Artificial nighttime lights and the “real” well-being of nations: ‘Measuring economic growth from outer space’ and welfare from right here on Earth

Voxi Heinrich AMAVILAH


Abstract. GDP remains too much of an imprecise measure of the standard of living. There is a need for either substitutes or complements. Nighttime lights are a reasonable indicator of the extent, scale, and intensity of socio-economic activities, but a poor measure of national welfare. However, if nighttime lights are understood to constitute externalities, then their effects can be used to adjust measured growth for welfare. From that angle, nighttime lights appear to exert sub-optimal positive externalities in developing countries, and supra-optimal negative externality in developed countries. This means that even if we assume equal growth rates in developing and developed countries, welfare is enhanced by increasing nighttime lights in developing countries and reduced by increasing nighttime lights in developed countries.

Keywords. Artificial lights and economic growth, Nighttime lights and growth, Growth and welfare, Nighttime lights and real well-being (welfare).

JEL. H23, O15, D62, I12, O47, I31, R13, Q52.


Artificial lights and economic growth; Nighttime lights and growth; Growth and welfare; Nighttime lights and real well-being (welfare).

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