What Does Prosperity Look Like?
By Alex Zorach, February 2nd, 2009
The mission of Merit Exchange is to bring prosperity through all people. What is prosperity? Economists often look at GDP (Gross Domestic Product) as a measure of the prosperity of a country or region within that country. But GDP is a poor measure of prosperity because it does not include productive activities for which no money changes hands: in fact, these activities can even decrease GDP.
When people cook meals for their friends or family, spend time with their children, or volunteer for a community organization, these activities are not included in GDP. When people repair their own cars, computers, sew their own clothes, maintain their own homes, or do any similar tasks as favors for friends or family, these activities are not included in GDP. They might even decrease the GDP because they reduce the amount of money people need to expend in order to enjoy the same quality of life. Yet these actions all provide real, measurable value for people and for society as a whole.
Merit Exchange has little more to say about GDP. We are not interested in increasing it. We are not interested in thinking about it. We want people to stop thinking about it, and to start thinking about real value and true prosperity.
Prosperity can be defined in many ways: most dictionary definitions provide a variety of meanings, including being happy and healthy in addition to experiencing economic or financial success. Material wealth is an important component of prosperity but it is only one component:
- "For money you can have everything it is said. No, that is not true. You can buy food, but not appetite; medicine, but not health; soft beds, but not sleep; knowledge but not intelligence; glitter, but not comfort; fun, but not pleasure; acquaintances, but not friendship; servants, but not faithfulness; grey hair, but not honor; quiet days, but not peace. The shell of all things you can get for money. But not the kernel. That cannot be had for money." -Arne Garborg, writer (1851-1924)
Prosperity is also not something experienced solely on an individual ( ) level. It is experienced by communities ( ). The success of a business depends on the customers of the business having money to spend. The property value of one house depends on how other houses in the neighborhood are maintained. And, as researchers in psychology are finding, a person's happiness depends on other people in their community and social network, including both their neighbors and their friends' friends, even if they don't know or interact with these people. (See Link)
The mission of Merit Exchange is to bring prosperity to all people, through building community, rewarding people for their contributions to others, and encouraging long-term thinking and generosity. By acknowledging our interconnectedness and sharing both our needs and our strengths and abilities to work and provide for each other, and by fostering a spirit of trust and cooperation, and recognizing people for the work that they do, we can create an economy based on creating real value for all people, and ultimately, bringing true prosperity to everyone.