It has been long established that national measures of wealth, such as the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), do not tell the whole story of people’s lives. The search for a more inclusive representation of what is important has been on for a few decades. The Human Development Index (HDI), for example, was first published in 1990 by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) as a direct response to Amartya Sen’s capability approach. This Nobel Prize winning economist’s groundbreaking insights argued that governments should not only focus on increasing citizens’ monetary wealth, but on ensuring that they are able and capable of achieving their dreams, goals and full potential in the society they live in. The HDI, which was co-created by Sen himself, is a composite measure that takes into account the GDP, life expectancy and education levels in each country. Although it is still by no means perfect, since its conception, critiques of the HDI, namely measurement errors and the important things it still does not capture, have been incrementally addressed and incorporated into later versions. For example, the 2010 HDI was the first to factor in inequalities in the three mesaures between the world’s nations, creating a separate Inequality-adjusted Human Development Index (IHDI). You can download the full 2011 country rankings here.
Coca-Cola, Obesity and Health in Guatemala: Why We Need a More Holistic Approach to Economic Development
There is more to life than money and by now it is well established that gross domestic product (GDP) is an inadequate measure of development. It allows for a crude assessment of economic activity within a country, but does not account for side effects known as externalities. These include environmental destruction and pollution, human lives lost in other countries from the development and sales of weapons technologies or negative effects on health of products and technologies that otherwise make money and therefore contribute to GDP. Furthermore, negative contributions of products developed by tobacco, weapons and other companies all count towards a positive GDP figure, further diminishing the emphasis we should place on it as an indicator of human progress. Read More »