What does GDP really measure?


Sir, – I agree wholeheartedly with William Reville that “GDP measures economic activity but misses the point” (Science, March 18th).

GDP is, in many ways, a red herring. We should look beyond this outdated metric. Even GNP (total sent to, or received from, abroad) presents a clearer picture, but we should be using a combination of metrics which gives a truer picture of societal and environmental wellbeing. Dr Reville cites the IMF 2020 global rankings for GDP per capita, which place Ireland third.

On the face of it, a lofty position, but what would our position be if a basket of metrics were used which factored in the likes of health services, housing, public transport, levels of child poverty, childcare costs, greenhouse gas emissions and action on climate change, to give but a few examples? Not Paddy last, but far from third, I would think.

Anyone who thinks we are world beaters on the basis of our GDP per capita is codding themselves. Chunks of our national economic wardrobe are emperor’s clothes, designed by multinationals.

An aggregate metric along the lines of a National Wellbeing Index is called for.

– Yours, etc,



Dublin 16.