meet a huge and advance civilisation who was responsible for these huge monuments. But all they met was a few people living in squalor and neglect who were living as fishermen and hunter-gathers. So what happened to this once vibrant civilisation, it is now believed that it is to do with their resources. "They ate all the food, cut down all the trees, and were left to squabble over the remaining scraps. With no more trees left, they couldn't build boats to leave the island and look for more food. So they fell into war and cannibalism, leaving only a few thousand people left to greet the Europeans." That is a warning to us! The answer is although GDP is important other things are as well. As countries develop they should not take their eyes off the ball. They should protect their natural resources and limit the damage as there are always alternatives, these might be costly in the short term but brings in more money, substantive growth and benefits in the long term.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Lilah

    Insightful, thoughtful and simple explanation of our obsession with growth and its possible downfalls. Good stories told from the point of view of an experienced journalist. I found it really accessible for a non-economist. And I learned a lot.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Maukan

    This book focused on the goal posts or metrics governments use to measure the success of their policies by using the GDP. The problem with this is it sweeps potentially catastrophic costs in the form of negative externalities on the people and portrays them as “Growth” right now the unemployment levels are below 4% but half the country, 46% can’t afford a 500$ emergency payment. When you turn on mainstream media, they keep saying “The economy is booming” for who? Who exactly is the economy boomi This book focused on the goal posts or metrics governments use to measure the success of their policies by using the GDP. The problem with this is it sweeps potentially catastrophic costs in the form of negative externalities on the people and portrays them as “Growth” right now the unemployment levels are below 4% but half the country, 46% can’t afford a 500$ emergency payment. When you turn on mainstream media, they keep saying “The economy is booming” for who? Who exactly is the economy booming for when half the country lives in terror, worries about medical bills, the sky rocketing prices of housing, medical care and tuition? What kind of economy is it when pay day loaners make outrageous sums of money based on interest rates that prey on individuals that are sometimes in the triple digits? The economy is booming when half of it lives from pay check to paycheck. They use government subsidies because they can’t afford rent, food and healthcare on their starvation wage at the same time their employers are picking out what yachts to buy. This is the problem with “Growth” what does this mean? And at what costs does it take to achieve it? Gun sales are considered as growth but in America we have a mass shooting every day. Medical companies bankrupting senior citizens is considered “growth” we should be questioning the metrics of what is considered to be “Growth” and focus on well being and internal happiness, instead of being a nation focused on material positions and consumerism, we should be focusing on creating a society that actually monitors values of substance. Right now if you’re a child born to a poor man in the bottom bracket of income, you have an extremely small chance of pulling yourself out of poverty. Countries with less income inequality actually have greater mobility in terms of jumping up the ladder of classes. Countries that have higher income inequality like the U.S actually have less social mobility. As the wealthiest Americans pass down wealth and secure policies that benefit them at the expense of the majority of the Americans, their wealth will only increase by large margins. This book basically describes everything I said. It’s worth your time and it brings up a valid points we either can address or pay the consequences down the road. 4 stars.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Adam

    A rare venture into the field of economics and David Pilling keeps the read entertaining and easy to digest. The premise and concept is one that should be shared and understood by all those who wish to understand government and politics beyond the headlines. One feels that the pertinent details could've been condensed to an essay. A rare venture into the field of economics and David Pilling keeps the read entertaining and easy to digest. The premise and concept is one that should be shared and understood by all those who wish to understand government and politics beyond the headlines. One feels that the pertinent details could've been condensed to an essay.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Tim Ellis

    I have read several books over the years about the stupidity of measuring national success by measuring growth of GDP, but this is far the best, being easy to follow, entertaining and straight to the point. Gross Domestic Product is the sum of all economic activity in a nation i.e. everything that is sold for money, and Pilling describes the history of this concept and how politicians have come erroneously to think that growth of GDP equates to national wellbeing. It doesn't of course: GDP inclu I have read several books over the years about the stupidity of measuring national success by measuring growth of GDP, but this is far the best, being easy to follow, entertaining and straight to the point. Gross Domestic Product is the sum of all economic activity in a nation i.e. everything that is sold for money, and Pilling describes the history of this concept and how politicians have come erroneously to think that growth of GDP equates to national wellbeing. It doesn't of course: GDP includes things like sale of illegal drugs, crime & prostitution; it implies that pollution is a positive by-product of growth; and it ignores voluntary and domestic work completely. And producing ever more stuff than in previous years means you need ever more people to buy it, so soon we must reach the limit of potential consumers and the limit of the planet to provide raw materials and cope with the waste products, CO2 in particular. Why did Donald Trump run away from the Paris Climate Agreement? Because he thinks it will damage GDP growth in the US. Need I say more? I first became interested in green politics and economics sometime in the 1980s after reading "A Blueprint for Survival" by Goldsmith & Allen, one of the founding documents of the Green Party written way back in 1972. The message about Growth was the same in that book, so there is nothing new here, but what I like about The Growth Delusion is that it doesn't come from any political party or perspective, but is written by a mainstream economics journalist. Maybe the message is beginning to get through at last? Let's hope some of our world decision makers take heed before it is too late.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Sarah Clement

