1978: as good as it got

by Toby Manhire / 18 July, 2013
According to a “genuine progress” measure, things have been going downhill for 35 years.
The Listener in 1978.

In New Zealand, it saw Muldoon’s re-election, Bastion Point, and an All Black grand slam in the British Isles. And for the world, it was as good as it got. The last 35 years have been all downhill.

“In terms of global prosperity, 1978 was as good as it gets,” says the New Scientist, citing a new study which measures wealth according to the Genuine Progress Indicator.

Unlike the more familiar gross domestic product metric, which has grown pretty well unhindered, GPI attempts a rounder appreciation, and “adjusts expenditure in 26 ways to account for social and environmental costs, such as pollution, crime and inequality, and for beneficial activities where no money changes hands, such as housework and volunteering”.

As the New Scientist and this Forbes.com piece note, the GPI has its critics, but it’s at least not the blunt instrument of GDP.

Why did things slide after 78?

“It is surely not a coincidence that 1979 marked the end of the post-war economic consensus and the rise of neoliberalism, with its rallying cry ‘greed is good’,” says the New Scientist in an editorial headlined “Bring back the spirit of 78”.

“Globalisation, deregulation and unfettered movement of capital have made a lot of people rich, but have come at a terrible cost: environmental destruction and widening inequality. Money matters, of course. But until we stop treating it as if it is the only worthwhile measure of prosperity, we will never have it so good again.”

Maybe that’s not the full story, however. The magazine also notes that, in 1978, “transparent trousers were briefly in vogue”.

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