The Great Invention: The Story of GDP and the Making and Unmaking of the Modern World - Ehsan Masood (2016)
Simon Kuznets, one of the inventors of GDP. Kuznets would later clash with government economists over what he saw as its misapplication. Image credit: American Statistical Association.
John Maynard Keynes (pictured right) with Harry Dexter White. Keynes did much to recognize government spending in the GDP calculation, which Kuznets had opposed. Image credit: International Monetary Fund, via Wikimedia Commons.
President Eisenhower toured Karachi in 1959 in praise of Pakistan’s efforts at adopting and sustaining GDP-led growth, which would last for more than a decade. Excited young people prepared to greet President Eisenhower at Karachi airport. Among them is the author’s father Hassan Masood (circled), aged 18, best friend Saeed Khan, and cousin Hassan Arif. Image credit: Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum.
Rachel Carson, a scientist with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, sounded a powerful warning on the risks of lightly regulated industrial growth through her bestseller Silent Spring, published in 1962. Image credit: US Department of Agriculture, via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).
Canadian diplomat Maurice Strong pictured greeting India’s Prime Minister Indira Gandhi at the start of the 1972 UN Conference on the Human Environment. The meeting ended with agreement to create a new international organization to protect the environment. Image credit: United Nations Audiovisual Library of International Law.
Fiat industrialist Aurelio Peccei (ABOVE) co-founded the Club of Rome and published The Limits to Growth. This book provided a degree of scientific underpinning to Maurice Strong’s efforts to create a UN environment agency. Image credit: Zenit Arti Audiovisive. Peccei and his team were taken to task by economist Christopher Freeman (BELOW LEFT) and science writer John Maddox (BELOW RIGHT), editor of Nature. Image credits: Alan Freeman and Maddox Family Archive.
Barbara Ward (Lady Jackson), pictured here with J. K. Galbraith. A former foreign editor of The Economist, Ward was essential to Maurice Strong’s mission to show the world that not all influential Brits were hostile to his plan. Image credit: International Institute of Environment and Development (IIED).
(Lord) Solly Zuckerman, former chief scientific adviser to the British prime minister, was the public face of British government efforts to weaken the outcomes of the 1972 Stockholm environment conference. Image credit: Zuckerman Archive, University of East Anglia.
Mahbub ul Haq, economist and co-inventor with Amartya Sen of the Human Development Index. Haq is pictured here in 1990 with his colleague Inge Kaul and Pakistan’s Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. Away from the cordial smiles Haq and Bhutto occupied opposite ends of the political spectrum. Image credit: Inge Kaul.
Bill Draper, Administrator at the UN Development Programme and Republican Party troubleshooter, pictured to the right of President George H. W. Bush. Draper passed on the chance to run Bush’s election campaign to take the UN job. He would become Mahbub ul Haq’s principal talent agent. Image credit: Bill Draper.
Robert Costanza published a landmark paper in Nature in 1997 that helped to show the world how much nature would be worth if we started to value it in dollars. Pictured here with Mikhail Gorbachev, Lech Walesa and Hans-Dietrich Genscher in 2012. Image credit: Robert Costanza.
(Lord) Nicholas Stern, economist and advisor to prime ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. Stern wrote an influential report that showed how a small amount of climate protecting expenditure now will save the world from much bigger costs if the world continues to warm. Image credit: British Academy.
Nobel economics laureate Amartya Sen argues that running an economy using GDP is like driving a car using only one instrument. GDP, he says, must be replaced with a dashboard of indicators. Image credit: Elke Wetzig, via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0).
Happy kids in Bhutan, where the teenage King Wangchuck inspired the creation of Gross National Happiness. Image credit: Steve Evans, via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 2.0).
A copy of the letter from the US Secretary of Commerce announcing the publication of National Income 1929–32 by Simon Kuznets on January 3, 1934. Image credit: National Archives and Records Administration.
A memo from the office of Senator Robert La Follette Jr., who was responsible for having the work commissioned. Image credit: National Archives and Records Administration.
Rising inequality and impacts from climate change may spell the end of the last century’s Great Invention. Image credit: Simon Cunningham, via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).