    This is a comprehensive account of the problems with measuring wealth, particularly GDP, and the challenges of developing alternative, accurate, and reflective measures. What is - and is not - counted matters, and many of us know this, but it's not always clear what the best things to measure are. I have read quite a few books that discuss this, but this is by far the most digestible, entertaining, and well written book I have read on the topic. The reason I give it 4 stars instead of 5 is mainl This is a comprehensive account of the problems with measuring wealth, particularly GDP, and the challenges of developing alternative, accurate, and reflective measures. What is - and is not - counted matters, and many of us know this, but it's not always clear what the best things to measure are. I have read quite a few books that discuss this, but this is by far the most digestible, entertaining, and well written book I have read on the topic. The reason I give it 4 stars instead of 5 is mainly because it is sort of false advertising. This isn't actually a challenge to the economic growth paradigm, but merely a challenge to the way we measure the economy and consider other factors, such as damage to the environment, social well-being, etc. There are allusions and brief mentions of the fact that continuous growth is a flawed paradigm, hence the need for better measures, but the contents of the book are focused mainly on measurement and not the underlying paradigm. Overall, though, this is a good book for anyone who is interested in how we can have continuous growth but still not feel like life is getting better. If only what is counted counts, then we would all be very happy indeed, but that is not the case. I still don't feel like there is a 'best' way to measure such things, but this book made me think about a lot of the pros and cons of different approaches to measurement.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Erol Baykal

    First of all, I agree with the point that the author is trying to make. GDP appears to be a bad way to measure how well we are doing, and he makes a good case for this. However, this could have been a much, much denser book. Maybe I am missing the point, but especially the middle part feels like one after another example of why we should not overlook social/environmental issues and wellbeing, which are not considered when calculating GDP. How often can this point be repeated? The GDP alternatives First of all, I agree with the point that the author is trying to make. GDP appears to be a bad way to measure how well we are doing, and he makes a good case for this. However, this could have been a much, much denser book. Maybe I am missing the point, but especially the middle part feels like one after another example of why we should not overlook social/environmental issues and wellbeing, which are not considered when calculating GDP. How often can this point be repeated? The GDP alternatives that are presented towards the end, and the ending in general, were also not very exciting.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Declan Waters

    Some interesting thoughts and analysis of a review of GDP (Gross Domestic Product), its history, impact and flaws. The author by his own admission doesn't like GDP and 'growth' as the only measure of a country, an economy, or the world... He is fair about its advantages, its creator and its future in the suite of tools economists have. Aimed at a reader with minimal knowledge of the economy, clearly laid out and easy to follow. Some interesting thoughts and analysis of a review of GDP (Gross Domestic Product), its history, impact and flaws. The author by his own admission doesn't like GDP and 'growth' as the only measure of a country, an economy, or the world... He is fair about its advantages, its creator and its future in the suite of tools economists have. Aimed at a reader with minimal knowledge of the economy, clearly laid out and easy to follow.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Rob Adey

    One of those books by a journalist which just reads a bit too much like it's written by a journalist- and I guess that shouldn't be a problem, I just prefer book-length stuff to have a bit more gnarl to it. But! Good partial demolition of GDP, if a little reluctant to explore some of the more radical ways we could abandon it. One of those books by a journalist which just reads a bit too much like it's written by a journalist- and I guess that shouldn't be a problem, I just prefer book-length stuff to have a bit more gnarl to it. But! Good partial demolition of GDP, if a little reluctant to explore some of the more radical ways we could abandon it.

  29. 4 out of 5

    RACHEL

    Spilling offers us a highly readable account of economic growth and how we measure it. How and what we measure has great implications on policy and society, 'The Growth Delusion' is a valuable part of the conversation. My copy was a gift through Goodreads First Reads. Spilling offers us a highly readable account of economic growth and how we measure it. How and what we measure has great implications on policy and society, 'The Growth Delusion' is a valuable part of the conversation. My copy was a gift through Goodreads First Reads.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Shahnawaz Haque

    Talks about the flaws of GDP.The areas covered are much widely available in public domain and very little new information was present.Kuznets view is something that needs to be taken into account while redefining GDP 2.0 and rather that aimless growth.

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