SOFT&GREEN Insights

The politician: Bob Kennedy, GDP is not enough to measure quality of life

It was 1968 and the speech given by Bob Kennedy (1925 – 1968) is probably one of the most frequently referenced political addresses of all time. When we talk about the forerunners and trying to identify some of the passages through which the proto-concept of sustainability has expanded from the scientific field (in particular that of ecology) to the social and economic dimensions, it would be remiss not to mention the famous speech that Bob Kennedy gave at Kansas University on 18th March 1968. Below is an excerpt, the famous passage in which the American politician highlights the limits of GDP in measuring our well-being.

“Too much and for too long, we seemed to have surrendered personal excellence and community values in the mere accumulation of material things. We cannot measure the national spirit by the Dow-Jones Average, nor national achievement by the Gross National Product. Our Gross National Product 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 television programmes which glorify violence in order to sell toys to our children. It counts the destruction of the redwood and the loss of our natural wonder in chaotic sprawl. It counts napalm and counts nuclear warheads and armoured cars for the police to fight the riots in our cities.

Yet the gross national domestic 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.”