Changing how we measure our success can help us be more successful
So, how did 2021 go? Despite the pandemic, despite the rising cost of living, despite centralizing our economy around the most expensive city in the world, Israel is finishing 2021 with one of the world’s highest economic growth rates: 7%, just behind India (9.5%) and China (8%). Israeli exports, led by the tech sector, have broken an all-time-high and are expected to surpass $140 billion in 2021. But if things are so good, why are so many of us feeling so hopeless about our future?
Despite the pandemic, despite the rising cost of living, Israel is finishing 2021 with record breaking economic growth. But if things are so good, why are so many of us feeling so hopeless?
Whether our economy grows by 2% or 7% (or shrinks by 3%) is less meaningful to most of us than if we have good food on the table, a secure house to sleep in, and opportunities for our children to live fulfilling lives. Many of us have remembered that money is an instrument to achieve happiness, not the essential ingredient of happiness. We want to feel useful, cared for, and to have the time and money to take care of those dearest to us. Above all else, we want to be healthy, and to ensure the health of our loved ones. None of that is captured by GDP measures.
The pandemic emphatically underscored just how disconnected our economy is from our health and our well-being. Even as Delta and now Omicron swept the world, financial profits grew to record highs. Billlionaires became trillionaires. Even as whole countries and continents became red, our export industry grew into the deep green and pushed housing prices ever higher. As we enter into our third year of the pandemic, it is time for Israel and the world to mature beyond GDP and focus public planning on measurements that more accurately reflect our aspirations as a people.
As we enter into our third year of the pandemic, it is time for Israel to mature beyond GDP and focus on measurements that more accurately reflect our aspirations as a people.
There have been a number of efforts over the years to present alternatives to GDP as a main benchmark for State success. Whether it be Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness (GNH), the Social Progress Index, or the OECD’s Better Life Index (BLI), the main goal of these efforts is to measure what matters so that we can manage what we measure. Sadly, our decision to continue measuring our progress by GDP and economic growth communicates to our people that, in an era of pandemics and extreme weather events, we’re more interested in the amount of money returned to capital than in the number of children who know their future is secure.
With a budget behind us, and representing the broadest sectoral range of any government in Israel’s history, the Government of Change has a unique opportunity to set as its next challenge the creation of a single, clear metric by which our society can judge its success. We do not need to wait for others to do so for us, as they may not share our values and priorities.
To create an Israeli metric for social success the government should appoint an inter-ministerial committee to gather representatives from each of Israel’s social groups, to begin a conversation around how we each judge our quality of life in Israel. With a foundation proposed by these representatives, the government should then call for public comment and conversation, engaging Israel’s robust civil society and business leadership to stress test this index, and project backward whether the use of the index would have accurately described the changes in Israeli society over the past decades. Once a reasonable fit is found, the government should adopt this metric with a commitment for a regular, once in seven years review, and future policy should be assessed according to our new social success measure.
Building an Israeli success metric that represents the shared aspirations of our mosaic of communities will give public leaders the opportunity to come together around what we have in common as opposed to what tears us apart.
By focusing the public conversation on how we work towards a better life for all of our citizens we can overcome the shallow politicized manipulation former leaders use to sow discord and foment insurrection. By setting a goal of a single index that represents how we judge whether things are getting better, we will build an opportunity for consensus that can outlast the current coalition and give future generations a North Star to guide them.
With (hopefully) years to go before an election campaign drives politicians to again highlight their differences, we have a unique moment in our history when building on our strengths is possible. Building an Israeli success metric that represents the shared aspirations of our mosaic of communities will give public leaders the opportunity to come together around what we have in common as opposed to what tears us apart.
As surveys by the Israel Democracy Institute have shown time and again, there is broad agreement across Israeli social sectors about the country we would like to become. Israel is, over all, a traditional society, one that values family and welfare over material success. Israel is one of the only countries that celebrates its independence day by loudly proclaiming its population growth, a country with one of the highest birth rates per capita in the developed world. As any parent knows, bringing life into the world is the easy part; we will be judged – by our children and ourselves – by the quality of life we can provide. Determining how that quality is measured will be all the more important during the period of radical change we will soon experience as the climate collapse affects our world.
If we work together, by the end of 2022 our metrics could reflect how well we work towards that most holy of ends: ensuring a good life for ourselves, our neighbors, and our children.
2022 brings with it an opportunity for us all to reflect on the aspiration, deeply rooted in the Jewish tradition, to choose life. We should measure our progress towards that choice, focusing on the essential as opposed to the instrumental. If we work together, by the end of 2022 our metrics could reflect how well we work towards that most holy of ends: ensuring a good life for ourselves, our neighbors, and our children.
Dedicated to solving problems facing humanity with sustainable and scalable solutions, Ariel Beery co-founded and led 3 Israel-based social ventures over the past two decades: CoVelocity, MobileODT, and the PresenTense Group. His geopolitical writings – with deeper dives into the topics addressed in singular columns – can be found on his substack, A Lighthouse.