Gross domestic product (GDP) has become the most powerful figure in human history and together with growth a fixed component of our political culture. In his recent book "The Power of a Number: A Political History of Gross Domestic Product" published by Suhrkamp Verlag, IASS economist Dr Philipp Lepenies asks the question "how": "How could a statistical construct which was completely unknown before the Second World War become so prominent? How could it establish and evolve this power in its current form?"
According to Lepenies, GDP is not neutral, but "political arithmetic". It is compiled on behalf of the state and has a considerable impact on governmental action. From its very inception, it was an instrument for the implementation of political goals - such as, for example, internal social stability, military power and development policy. GDP is so advantageous that politicians are loath to give up its use - even if criticism of this ratio and of the idea of growth has become ever louder over the last 50 years. Nevertheless, alternative concepts currently under discussion will have a hard time establishing themselves for as long as they lack the same advantages of political arithmetic that GDP has enjoyed over its history.
Dr Philipp Lepenies is team leader of the research project „Cultures of Economics – Cultures of Sustainability“ at the IASS Potsdam. The focus of his research is on the inception and development of economic and political concepts.
More information on the author
More information on the book and an extract can be found here (German only)