Saturday, November 29, 2014

Michael Green on How to Improve Social Progress

By Quinton Chambers

“On January 4, 1934, a young man delivered a report to the United States Congress that 80 years on, still shapes the lives of everyone in this room today, still shapes the lives of everyone on this planet. That young man wasn't a politician, he wasn't a businessman, a civil rights activist or a faith leader. He was that most unlikely of heroes, an economist.”

This quote was presented recently by Michael Green, a social progress expert and co-author of the book Philanthrocapitalism, in a TEDtalk that challenges the way the world measures progress.The unlikely hero that was referred to is named Simon Kuznets and the report he gave, called “National Income, 1929-1932,” became the basis for GDP (Gross Domestic Product). GDP’s main purpose is to measures monetary value of all the finished goods and services produced within a country’s border in a specific amount of time. Green was not on stage to highlight how history affects us, but rather how we can change our future.

“GDP has defined and shaped our lives for the last 80 years. And today I want to talk about a different way to measure the success of countries," he said, "a different way to define and shape our lives for the next 80 years.”

The new method that Green explained is known as “The Social Progress Index.” Instead of measuring products and money flow, Green’s system measures societal needs and whether they are being met. “The Social Progress Index begins by defining what it means to be a good society based around three dimensions," he said. "The first is, does everyone have the basic needs for survival: food, water, shelter, safety? Secondly, does everyone have access to the building blocks to improve their lives: education, information, health and sustainable environment? And then third, does every individual have access to a chance to pursue their goals and dreams and ambitions free from obstacles? Do they have rights, freedom of choice, freedom from discrimination and access to the world's most advanced knowledge?”

With these twelve components, achievement can be measured rather than effort or intention. So, compared to GDP, which would measure how much money a country spends on healthcare, the Social Progress Index would measure length and quality of life.

Now, behind the red circular stage, that is well lit and in the center of the crowd, a third screen reveals itself; showing what everyone has been waiting for, the chart. The Vertical axis is labeled as Social Progress and the Horizontal as GDP per capita. The highest country for social progress turned out to be New Zealand, while the lowest is Chad. There were a total of 132 countries analyzed. A regression line was then placed along the scattered dots, showing the relation between GDP and social progress. “And what this shows, what this empirically demonstrates, is that GDP is not destiny,” Green says.

Then three points are highlighted: At every level of GDP per capita there are opportunities for more social progress and less risks, poorer countries earn high social progress the more funding they get, yet surprisingly, each dollar of GDP results in less and less social progress, seen as the regression line evens out. Where the line evens out is where the majority of the world’s population ends up, concluding that GDP is becoming less and less useful to guide our development.

Times change, we are not in the 20th century anymore, we are in the 21st and we need 21st century solutions, Green advises, adding that if more people can understand and adapt, then there is a potential to gain a better system of living for the future.

“Imagine if we could measure what nonprofits, charities, volunteers, civil society organizations really contribute to our society. Imagine if businesses competed not just on the basis of their economic contribution, but on their contribution to social progress.Imagine if we could hold politicians to account for really improving people's lives. Imagine if we could work together — government, business, civil society, me, you — and make this century the century of social progress. Thank you,” Green says as he concludes his speech.

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