This post is inspired by a document produced by the EU and for which there is a link at the bottom of the page. While it may seem technical (in terms of its use of economics), the executive summary should be very readable.
It's a coincidence that I've come across this right now, because I had been thinking about these issues recently in light of events in Iran. As a result of which there had been remarks made in the western media about that country's economic growth or the perception of the lack of such growth.
The natural question obviously is whether or not economic growth as usually measured is a useful indicator of national economica and social well-being.
I'll give a very simple example of the attendant problems. In the UK there is now a fashion for attending gyms and health clubs. This is a good thing. However people have to pay fees to do this and obviously this helps to exclude poorer members of society. Those fees count as part of a nation's economic output, so using that measure they look good.
Now consider an alternative example. In my recent visit to Iran I saw that the Hasht Behesht palace gardens in Isfahan had exercise equipment available for the public to use free of charge. Some public parks in western countries have these as well. However, although these are available for anyone to use, because they are free, their use does not count as an element of economic activity.
The same applies to all forms of socialised provision. Go and see a movie, that's economic output. Go to mosque and pray, that isn't. Take an anti-depressant, economic output. Go to a shrine and ask an Imam (a.s.) for intercession with God to help solve your problems, that's not economic output.
Basically, monetising exchanges (charging people for things) helps show economic growth. Doing things because they are for the wider good of society or religiously mandated - doesn't. Looking after your parents at home? No good for economic growth. Pay a carer to look after them, that shows up in the national statistics. You see the issue here. Activities that are good morally, socially and environmentally don't show in GDP statistics. Islamic societies need alternative measures.