Proposal preview

Beyond GDP. Sustainable and unsustainable development in the long run.

Over the past quarter-century, Genuine Savings (GS) –or Adjusted Net Savings (ANS)– has emerged as an important indicator of Sustainable Development. It is based on the concept of wealth accounting (Hamilton & Hepburn, 2014) and represents a measure of how the country’s total capital stock (physical, natural, social, institutional and human) changes year-on-year. Following the pioneering studies of Pearce & Atkinson (1993) and Hamilton (1994), the World Bank has published estimates of GS from the mid-1990s to the present (World Bank, 1995, 1997, 2015). Hamilton & Clemens (1999) and World Bank (2006, 2011) illustrate the nature of these estimates for almost all countries in the world and show how a negative GS indicator can be interpreted as a signal of unsustainable development. Current World Bank data to support the calculation of GS at the country level stretches back to the 1970s, and provides empirical evidence of the level of sustainable/unsustainable economic development throughout the world. However, the social and economic development is, by definition, a long-run process where path-dependence, persistence and multiple equilibriums interact in the construction of “the future”. What can we learn from history about the sustainable development? We propose a session to discuss on this subject and to offer novel views about the economic history of regions and countries in order to contribute to the current debate about development policies.
Therefore, we propose analysing the sustainable development of different economies in historical perspective focusing on empirical approaches on the topic. Based on the notion of GS as a framework we expect to receive methodological and empirical works (either preliminary or advanced papers) which consider different components of the estimation. GS adds up the value of year-on-year changes in each individual element of capital stock and we will look for long-run estimates (from the 19th century to nowadays) offering information about fixed capital formation, natural resource use and educational investment, as well as the respective shadow prices to reflect the marginal value product of each stock in terms of its contribution to welfare. Changes in the stock of certain pollutants (such as CO2) –valued using marginal damage costs– can also be presented in the estimates of the index. Changes in human capital can be approximated using expenditures on education, as a rate of return on time spent in education, or as a measure of discounted lifetime earnings by skill level. The effects of technological change, resource price appreciation (capital gains/losses) for resource exporters and importers, and population change can also be incorporated into the GS indicator and we will welcome efforts in this direction.
Studying the long 20th century through the lens of GS (in their different approaches) enables us to make a broader contribution to the understanding of the economic history of the period and to shed light on the prediction of the future well-being. Over this period interacted phases of increasing world integration (as the First Globalization era) with other of progressive enclosing (the interwar period), deep dislocations of the international economy (with both World Wars) as well as episodes of sustained growth in the world core together with persistent divergence in the periphery. Our aim is to identify different stylized facts of the international economy in order to contribute to the construction of a research agenda on the matter and to enhance long-run welfare measures.

We welcome new submissions of papers for this session that consider long run estimates of GS and the discussion about the different components of the concept, especially those focused on natural capital and depletion of natural resources.
To apply please send an outline of your proposal (up to 1000 words) detailing aim of the paper, methodology and main conclusions.


  • Henry Willebald, Universidad de la República, Uruguay, , Uruguay
  • Cristián Ducoing , Lunds Universitet,, Sweden
  • Eoin McLaughlin , University of St. Andrews,, United Kingdom

Session members

  • Cristián Ducoing, Lunds Universitet,
  • Eoin McLaughlin, St Andrews University,
  • Jean P. Bassino, Ecole Normale Supérieure de Lyon,
  • Matthias Blum , Queen’s University, Belfast,
  • Rosa Duarte, University of Zaragoza,
  • Magnus Lindmark, Umeå University,
  • Vicente Pinilla, University of Zaragoza,
  • Ignacio Rodríguez, Universidad de la Frontera,
  • Carolina Román, Universidad de la República, Uruguay,
  • Silvana Sandonato, Universidad de la República, Uruguay,
  • Ana Serrano, University of Girona,
  • , ,

Proposed discussant(s)

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