Threats to family life can come in many different forms. Often, the more subtle and hidden threats are among the most powerful. A case in point is the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) —-or at least our current devotion to it.
GDP is the universal measuring rod of the strength and well-being of a country’s economy. It is the total of all goods and services produced in a country during a year.
Government, business and the media are all GDP devotees. Governments are judged to be good if they raise GDP. Policies are deemed to be bad if they lessen it. The well being of an entire nation is judged by its GDP relative to that of other nations. Governments around the world pursue policies intended to bolster GDP. This represents a serious problem to pro-life people because of the way GDP is measured. It does not measure all the goods which are produced in a nation. In fact it measures only marketed goods and services. Work done in the home, or on an unpaid basis, never enters into the equation; it is not considered part of the wealth of a nation.
A mother staying home, nurturing her children is considered to contribute nothing to GDP. A child care worker being paid for the work of caring for a stranger’s child is counted as raising the GDP and increasing the wealth of the country.
This inevitably leads governments to favour policies which discourage family life and encourage the trend of family responsibilities such as child care taking place outside the home. The distortion involves more than who is at home with the children.
Consider what happens when a parent decides to join his or her spouse in the fulltime labour force. When he or she takes a job, all that is produced on the job is counted as part of GDP, and everyone agrees the economy is expanding.
That same family will have added expenses to take account of the fact that both parents are working. Pre-schoolers are put into a day-care, the family eats more meals at restaurants, a second car is now needed to get both parents to work, more clothes are sent to the dry cleaner. None of these new expenses adds to the family’s overall happiness, but each and everyone of them means that GDP goes up.
Having both parents working full time may add only very marginally to the happiness of the family—having two full time employed parents adds both fatigue and expenses to family life. Both economic analysts, this family’s contribution to GDP is doubled! And if every family in the country did think the increase in GDP would be regarded as an economic miracle!
We desperately need an intelligent and accurate measure of economic well-being, one which takes account of family life. The good news is that it is not only pro-family people who are coming to a realization that GDP fundamentally distorts the notion of economic growth.
Environmentalists and health activists among others see problems. Polluting and health-threatening activities are both counted as economic gains under the GDP.
Consider next, for example, what happens if there is a dramatic increase in cigarette smoking. First, the production of cigarettes is counted as economic gain. Then, when thousands fall victim to lung cancer, their cancer operations and drug treatments are counted as economic gain.
Thus what every sensible counts and disaster, gets counted as economic growth.. Other disasters, such as crime waves, also get counted as economic booms.
Some economists have devised new ways of measuring economic growth, trying to take all of this into account.
According to one such model the economic well-being of Americans has declined more that 40 percent since the early 1970s. this doesn’t match what the GDP tells us. But it probably does accord with the experience of millions of families.
We want governments to pursue measures which support family life.
They’ll only do so when the basic tool we use for judging economic growth and well-being takes into account the value of family life.