Commentary: New progress index pits wealth vs. well-being

By Jim Pettit

Change Maryland

Here is the official tagline of a little-noticed new Maryland state government program called the Genuine Progress Indicator: “Wealth vs. Well-Being — How Do We Measure Prosperity?”

State government decided to pit wealth against well-being.  It could have said wealth and well-being because to most people these aren’t mutually exclusive attributes.  But to state government it’s “versus.”

Therein lies the entire false premise and false choice of the Genuine Progress Indicator, or GPI.

Governor hosted summit under the radar

Governor Martin O’Malley recently hosted an Annapolis summit for advocates of the burgeoning GPI movement. The national forum received scant media attention and the issue itself has largely been under the radar of most mainstream media outlets. This is an ambitious attempt to redefine economic progress in America and should not be under the radar any longer.

The web-based Maryland GPI initiative, implemented in the executive branch of Maryland state government since 2010, is among the forefront of states implementing this effort thus far. In addition to Maryland, Oregon is exploring the GPI program.  Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin signed GPI legislation into law this spring.

Positioned as an alternative to traditional federal government statistics, such as the gross state product, this new government performance metric is applying new and arbitrary criteria that other government bureaucrats deem as environmental and social costs that accrue from prosperity. Economic, environmental and social “indicators” then attempt to deduct or add various scenarios that occur with everyday life to state-government planning models.  For example, deducted would be a wide range of wildly-subjective indicators such as noise pollution and income inequality.

Subjective measurements ran from absurd to lunatic

It’s hard to see where this ends.  The subjective nature of what is to be measured ranges from absurdity to lunacy.

In the case of noise pollution, presumably this would mean that the government should measure the decibel levels of fire truck sirens and place that in the liability column of the states Genuine Progress Indicator.

As for income inequality, the Maryland GPI states that, if a society becomes too unequal, if more and more wealth is concentrated in the hands of only a few, it will lead to rising tensions, feelings of injustice, and other socio-economic challenges.  Unknown is what too unequal means much less how the government is supposed to reduce personal tensions arising from income disparities.

Maryland’s new performance metric also contains a number of meaningless platitudes.  For example state government tells us that, “Marylanders’ social well-being is reduced when the underemployed are not working to their full potential by consequential negative feelings and actions, such as frustration and substance abuse.”

Papering over proven statistical measures

Another troubling aspect of this new program is the possibility that it will be used to simply paper over economic statistics the administration dislikes.  Under O’Malley, Maryland is falling further and further behind competitors in the region and across the country according to legitimate organizations, and objective, accepted and proven measures.

Maryland has lost 6,500 businesses and 31,000 members of taxpayer households between 2007 and 2010, which puts Maryland at or near the bottom of the region.  The loss of 36,000 jobs since 2007 also cements Maryland’s place as a regional laggard in economic performance.  These numbers come from the U.S. Census Bureau, the IRS and the Department of Labor, respectively.  But they are not part of the Genuine Progress Indicator.  This is an effort to throw out real economic reports and adopt a radical propaganda campaign inspired by the failed model of central economic planning.

Nationally, the GPI agenda is pushed by groups such as New York-based Demos, a liberal public policy non-profit that describes itself as dedicated to “empowering the public sector” and that advocates “re-thinking American capitalism as it exists today.”

GPI is also pushed by a cadre of left-wing university professors who say that people just need food and shelter for happiness, economies do not need to grow, individuals are interchangeable with one another and that corporations will collapse.

Maryland’s well-being will be greatly enhanced when we stop losing businesses, jobs and our tax base. It’s absolutely ridiculous that accepted measures such as IRS tax migration data are ignored and this radical left-wing nonsense is what the state wants to use to measure its lack of progress.

If the administration truly wants to measure something that matters, they can start by determining why 31,000 members of taxpayer households vanished from the state.  A growing tax base is a reliable indicator of both wealth and well-being and so are the other traditional economic metrics our society has relied on for decades.

Jim Pettit is policy and communications Director for Change Maryland. Founded by former Secretary Larry Hogan, Change Maryland is a grassroots organization with 23,000 members.

About The Author

Len Lazarick

Len Lazarick was the founding editor and publisher of and is currently the president of its nonprofit corporation and chairman of its board He was formerly the State House bureau chief of the daily Baltimore Examiner from its start in April 2006 to its demise in February 2009. He was a copy editor on the national desk of the Washington Post for eight years before that, and has spent decades covering Maryland politics and government.


  1. bilrux

    More politically-motivated, number-cooking statistical voodoo.

  2. Maxine012

    I think the state is referring to the position of wealth vs. the position for well being. Well being can be achieved for all of us. Wealth
    is a relative and exclusive condition.

  3. Tom

    Governor O’Malley needs to justify his failed “progressive” (wealth redistribution) tax and spending habits by using a smoke and mirrors measuring system.

  4. abby_adams

    So GPI can be catagorized as the “touchy, feely” aspect of government brought to us by O’Malley & his cadre of progressives? Ignoring the facts of why so many native Marylanders are abandoning the “Land of Pleasant Living” is no surprise. To anyone who is tired of the culture of corruption in Annapolis that promotes massive over spending year after year with one after another “revenue” enhancement schemes & budget tricks leaving for a tax friendly environment is a no brainer. Relinquishing control of our property, jobs, social & environmental well being to a group of gov bureaucrats who desire to correct the ills of “prosperity” in society is a solution? It strikes me as the heavy hand of gov picking winners & losers with little imput from those footing the bill.
    Yes, money can’t buy you love but it sure makes living in misery more comfortable.

  5. Just the Facts Lady

    Thank you, Jim Pettit, for putting out the word on this fallacious, dangerous “index”! I urge everyone to take a good look at the GPI. It advocates wealth equality….so if our millionaires leave that makes our statewide wealth more “equal” so that’s a good thing, according to the GPI. Doesn’t matter that with those millionaires goes well paying jobs. So more people having lost well paying jobs makes our average wealth more equal so that’s a good thing, according to the GPI. Get the picture? This is a blatant attempt to redifine good as bad and bad as good, so when you destroy they state’s economy, like O’Malley and crew are doing, they have an “index” to point to that says it’s a good thing.
    Take a look at WHY they need the GPI…it’s because of their latest new idea…hold on to your hat….Maryland Department of the Environment has introduced its Greenhouse Gas Emmissions Reduction Plan and it’s statewide goal is to reduce ghg’s to 25% BELOW 2006 levels by 2020, and THEN 95% BELOW 2006 levels by 2050.
    The Maryland Department of Transportation’s has responsibility for meeting 1/3 of that goal, and in their estimation it will cost about $20BILLION by 2020 (7 years!).
    Welcome to one of the reasons O’Malley MUST make the GPI seem acceptable. Greenhouse gases are made up primarily of CO2 and that is a by-product of you and I and our animals and other things like ENERGY production and energy use!! So you and I and what we do and the energy that we need to use in our daily lives needs to be shut down by more than 25% while paying BILLIONS of dollars MORE for the pleasure. To achieve the goals of the liberals, they must make Good = Bad and Bad = Good or they cannot succeed.

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