Let the Sun Shine In: If line drying clothes is bad for GDP, we need a new measure of success

To create the new, we must incessantly destroy the old. Or so goes the theory of creative destruction and "industrial mutation" held up by Joseph Schumpeter over 65 years ago.

Earlier this month, the op-ed pages of the New York Times contemplated the application of "creative destruction" to our current economic environment, arguing that the imperfections of GDP as a measure of wealth are significant enough to warrant tossing the revered indicator onto the "dust heap of history" alongside VCRs and horse drawn carriages.  Amen.

Policy makers and those that swirl around them wait anxiously for news about GDP and give a disproportionate amount of weight to what its fractional movements in either direction indicate about the state of our country and our prospects. But what is missing from this myopic GDP picture? How we use our natural environment, for one. As Eric Zencey put it in his recent editorial, GDP does not "include the huge economic benefit that we get directly, outside of any market, from nature. A mundane example: If you let the sun dry your clothes, the service is free and doesn’t show up in our domestic product; if you throw your laundry in the dryer, you burn fossil fuel, increase your carbon footprint, make the economy more unsustainable — and give G.D.P. a bit of a bump." From this perspective, GDP is the antithesis of sustainable finance. Clothes dryers do not embody the true meaning of prosperity, but are a foundational element in how we measure it. Reliance on GDP growth as the key measure of our collective success is steering us down the wrong path.

I remember years ago reading an article about Amory Lovins, one of the most pragmatic environmental problem solvers of our age, and the author's contextual description of Amory checking the jeans he left to dry in his cold Colorado laundry room to see if they were yet free of moisture.  Amory Lovins is known, among many things, for growing bananas in the frigid Rocky Mountains without energy sucking heat lamps. He has re-engineered industrial processes and saved companies millions of dollars while dramatically reducing their environmental impact. The description of Amory checking his clothes line made me realize that his gift is in identifying and executing the obvious solution we are often too preoccupied to notice ourselves.

Much is possible, and even clear, if we can motivate to act. So, my good work for the week is to put up the clothes line I've been thinking about since I moved into a space that will accommodate it. G.D.P  R.I.P indeed.