OECD Better Life Index: Counting what’s measured or measuring what counts?

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Today the OECD launched its better life index – a big leap forward in measuring progress and a move on from GDP for those fortunate enough to live in OECD countries. OECD citizens can use it to  focus their governments on improving their well-being, not just inflating growth figures.

And to its credit, the OECD is taking its index on the road. But one of the biggest problems for GDP in developing countries is who is left out. The economic activities of most poor people – subsistence farmers and small informal enterprises do not count towards GDP. This has led to them being marginalised in economic development and private sector strategies – their contribution to these quite simply did not count.

As a result, their livelihoods are largely unsupported, except as complementary activities, or even worse, by NGO activities!

Livelihoods are not just about wealth, but also self-determination, providing for children’s futures and paying for healthcare and decent housing.  Without including the livelihoods of the poor in a new index, it is hard to see how an index can lead to better lives for the very poorest.

The OECD knows its project is a work in progress. Let’s hope it is serious that better policies and better lives should be for everyone. Without it, the initiative will be irrelevant to the biggest challenges facing global policy makers – tackling persisting poverty and inequality.

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