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Social Democratic Reflections on "Economic Growth or Quality of Life?" (April 11, 1972)

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2. New Benchmarks

It will soon be indisputable that economic growth is not a suitable measure of progress. That a doubling in the consumption of sleeping pills within seven years – an achievement certainly not limited to the United States – is recorded statistically as a rise in the standard of living will soon be considered a curious piece of trivia. As will the fact that a housewife’s work in her own household does not add to the gross national product, but her – paid – work in someone else’s household does. The quality of life of a small child, in any case, ought to be exactly proportional to the amount of time in which the mother can concentrate her attention on the child.

Moreover, none of the common modes of calculation offer any information as to whether the economic and human potential of a country is being carefully used, partially wasted, or already overtaxed; whether this leads to satisfying more or less pressing needs; and whether investments will secure or threaten our future.

[ . . . ]

Just because qualitative benchmarks are incomparably more difficult to find than quantitative ones, that is no reason not to look for them. That is also how I understand the suggestion that Sicco Mansholt included in his letter of February 9, 1972, to [Franco Maria] Malfatti.* Mansholt is known to prefer the term utilité nationale brute over gross national product.

We also need new benchmarks for science and technology. This cannot mean that emotional protests against science and technology will help us along, and certainly not a romantic call “back to nature.”

It is not a matter of frustrating the human spirit of invention, but of channeling it toward new tasks. If an environmentally harmful technology can exist, then so can an environmentally sound one.

[ . . . ]

* At that time Mansholt was European Commissioner for Agriculture. Malfatti was President of the European Commission. – trans.

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