The Source of Failure: We Optimize What We Measure

by Charles Hugh Smith
Of Two Minds

Rather than measure consumption and metrics that incentivize debt, what if we measure well-being and opportunities offered in our communities?

The problems we face cannot be fixed with policy tweaks and minor reforms. Yet policy tweaks and minor reforms are all we can manage when the pie is shrinking and every vested interest is fighting to maintain their share of the pie.

Our failure stems from a much deeper problem: we optimize what we measure. If we measure the wrong things, and focus on measuring process rather than outcome, we end up with precisely what we have now: a set of perverse incentives that encourage self-destructive behaviors and policies.

The process of selecting which data is measured and recorded carries implicit assumptions with far-reaching consequences. If we measure “growth” in terms of GDP but not well-being, we lock in perverse incentives to boost ‘growth” even at the cost of what really matters, i.e. well-being.

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