Our Perspective

Human Development (General) and Measurement

The Human Development Index – what it is and what it is not

image
A UNDP project helped construct a girls’ primary school in Panjpai, Pakistan. Photo: UNDP Pakistan

A concept is always broader than any of its proposed measures. Any suggested measure cannot fully capture the richness, the breadth and the depth of the concept itself. This is true of the notion of human development as well. There are two types of measures for human development: The breadth measure, termed Human Development Accounting, encompass all indicators related to human development assessments. The focus measures, or composite indices, concentrates on some basic dimensions of human development. Human Development Accounting is required to make a comprehensive assessment of human development conditions in any society, but it does not provide a single number to synthesize the state of affairs. Composite indicesprovide a single number, but cannot provide a comprehensive picture of the state of human development. Focus measures are extremely good for advocacy, for initiating healthy competition among societies and for raising awareness, but not in providing a comprehensive picture. It is in these perspectives that the Human Development Index (HDI) was constructed. Three things prompted to come up with such a measure: First, The HDI captures these basic dimensions of human development: lead a long and healthy life, to acquire knowledge and to have access to resources needed for a decent... Read more

Measuring human progress in the 21st Century

image
Workers at the at Santo Nino dumpsite in Tacloban, Philippines, six months after Haiyan. Photo: Lesley Wright/UNDP Philippines

Few, if any, statistical constructs have had a greater influence on the modern world than Gross Domestic Product (GDP). And 2014 marks the eightieth anniversary of its creation. As every economist knows, GDP summarizes total economic activity. It was developed by Simon Kuznets, a Russian-American economist and statistician, as a way to better understand the American economy during the great depression. Not only was Kuznets a brilliant economist (he went on to win the Nobel Prize in 1971), he was also an astute judge of humanity, or at least the potential for people to misuse numbers: when he introduced GDP to the US Congress he warned specifically against using it as a measure of wellbeing: “the welfare of a nation can”, he wrote, “scarcely be inferred from a measurement of national income”. And this is because, as hopefully every economist also knows, it is easy to construct examples of undesirable social or environmental phenomena (crime sprees, oil slicks or hurricanes for instance) that can generate both an increase in GDP and a decrease in wellbeing. But despite Kuznets’s warnings, in both the US and many other countries, the pursuit of economic growth and a rising GDP quickly became a dominant mantra... Read more

The Speakers Corner
thumbnail

The Speakers Corner helps connect think tanks, academia, the media and the public to a diverse group of experts who can speak to UNDP’s commitment to “empower lives” and build "resilient nations.”

Visit the Speakers Corner
Tag Cloud