Measures of Progress and Other Tall Stories: From income to anthropometrics
& Brian Snowdon
Published: June 2005
How should progress be measured? Today, economists and economic historians have available a rich array of data for a large number of countries on which to base their response to this important question. The need for alternative measures of the standard of living is particularly important for economic historians exploring the distant past where conventional estimates cannot be calculated. In this paper John Komlos and Brian Snowdon review several alternative measures of ‘progress’, both orthodox and unorthodox, including recent findings from ‘anthropometric’ history. The field of Anthropometrics blends history, economics, biology, medical science and physical anthropology and is now well established having helped to clarify ‘several questions important to economic historians’ including those related to slavery, mortality, inequality, and living standards during industrialisation. While malnutrition is the scourge of poor countries, obesity has become a major problem in many developed countries, particularly during the last quarter century. Research into the economics of obesity is now a burgeoning research area and the authors briefly review some of the major findings. Finally, Komlos and Snowdon comment on the recent literature on ‘happiness’. The achievement of a higher GDP per capita is, after all, not an end in itself, but a means to an end, that is, human happiness.