What Is Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI)?

A genuine progress indicator (GPI) is a metric used to measure the economic growth of a country. It is often considered an alternative metric to the more well known gross domestic product (GDP) economic indicator. The GPI indicator takes everything the GDP uses into account, but adds other figures that represent the cost of the negative effects related to economic activity (such as the cost of crime, cost of ozone depletion and cost of resource depletion, among others).

The GPI nets the positive and negative results of economic growth to examine whether or not it has benefited people overall.

How the Genuine Progress Indicator Works

Genuine Progress Indicator is an attempt to measure whether the environmental impact and social costs of economic production and consumption in a country are negative or positive factors in overall health and well-being.

The GPI metric was developed out of the theories of green economics (which sees the economic market as a piece within a ecosystem). Proponents of the GPI see it as a better measure of the sustainability of an economy when compared to the GDP measure. Since 1995, the GPI indicator has grown in stature and is used in Canada and the United States. However, both these countries still report their economic information in GDP to remain in line with the more widespread practice.

Key Takeaways

  • The genuine progress indicator (GPI) is a national-level measure of economic growth and prosperity.
  • GPI is an alternative metric to GDP but which accounts for externalities such as pollution.
  • As such, GPI is considered to be a better measure of growth from the perspective of green or social economics.

GPI vs. GDP

GDP increases twice when pollution is created – once upon creation (as a side-effect of some valuable process) and again when the pollution is cleaned up. By contrast, GPI counts the initial pollution as a loss rather than a gain, generally equal to the amount it will cost to clean up later plus the cost of any negative impact the pollution will have in the mean time. Quantifying costs and benefits of these environmental and social externalities is a indeed a difficult task.

By accounting for the costs borne by the society as a whole to repair or control pollution and poverty, GPI balances GDP spending against external costs. GPI advocates claim that it can more reliably measure economic progress, as it distinguishes between the overall "shift in the 'value basis' of a product, adding its ecological impacts into the equation." 

The relationship between GDP and GPI mimics the relationship between the gross profit and net profit of a company. The net profit is the gross profit minus the costs incurred, while the GPI is the GDP (value of all goods and services produced) minus the environmental and social costs. Accordingly, the GPI will be zero if the financial costs of poverty and pollution equal the financial gains in production of goods and services, all other factors being constant.