Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Do we know if Minnesota becomes less sustainable?

Several times on My Minnesota we've mentioned how much we like Bobby Kennedy's assessment of our Gross National Product, especially these lines:
the gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials.

It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country, it measures everything in short, except that which makes life worthwhile.

And it can tell us everything about America except why we are proud that we are Americans.

riverfront development, Mississippi River in Minneapolis
riverfront development, Mississippi River in Minneapolis

The same assessment can be applied to Minnesota's very own Gross Domestic Product. It hasn't always been this way, nor does it now have to be. Economics, that dismal science, is necessary but not sufficient except to those who would have us know the cost of everything and the value of nothing. There is an alternative measure to GDP that has been used in Maryland and Vermont. It's called the Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI). It starts with something like a Gross Domestic Product, but from that it deducts the costs of pollution and loss of natural resources and adds the value of volunteer services and makes a number of other adjustments.

Minnesota does have its own Compass ... Measuring Progress. Inspiring Action. There are a number of very useful resources on the Wilder Foundation's Compass web site. Unfortunately, the indicators and resources provided don't translate into a comprehensive measure that tells us, overall, whether we're making progress or not.

I started thinking about all of this again when I recently saw and heard references to an Atlantic article about how great Minneapolis is [The Miracle of Minneapolis], and then noted that the Washington Post raises the question, is Minneapolis great for all its inhabitants? What about the racial disparities gap?

Minnesota GDP versus Minnesota Progress Indicator

It turns out that we've know about how great we are, and our problems, and how to measure our own progress for quite a few years. In the late 1990's Minnesota developed a progress indicator similar to the GPI. We produced an update for the first year of the new biennium.

I haven't researched why we didn't continue with genuine measures of our actual progress. Presumably for reasons similar to why we no longer have a State Planning Agency. It can be politically inconvenient if there are publicly available long term trends that demonstrate which party's policies produce better results and for whom. We wouldn't want voters to be confused by all those numbers, now, would we?

As we read the reports and analyses on the effects of climate change, including droughts, water shortages, an occasional Polar Vortex, disruption of our current northern Minnesota habitats and the animals that depend on them, we might think it would be wise to reconsider our need for indicators on whether we're actually making progress or not. FOr example, we've been told by some of our politicians that the Keystone pipeline should be supported because it's safer than rail. Perhaps those politicians haven't checked with or are disregarding the assessment of those who assert:
"Don’t buy TransCanada’s argument that crude-by-rail disasters demonstrate the need for the Keystone XL pipeline. In fact, the two transport methods have very little to do with each other.

“The vast majority of crude moving by rail in North America is moving east or west from the Bakken shale or other shale sources,” says Swift. “That’s not the tar sands crude that Keystone XL would have shipped south from Alberta. Keystone XL wouldn’t take crude off the rails.”

In the past four years, North Dakota oil producers have rejected two proposed pipelines, because they prefer the flexibility of rail. It allows them to sell their products to whichever market is paying the highest price at the time of delivery. Oil producers don’t see pipelines as a replacement for crude-by-rail. They want both."

Now I'm off to take some photos, promised yesterday, of the local redosier dogwood. No poem today.

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