Gross Domestic Product (GDP). I don’t know why this one single economic principle lodged itself in my pink, young brain early in my education. It did. I’m not usually a data-aware, spreadsheet-loving, cost-calculating kind of girl. Economics do not usually intrigue me. The idea of a GDP struck me for its base assumption: Are we putting more value into the world than we take out?

I suppose it stays with me because I find systems sexy. The delicate balance of the body’s systems. Of the lakes’ systems. Of the climate, and weather and politics. The intricacies of chemical responses, of energy exchange. The checks and the balances. Zeros and ones. Red ink and black. Growth and stagnation and decline. These, for me, are wondrous processes to behold. And so, so delicate.

So much depends on the economics that sustain life or deny it.

For instance, I wonder at how the GDP of my household is affected when we bring a new pet aboard. It depends whether the product I value is a steady bank balance or a balance of joy, you see? In my house, Gross Domestic Joy goes up as cash for puppy bills fly.

And I think about GDP when I hear that men are thinking of sex 34 times a day compared with the 18 times a day women think of it. Does that mean men are dragging productivity down? Or edging social.. lubricant… up? And if it’s the former, shouldn’t we, in fact, correlate salaries to GDP contribution? There. I solved the age old pay inequity problem. I’ll tweet our new Governor. Checking that one off of her list will raise Michigan’s GDP in no time.

So to mind our GDP, we follow the total value produced within a particular boundary (the U.S.? The State of Michigan? My fraternal twin towns that bridge the Kalamazoo River and run out to Lake Michigan, working within redundant governments? My home? My body?), after factoring all the costs — of labor, materials, services, processes, overhead, etc. We track the growth or decline of GDP. Because you can’t improve things if you don’t measure them.

In my internal economic factoring I feel the costs of not remembering where I set down my coffee, of pushing my to dos a day or three ahead, preferring to spend my time on another chapter or three of an old Albert Campion mystery. I’m not sure how to factor the costs of redundancies like over-eating, lingering in the shower, not quite composting everything I could, small-minded quibbling, Facebook Surfing (but wait! Without FB, I would never have seen that picture my buddy John D. Kerr took of Sandhill Cranes taking off for the winter! There’s a load of spiritual profit in that!)  Where on the balance sheet do I enter the cost of storing so much grief, pain, boredom, ignorance, or fear? Some days the red column is so red.

So I heap things into my black column. The birth announcements and the news of a friend with a new book coming out. Our pianist at church deposits a huge chunk in the black column weekly. The way our pastor balances fierce bravery and Christmas-morning giddiness on the blade edge of his homilies. My daughter’s artwork is always worth a bundle, and her students’ work too. These are consistent profits. The unexpected surges come with the gift of a kind email, a bottle of Prosecco and Amish friendship bread dropped off at the door to cancel out the cost of a case of bronchitis.

Quickbooks doesn’t help me. Determination does. Noticing is everything.


4 thoughts on “GDP

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