Way back in grad school, I studied public sector cost/benefit analysis. The prof, an economist of reasonable standing, and a truly gifted classroom presence took us into the intricacies of understanding non-quantifiable costs and benefits. In short, he was addressing the difficulty of a "numbers only" methodology, and the "courage", as he defined it, of honestly addressing the non-quantifiable rather then hiding behind the numbers.
16 years later (1992), while traveling in Russia, we became friends with Vladimir, a faculty member at the Merchant Marine Academy in St Petersburg. In explaining to us the inevitable fall of the USSR, Vlad addressed the fallacy of the Soviet GDP, in that it was so heavily influenced by what he called unnecessary, dead end public works projects. One example he offered was the massive open air concert plazas along the Volga canal. As he described it, they created short term WPA style jobs while being built, and a couple of jobs keeping them clean over the years, but the only concerts most ever hosted were on the day the specific plaza was completed. His point was that no society can benefit from an endless string of low wage public works projects, especially when it is a closed economy, even though they were posting nice GDP numbers to compete with the West's numbers. He said, "GDP rose and we lived like livestock."
Just recently, I watched a WingNut spout packaged GDP ratios and the like to claim that life in America is fabulous, almost everyone is doing quite well, the current recession is just a minor inconvenience, unregulated capitalist creators of wealth will come to save the day and "no one will be turned away from the emergency room" - so no other country or "system" is worthy of comparison. Of course, it was clear that he had no idea about the numbers he was using other than they were right wing talking points. Oh, yes, the US also has the most obese poor in the world, which he said was a clear indicator of what a pack of whiners the poor are. As one fellow quipped off line, "He wouldn't know a GDP is it bit him on the ass."
Zoom to the present, and we find this quite interesting piece! My economics prof's viewpoint and Vlad's evaluation both eloquently stated, and my conclusion therefrom confirmed.
Numbers are not in any measure the end all/be all descriptors of the human condition.