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Measuring the Quality of Life in the U.S.: Political Reflections

  • Debra Satz (a1)

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Per capita gross domestic product (GDP) is not the best indicator of a nation's well-being. A nation can be relatively wealthy, but many of its people may be living under circumstances of misery and deprivation. Some people may be unable to transform their own wealth into things that really matter to them (think of those with severe disabilities or ill health); background social arrangements may have significant causal effects on individual well-being (think of physical security); and some of the most important components of a person's well-being may be nonmonetary (think of the importance of family and friends). A nation's GDP tells us nothing about how its wealth is distributed for different public purposes. (Recall the criticism by Martin Luther King, Jr., of America's priorities in 1967: “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”) Nor does GDP reveal how wealth is distributed among a nation's people. It may, therefore, tell us little about how the nation's very poorest members are faring.

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Sen, Amartya. 1992. Inequality Re-examined. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Measuring the Quality of Life in the U.S.: Political Reflections

  • Debra Satz (a1)

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