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Measuring Progress

Build a better future by improving our understanding and measurement of human progress.

How we measure progress reveals our values and shapes our future. So what does America's portrait of progress tell us about our collective values and goals? The traditional portrait presented by most of our media and political leaders includes the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and stock market. But do such measures really reflect our most cherished values and aspirations? In his first major campaign speech on March 18, 1968, Robert Kennedy warned against measuring ourselves by wealth alone:

Too much and for too long, we seem to have surrendered personal excellence and community value in the mere accumulation of material things. Our Gross National Product, now, is over eight hundred billion dollars a year, but that GNP — if we judge the United States of America by that — that GNP counts air pollution and cigarette advertising and ambulances to clear our highways of carnage. It counts special locks for our doors and the jails for the people who break them. It counts the destruction of the redwoods and the loss of our natural wonder in chaotic sprawl. It counts napalm and it counts nuclear warheads, and armored cars for the police to fight riots in our cities. It counts Whitman's rifle and Speck's knife, and the television programs which glorify violence in order to sell toys to our children.

Yet the Gross National Product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education, or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country; it measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile. And it can tell us everything about America except why we are proud that we are Americans.

As we enter the 21st century, it is time to begin measuring what we value rather than valuing what we measure.


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