"Maybe it is not the growth that is deficient. Maybe it is the yardstick that is deficient. MIT professor Erik Brynjolfsson explains the idea using the example of the music industry. "Because you and I stopped buying CDs, the music industry has shrunk, according to revenues and GDP. But we're not listening to less music. There's more music consumed than before." The improved choice and variety and availability of music must be worth something to us—even if it is not easy to put into numbers. "On paper, the way GDP is calculated, the music industry is disappearing, but in reality it's not disappearing. It is disappearing in revenue. It is not disappearing in terms of what you should care about, which is music."
As more of our lives are lived online, he wonders whether this might become a bigger problem. "If everybody focuses on the part of the economy that produces dollars, they would be increasingly missing what people actually consume and enjoy. The disconnect becomes bigger and bigger."
But providing an alternative measure of what we produce or consume based on the value people derive from Wikipedia or Pandora proves an extraordinary challenge—indeed, no economist has ever really done it.
Ditto Facebook, free flash games, ichat, etc. I think the point is dead on, though I have no idea how to fix it. Maybe as a value of the consumer's time? If your time is worth $15 an hour, and you spend it on Facebook, then your benefit must have been at least $15?
Thinking about this, it strikes me that there is no GDP credit for leisure time, either. There is almost nothing more valuable to me . If everything in my life stays the same but I can use technology or other factors to restructure my time to get one extra hour of leisure, isn't that of huge value? But there is no credit for it in GDP or earnings accounts.
The article discusses consumer surplus, which strikes me as the heart of the matter. GDP and earnings metrics track what we pay, not how much value we receive. If one hypothesizes that consumer surplus is rising as a percentage of purchase price, then we are missing a lot of wealth creation.