Sarkozy attacks focus on economic growth

• French president urges more emphasis on quality of life
• Report criticises 'gross domestic product fetishism'

French boucherie
The French know something about the good life, according to President Nicolas Sarkozy. Photograph: Sophia Evans

Nicolas Sarkozy called for a "great revolution" in the way national wealth is measured today, throwing his weight behind a report which criticises "GDP fetishism" and prioritises quality of life over financial growth.

Speaking days before the G20 summit in Pittsburgh, France's president urged the rest of the world to follow his example as he ordered a shake-up in research methods aimed at providing a more balanced reading of countries' performance.

Endorsing the recommendations of a report given to him by Nobel prize winners Joseph Stiglitz and Amartya Sen, he said governments should do away with the "religion of statistics" in which financial prowess was the sole indicator of a country's state of health.

"For years statistics have registered an increasingly strong economic growth as a victory over shortage until it emerged that this growth was destroying more than it was creating," said Sarkozy in a speech at the Sorbonne. "The crisis doesn't only make us free to imagine other models, another future, another world. It obliges us to do so."

Arguing that gross domestic product (GDP) – the standard means of measuring a country's economic growth – ignores other factors vital to the well-being of its population, the report proposes a new indicator which would be calculated with GDP but take into account a broader view.

A new indicator would look at issues such as environmental protection and work/life balance as well as economic output to rate a country's ability to maintain the "sustainable" happiness of its inhabitants.

"Our economy is supposed to increase our well-being; it is not an end in itself," said Stiglitz at the launch of the report, commissioned by Sarkozy last year. "GDP statistics were introduced to measure market economic activity. But they are increasingly thought of as a measure of societal well-being, which they are not."

Asking France's national statistics body, Insee, to update its methods in accordance with the report's recommendations, Sarkozy said he would use future summits such as next week's G20 to persuade other countries follow suit. "France will put this report on the agenda of all international meetings," he said.

France, whose economic output has fallen in the decades since the end of the prosperous "trente glorieuses" (1945-1975) prides itself on other aspects of life. Its healthcare system has been ranked the world's best by the World Health Organisation, its comparatively short working week is legendary, and its fertility levels are the highest in Europe, along with Ireland's.

"Economic resources are not all that matter in people's lives," said Angel Gurría, secretary general of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development. "We need better measures of people's expectations and levels of satisfaction, of how they spend their time, of their relations with other people in their community."

Using the traditional measure, the European commission today forecast that the eurozone will grow by 0.2% in the third quarter as the continent's biggest economies recover from the worst recession in decades. In its latest economic outlook, the commission predicted the economy would grow by 0.2% between July and September and by 0.1% in the final quarter of the year.

However, it did not change its forecast that the eurozone's GDP would fall by 4% in 2009 as a whole because the economy fared worse at the end of 2008 and the beginning of this year.

Our selection of best buys

Lender Initial rate
Chelsea Building Society 1.89% More
Yorkshire BS 1.94% More
ING Direct 1.94% More
Name BT Rate BT Period
Barclaycard Platinum Credit Card with Extended Balance Transfer 0.00% 25 months More
Halifax Balance Transfer Credit Card 0.00% 25 months More
Barclaycard Platinum Credit Card with Balance Transfer 0.00% 24 months More
Provider Headline rate APR
Derbyshire Personal Loan 5.10% 5.1% More
Sainsbury's Shopper Personal Loan 5.10% 5.1% More
Clydesdale Bank Personal Loan 5.10% 5.1% More
Provider AER
Coventry BS 2% More
Yorkshire BS 2% More
Derbyshire BS 2% More

Today's best video

  • White headphones and laptop

    This Week

    Pope accepts resignation of UK's most senior Roman Catholic cleric, Cardinal Keith O'Brien, who's accused of 'inappropriate acts', Oscar Pistorius 'wants to contact' family of Reeva Steenkamp and is Britain's arms trade making a killing? In our audiobook review we look back at the Canadian novelist Robertson Davies and examine David Mitchell's breakthrough novel Cloud Atlas.

Guardian Bookshop

This week's bestsellers

  1. 1.  Silence of Animals

    by John Gray £15.19

  2. 2.  Real Jane Austen

    by Paula Byrne £16.00

  3. 3.  Mind The Child

    by Camila Batmanghelidjh £4.00

  4. 4.  Examined Life

    by Stephen Grosz £11.99

  5. 5.  Far from the Tree

    by Andrew Solomon £19.99

  • Subscribe to the Guardian and Observer in print and on your mobile device

    Get the Guardian on your iPad and iPhone, plus Saturday Guardian and Observer papers for just £5.99 per week. Learn more

Top stories in this section

Top videos

Most popular

Today in pictures