Forget GDP. We Need ZDP

A rich nation is one with Zero Domestic Poverty

You are only rich if you have room at your table. We Live in Silence XVI, 2017 by Kudzanai Chiurai

If Jeff Bezos moved to Sri Lanka, my entire country’s GDP would double. Just from his white ass moving next door. But my life would be the same. It’s not like he shops at the grocery store 3 million times more. It’s not like he pays real taxes. Dude wouldn’t even loan me a cup of sugar. This is how meaningless GDP is. We average out our richest assholes and call ourselves rich.

We need to measure something else.

We need to stop measuring the rich and start measuring the poor. We need to stop measuring greed and start measuring good. We need to stop measuring GDP and start measuring ZDP.

Zero Domestic Poverty.

It’s a simple measure. How many people do you have below the poverty line? Rich nations should have zero. Otherwise you’re not rich are you? Because you have poor people. Stop measuring exploitative dipshits with their money in obscure assets and tax shelters. Start measuring the people on the street, or more specifically, people not living on the street.

We should rank nations by how few poor people they have. The richest nation is the one with zero poverty.

Burning Down The House

This is a different way of looking at things, but I must tell you, the way we look at things today is insane.

If I dig a hole and fill it up, GDP goes up. Hell, you can use fossil fuels to dig a hole, fill it with more fossil fuels, light the whole thing on fire, and that increases GDP. This is a stupid measure, designed to be gamed, and the house always loses. By house I mean the Earth. Your house.

You know what’s not measured in GDP? Caring for a child. Caring for an elder. Sharing a meal. Under GDP a tree has no value until it’s cut. A sunset has no value until its Instagrammed. A mountain has no value until its stripped bare.

You know what GDP values the least? Growing and picking food. Nursing. Care work. Sex work. Cleaning toilets. All of our essential work pays the least and the non-essential, exploitative, destructive work pays the most. We’ve gone mad, and we’ve gone mad round a metric.

They tell you GDP is necessary to lift people out of poverty, but it’s not. We could just lift people out of poverty without depending on meagre drippings from the rich. You are what you measure. We’re just measuring the wrong thing.

In pure economic terms, the Net Present Value of GDP is negative. Project over one hundred years and all of our GDP growth today is worth less than nothing because it destroys the Earth. We are burning the house we live in so that a few people can roast marshmallows over the open flame. For the historical equivalent of 15 minutes. It’s madness.

And they call this development. This is the western development model. First white empires exploited our bodies and land, and now they’ve colonized the air. I have been on this ride. Capitalist colonialism (we were mainly colonized by companies, not states) ended in human ruin and environmental ruin is next. For us all. It’s not even economic unless your time frame is vanishingly small. And believe me, our time frame is vanishing.

Western civilization doesn’t build pyramids. It’s a pyramid scheme. The grift is built on GDP, which they tell you is per capita, but it’s really not. Are you getting a cheque? It’s per capitalism. It’s per colonialism. It’s leading us straight to perdition.

Be happy as a clam

Think of it this way. What does wealth mean? To me it means a surplus. But what is the value of a surplus, what is human good? There is only so much pleasure we can get from stuff.

Take me. I earn maybe $30,000 and I’m happy as a clam. Give me $3 million and I’m not going to turn into an oyster. I use this mollusk metaphor because do you know what a pearl is? It’s an irritation. The oyster is miserable, they’re trying to get it out. Listen to Biggie, listen to Laozi. Just be happy as a clam.

As Biggie said, mo’ money mo’ problems.

I don’t know what they want from me
It’s like the more money we come across
The more problems we see

The Taoist Laozi said this 2,500 years earlier. In this first line he refers to a tipping vessel, something the ancient Chinese used in Confucian days to illustrate Biggie’s idea. When the vessel got too full, it just tipped over.

To hold the vessel upright in order to fill it is not as good as to stop in time.
If you make your blade too keen it will not hold its edge.
When gold and jade fill the hall none can hold on to them.
To be haughty when wealth and honor come your way
is to bring disaster upon yourself.
To withdraw when the work is done is the Way of Heaven.

The Daodejing of Laozi

There is a broad philosophical basis for this idea of ZDP, or Degrowth, or whatever you want to call it. Specifically, there is a Confucian concept of xiaokang shehui (小康社会) which inadequately translates as “moderately prosperous society.” That should be our goal. Kongzi, Laozi, Biggie, they were all clear about quitting while you’re ahead.

Greed is destroying the Earth

Greed is not good. White people started experimenting with this vapid philosophy in the 1980s and it has not worked out well. Take climate change. The richest 1% cause more than double the emissions of the bottom 50%. And these assholes talk about over-population. The problem is not billions of people. It’s billionaires.

The wealth of this 1% bloats the GDPs of western nations, but what’s it doing for you? Look at yourselves. Your societies are literally sick and dying. Health is wealth, and every western nation (out of Australasia) has worse public health than Rwanda or Vietnam. The United Kingdom spent twice the entire GDP of Rwanda on a test-and-trace system that doesn’t work. That is, the Brits spent more than the entire measure of Rwandan society to suck 120x as hard at one small thing.

What are you doing? What do these numbers mean? You’re literally dying. The Earth is dying. We need to turn around.

Wealth is room at your table

I see wealth this way. It’s a table. If you’re wealthy, you have room at your table. That’s it. If I walk into your grand house and you have beggars outside, congratulations, you’re poor. You’re poor in spirit, and your ZDP is high.

We need to measure that. How do nations treat the hungry, the poor, the orphan? The refugee, the criminal, the sick? You know, the people Jesus hung out with. The people Muhammed and the Buddha all tended to. The people Zhuangzi spoke about. Wealth — true wealth — is how much room you have at your table.

You want to judge a wealthy nation? See how well their poorest member is living. Fuck the rich. Measure the poor. Fuck GDP. It’s time for ZDP.

Written by

A writer living in Colombo, Sri Lanka. He/him. Videos: and podcast:

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