We reprint here a piece that was originally published by Bertrand de Jouvenel in 1957, later included in his book Arcadie. Essais sur le mieux vivre (Arcadia. Essays on Living Better; Paris: SÉDÉIS, collection Futuribles, 1968), which happily has just been brought out again (Paris: Gallimard, coll. Tel, 2002).
In this text, which appeared almost 50 years ago, the author of Arcadia, after discussing the limitations of economic accounting methods, argues how inadequate the methods are, inasmuch as they do not take account of unpaid services (work in the home, for example) or free goods (such as oxygen) or what he terms "negative goods", today more commonly called externalities.
Reading this article by the pioneer of "political ecology" makes one wonder how much progress there has been in our thinking over the last 50 years. We should recall, moreover, that it was at roughly the same time (1971, to be precise) that Futuribles published Jacques Delors' book Les Indicateurs sociaux (Social Indicators), which also stressed the need even then to design better tools (than economic indicators alone) for measuring the state of our societies. Let us hope that in future, further encouraged by concern for the environment, more sustained efforts will be made to improve national accounting systems.