Wednesday, August 27, 2014

What’s Gross About Europe’s GDP?

photo of vintage Bayer heroin bottle by Mpv_51
The following appeared in a Times article entitled “Sizing up Black Markets and Red-Light Districts for G.D.P,” (NYT, 7/9/14): “The point of counting everything, including the wages of sin, is to get a more accurate reading of each country’s gross domestic product.” The gist of Liz Alderman’s piece was to show the extent to which European countries are willing to go “to reduce debt as a percentage of their economies,” which might mean not simply reducing debt but finding extra shekels of productivity in places that might not normally have been counted. So the key word becomes “gross,” which according to Merriam-Webster can mean “rude and offensive” or “very disgusting” or when used in the context of the GDP as defined by the OECD, “an aggregate measure of production equal to the sum of the gross values added of all resident institutional units engaged in production (plus any taxes, and minus any subsidies, on products not included in the value of their outputs)," One can’t avoid the significance of the double entendre. What is it saying about Europe’s economic prospects if gross elements like sexual slavery (which must be counted in with prostitution) and drug addiction become necessary to avoid having certain countries falling below the permissible amount of debt for the size of their economies? Sure it’s fun to play with words, but the little anecdote Alderman describes at the beginning of the piece where one Jose Roca, “the spokesman for the National Association of Sex Clubs in Spain…received a call late last year from the government statistical agency.” What will come next, will the leaders of criminal organizations like the Italian mafia be interviewed? Will the fees paid to hit men, no matter how gross, be considered part of the gross national product? Will illegal weapons production be counted? Will terrorism be deemed a quantifiable activity that can help in establishing the solvency of a country?

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