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rethinking what ‘productive’ means

August 20, 2011

I’ve seen a lot of talk about ‘the productive class’ lately (which is right out of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged), usually in reference to the mythical ‘job creators.’ But this attitude often neglects the importance of what they in turn consider ‘unproductive’ activities. As C. A. L’Hirondelle puts it in “The Stupidity of Economic Growth,” “many ‘non-jobs’ such as being an unpaid carer, or doing volunteer work—activities that are often essential to human health and happiness—are considered ‘unproductive’ according to conventional economic measures such as the GDP.”

Personally, I believe that we need to start looking at what is and isn’t ‘productive’ in an entire different and more sustainable way. For example, as the same article notes: “E.F. Schumacher, Marilyn Waring and others have pointed out that harmful activities such as oil spills, clear cuts, ill health, and car accidents count on the ‘plus’ side of the GDP ledger because they generate economic activity while beneficial activities like unpaid family caregiving or growing your own vegetable garden are not counted as they are considered ‘unproductive.'” That’s why I completely agree with biologist and Nobel laureate John Sulston that it’s time to look for more holistic alternatives to GDP as measures of well-being, as well as who and what kinds of activities are considered ‘productive.’

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