The pursuit of a working invisibility cloak - like Harry Potter's - is underway in real life.  Scientists have created a small invisibility cloak that uses metamaterials to divert light and another that uses optical camouflage technology.  But we muggles (for anyone who slept through the last decade, that's Harry Potter's word for ordinary humans) don't really need to make more things invisible - the largest threats we face today are already invisible.  So are the benefits in life.  Modern life is rife with invisible threats.  One way we have managed these threats (in other words, how we have adapted) has been to make them visible.  For example, we have buoys floating in the deep ocean that can alert San Francisco or Los Angeles about a coming tsunami.  Now we need similar innovations to help us perceive invisible economic benefits.  Because when it comes to our economy and to measurement, we are often better at paying attention to what's visible.   

Our economic activity is essentially about survival, about being able to manage risks, stay healthy, and find ways to renew our minds and spirits (recreate).  These are the ends of economic activity, the goals.  But our most important economic indicator, GDP, focuses on the means.  It's easier to measure the monetary value of a car than the benefits that car provides. 

If you have a car, it's probably because it's a tool you can use to get to work, to the doctor's office, to the grocery store, and to your favorite activities.  The value in that car is not in its price tag, it's in its use as a tool for managing risk, maintaining health, and for recreation.  We do need to consider the visible, tangible aspect of the car, but not in the way we are now.  We need to measure its mass.  And then we need to consider the invisible, intangible benefits of that car.  Finally, we need to understand the relationship between the visible and the invisible - between the mass of the tools we use (cars, houses, electronics) and the benefits those tools provide.  Our aim should be to create the most benefit possible with the least mass possible.   

There are several organizations working to illuminate the invisible aspects of our economy and to develop alternative indicators (you can find links to some of them here and here), and more nations are exploring ways to measure well-being.  But we're not quite there.  We need to make the connection between a measure of benefits and an indication of the resources (mass) used to create those benefits.

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