John Talberth

The way societies have defined and measured progress has had a profound influence on world history. Inspired by the idea of progress, humanity has eradicated infectious diseases, achieved explosive growth in agricultural productivity, more than doubled life expectancy, explored the origins of the universe, and vastly increased the amount and variety of information, goods, and services available for modern life. To be sure, progress has had its darker side. The evolution of weaponry from spears to atom bombs may be considered progress, but only in the most cynical sense. Likewise, transformation of vibrant cities to sprawl, family farms to agribusiness, and rainforest to monoculture tree plantations may only constitute progress for the minute fraction of humanity who have—often brutally—positioned themselves to benefit from mass exploitation of both human and natural capital.1

In the West, faith in the linear evolution of history framed how progress was viewed through the ages and remains a fundamental justification for today's progress mantra: economic globalization and consumerism. While this notion of progress is largely inconsistent with religious, moral, and economic frameworks common in Eastern and indigenous cultures, economists Rondo Cameron and Larry Neal point out that "nearly every nation in the world has now accepted the need to adjust its own economic policy and structure to the demands of the emerging global marketplace." Under economic globalization, progress is judged by how well nations implement policies to grow the scale and scope of market economic activity, improve efficiency of factors of production, remove regulatory barriers, and both specialize and integrate with the rest of the world. While gross domestic product (GDP) is the best-recognized measure of overall economic performance, many other metrics related to economic openness, productivity, tariffs, income, and privatization are equally influ

Dr. John Talberth is Director of the Sustainability Indicators Program at Redefining Progress. 18 WWW.WORLDWATCH.ORG

A New Bottom Line for Progress ential. This chapter describes the shortcomings of traditional metrics and provides an overview of new indicators designed to capture the environmental and social dimensions of progress.2

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