The national accounts were developed to address the paucity of comprehensive and consistent data confronting decision makers during the Great Depression. Over the intervening years, the accounts have served macroeconomic policy makers well, contributing to the unprecedented period of post-World War II economic growth and prosperity. Despite this success, there have been continuing calls — including those by the founder of US accounts, Simon Kuznets — for an expansion of the accounts to cover household production, environmental externalities, and other near-market and non-market activities that affect households’ wellbeing. One of the most eloquent critiques of the focus on GDP as a measure of society’s progress was made by Robert F. Kennedy:
Too much and too long, we seem to have surrendered community excellence and community values in the mere accumulation of material things. Our gross national product, if we should judge America by that, counts air pollution and cigarette advertising, and ambulances to clear our highways of carnage. It counts special locks for our doors … Yet the gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education, or the joy of their play … it measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile. And it tells us everything about America except why we are proud that we are Americans.
Robert F. Kennedy, Address, University of Kansas, Lawrence, Kansas, 18 March 1968