20 Years of the Human Development Index

A few days ago the 20th Human Development Report of the UNDP were published. Of course, its HDI is not a perfect measure of well-being, as was pointed out by, inter alia, Partha Dasgupta in his book “Human Well-being and the Natural Environment”. The Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative and the UNDP itself presented this year a new index of well-being, the so called MPI (Multidimensional Poverty Index). Nevertheless, HDI remains a milestone in the area of measurement of the human development, as opposed to the common consideration of GDP only.

This year’s Report is therefore surely a lecture worth attention. One of the key findings of the 20 years is the following one:

Almost all countries have benefited from this progress. Of 135 countries in our sample for 1970–2010, with 92 percent of the world’s people, only 3 – the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Zambia and Zimbabwe­ have a lower HDI today than in 1970.

Overall, poor countries are catching up with rich countries in the HDI. This convergence paints a far more optimistic picture than a perspective limited to trends in income, where divergence has continued. But not all countries have seen rapid progress, and the variations are striking. Those experiencing the slowest progress are countries in Sub-Saharan Africa struck by the HIV epidemic and countries in the former Soviet Union suffering increased adult mortality.

The top HDI movers (countries that have made the greatest progress in improving the HDI) include well known income “growth miracles” such as China, Indonesia and South Korea. But they include others­ – such as Nepal, Oman and Tunisia – where progress in the nonincome dimensions of human development has been equally remarkable. It is striking that the top 10 list contains several countries not typically described as top performers. And Ethiopia comes in 11th, with three other Sub-Saharan African countries (Botswana, Benin and Burkina Faso) in the top 25.

For more, you can e.g. read a related entry in Dani Rodrik’s blog.

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