I hate it when I have an idea, and then Nobel Prize-winning economists get all the credit for thinking of it first. That's what happened last week when I read in the New York Times about Joseph E. Stiglitz and Amartya Sen (my all-time favorite economist) recommending that we do away with Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as the ultimate measure of the health of a country and its economy.
The truth is, recessions are fairly predictable. Since the founding of America, we've had one at least every 20 to 30 years, and in the last 50 years, we have had at least one, maybe two, every decade. If they are so predictable, why are we so shocked whenever they happen?
My theory is that we are so disconnected from the cycles of the economy that it's equivalent to being stunned when summer is over and autumn comes. Rather than freaking out and making it worse, we should prepare for it, the way we do for the winter. Stock up and preserve the fruits of summer for the inevitable dark days that come every year.
Younger countries, just like younger children, grow fast. Can you imagine if doctors still plotted our growth on charts when we were in our 50s? The sad fact is many of us do keep "growing," but instead of healthy growth, it's called obesity. America has been economically obese for decades--hogging the majority of the world's resources to feed the desperate hunger for more "growth."
Now it's China and India who are the growing "babies." Ironically, they are the oldest civilizations on the planet. But civilizations have seasons, too. They rise, they fall, they rise again. (I remember that the first time I went to Rome, I kept thinking that it didn't look "fallen" at all!)
What is the true measure of health? Strength and security: Are we strong enough to keep ourselves and our families secure? But strength isn't just military might, it's also the spiritual strength to make it through tough times, the strength to find new solutions to old problems, and the strength to do what's right. And security isn't just the idea that we can protect ourselves and keep our families safe and well fed--it's the ability to educate ourselves to be leaders in a world that is changing faster than a growing baby.
It's time to look to nature as our model, and adapt our thinking and planning to what we are a part of, what we can't be separated from, no matter how much we try, in our high-rise, air-conditioned skyscrapers and pinstripe suits.
Because nature always gets the last laugh.