Why 1978 was the year the world never had it so good: We had the perfect balance of wealth, work and happiness
- University of Canberra researchers used a novel method to work out when individual countries and the whole world enjoyed the best quality of life
- Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI) uses economic data as well as statistics relating to pollution, housework and car accidents among other factors
- Found GPI peaked in globally in 1978 and has steadily declined since then
- The only country to have enjoyed a continually rising GPI is Japan
- Some experts are sceptical about GPI and say it is not accurate to use just one formula when assessing world happiness
By Rachel Reilly DailyMail PUBLISHED: 12 July 2013
Scientists have discovered that despite an overabundance of polyester flares and bouffant hair, 1978 was the year that the world’s quality of life peaked, after which it has gradually deteriorated ever since.
Australian experts used a novel method to track the social and economic progress of the world, taking into account various economic, lifestyle-related and ecological factors to come to their conclusion.
Until recently the standard method of measuring progress in a society was by assessing its Gross Domestic product (GDP) – basically a measure of all the money spent and earned in a given society.
‘GDP was never designed to measure social or economic welfare, and yet, today, it is the most commonly used indicator of a country’s overall performance,’ the study, led by Dr Ida Kuniszewski and Dr Robert Costanza of the University of Canberra’s Crawford School of Public Policy, said.
It went on to explain that the most major issue with GDP is that it interprets every expense as positive.
So, for example, an oil spill would be interpreted as a boost to GDP because large sums of money would be spent to mount a clean-up operation.
They explained that ‘the [enjoyable] act of picking vegetables for your own garden and cooking them for family or friends does not fall into GDP.
‘Yet buying a similar meal in a frozen food aisle involves spending money and a in turn results in a GDP increase.’
Popular culture: In 1978 Rod Stewart enjoyed a number one with single ‘Do Ya Think I’m Sexy’ and actress Farrah Fawcett (right) was one of the most desirable women in the world
They said that a more accurate measure of how a society is faring would need to take a variety of factors – including economy, the state of the environment, and society – into account
One alternative measure – and the one they used – is called the Genuine Progress Indicator. (GPI).
GPI starts by using the same figures as GDP, but uses 24 other factors including crime rates, pollution levels, loss of wetland, car accident rates and even the amount of people who volunteer and enjoy housework to give a country its rating.
They found that on average, where GDP steadily increased without interruption, GDI peaked in 1978 and has tapered off ever since.
Experts said the results show that social and environmental problems have cancelled out any monetary wealth the world has accrued.
‘A lot of people working in the field were pretty sure it happened, but it didn’t get detected in GDP,’ Jacqueline McGlade of University College London, and former head of the European Environment Agency told the New Scientist.
The study explained that the UK drop could be explained by Edward Heath’s Tory government coming into power in 1970 and cutting social programmes, which continued throughout the Margaret Thatcher period.
THE FACTORS USED TO WORK OUT THE GENUINE PROGRESS INDICATOR (GPI) – OR QUALITY OF LIFE – OF THE WORLD
Personal consumption weighted by income distribution index
Value of household work and parenting
Value of higher education
Value of volunteer work
Services of consumer durables
Services of highways and streets
Cost of crime
Loss of leisure time
Cost of unemployment
Cost of consumer durables
Cost of commuting
Cost of household pollution abatement
Cost of automobile accidents
Cost of water pollution
Cost of air pollution
Cost of noise pollution
Loss of wetlands
Loss of farmland
Loss of forest area and damage from logging roads
Depletion of nonrenewable energy resources
Carbon dioxide emissions damage
Cost of ozone depletion
Net capital investment
Net foreign borrowing
Around 1993, as in the U.S., GPI did start to increase again, although it has never managed to return to the previous levels reached in the Seventies.
The U.S.’s trajectory was similar to the global picture, showing that there was a steady decline from 1978 onwards but that there has been a slight pick-up since 2007.
The only country to break ranks and experience a perpetual rise until the data ends in 2003 is Japan.
However not all experts are convinced by the accuracy of GPI, and many do not believe it is the new yardstick by which a society should be measured.
Many believe that there can be no single method of measuring how a society is progressing because there are too many complex factors at play.
In addition to this, many say it would be foolish to believe that those in developing countries aren’t, for the most part, enjoying a better quality of life – in the past 20 years alone world poverty has fallen by 42 per cent.
‘If you look at the broader picture of things that contribute to a quality of life, I think there’s no doubt that the average person in developing countries is better off than in the 1970s,’ Marianne Fay, Chief Economist for the World’s Bank’s Sustainable Development Network in Washington DC, told New Scientist.
More generally, life expectancy continues to rise and many surveys in fact say that people are increasingly happy with their quality of life.
The study concluded that in order to enjoy a ‘desirable and sustainable future we need to rapidly shift our policy away from maximising production and consumption (GDP) and towards improving a genuine human well-being (GPI) or similar.
‘This is a shift that will require far more attention to be paid to environmental protection , full employment, social equity, better product quality and durability.’
The study was published in Ecological Economics.
1978: THE YEAR IN WHICH LIFE JUST COULDN’T GET ANY BETTER…
Louise Brown became the world’s first human born from by IVF
- Worldwide unemployment rises after several decades of near full employment
- The US Dollar plunges to record low against many European currencies
- The US stops production of the Neutron Bomb
- India faces it’s longest and worst monsoon season in modern times leaving two million homeless
- Due to poor Cold War Relations United States bans sale of latest computer technology to Soviet Union
- The first online forum goes online forum – the CBBS – goes online in Chicago. One user at a time can post a message.
The Vatican has three popes: Pope Paul VI dies at age of 80, Pope John Paul I becomes Pope from August 26th and dies just 33 days later on September 28. Cardinal Karol Wojtyla then became Pope John Paul I shortly after.
- Argentina won the 1978 World Cup in Argentina
- Sweden became the first nation to ban aerosol sprays that are thought to damage earth’s protective ozone layer
- Sony built its first prototype Walkman
- Grease became the biggest grossing film and ‘You’re the One that I Want’ was number one for nine weeks
- The Garfield cartoon strip was published for the first time
AND IN THE UK …..
Anna Ford became the first female newsreader on ITN
- Inflation reached a six-year low of 8.3 per cent, although unemployment is at a postwar high of 1,500,000
- May Day becomes a bank holiday for the first time
- First official UK naturist beach opened at Fairlight Glen in Covehurst Bay near Hastings
- Cricketer Ian Botham becomes the first man in the history of the game to score a century and take eight wickets in one innings of a Test match
- The government announces plans for a new single exam to replace O Levels and CSEs.
- West Midlands motorcycle manufacturer Norton Villiers Triumph is liquidated
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