NFL draft candidates, supermarket cashiers, and college applicants all share one characteristic:
A short-term test.
To judge a draft candidate, the NFL might clock a 40-yard run. To decide the productivity of a cashier, researchers have timed how fast items were scanned. And, we all know that many colleges use SAT scores to assess student ability.
According to science journalist Jonah Lehrer, short-term tests only tell you how well people do on short-term tests. They do not convey someone’s willingness to persevere, to overcome setbacks, to perform when no one is watching. Or as Lehrer said, they do not illustrate “grit.” With cashiers, for example, scanning speed during a short test correlated minimally with optimal job performance.
The Economic Lesson
Economic yardsticks tell us where we are and where we need to go. Predicting productivity, we might look at scanning speed; for athletic talent, at a 40-yard dash; and for academic prowess, at SAT scores. But then, identifying our goals, don’t we need to ask whether our yardsticks are measuring the right things?
This takes us to the GDP. Counting investment in equipment, tools, inventory and housing; consumer spending; government spending; and net exports, is the GDP the appropriate way to represent and perpetuate our economic success?