Thursday, October 13, 2005

The Human Development Index

I have been meaning to write about this for sometime. The 2005 report of the United Nations Human Development Index has been out for over a month. The United States has fallen to number 10 in the list of best countries for its citizens. We were 8th in 2004 and 3rd a mere six years ago. The Human Development Index (hereinafter "HDI") is a complex system of measurement various life factors in three main categories:

1. a long and healthy life,
as measured by life expectancy at birth and other health indices

2. Knowledge

as measured by the adult literacy rate and
the combined gross enrolment ratio for primary,
secondary and tertiary schools

3. Decent standard of living

as measured by GDP per capita in
purchasing power parity (PPP) US dollars.

Top 10 countries

High human development

1 Norway
2 Iceland
3 Australia
4 Luxembourg
5 Canada
6 Sweden
7 Switzerland
8 Ireland
9 Belgium
10 United States

link to HDR

I think the crisis for the United States is deeper than what is indicated in the reports. The US placement is bolstered by strong performance in the third category of GNP per capita. In that category, the US trails only Luxembourg, Norway and Ireland(!), but even these results are misleading because in the country with high development the US stands alone as having a severe gulf between the wealthy and poor. Even though the US has a high per capita income, that wealth is not evenly distributed. If there were another way to put the national wealth statistic into perspective, then we would probably be further down the list along with countries who we rival in other other indices. For example, our infant mortality rate lags behind developed nations. We are behind nations such as Chile and Costa Rica in infant mortality and life expectancy.

Also, in regard to poverty, there are several stories that I have read recently which indicate that there are no signs of improvement.

Since 1975, practically all the gains in household income have gone to the top 20 percent of households. (source CIA World Factbook) Also, since the year 2000, the American billionaire club has gained 76 more members while the typical household has lost income and the poverty count has grown by more than 5 million people. cited by author Holly Sklar

Four decades after a U.S. president declared war on poverty, more than 37 million people in the world's "richest" country are officially classified as poor and their number has been on the rise for years. Poverty in the United States is more widespread, by far, than in any other industrialized country. This article also relates that the US poverty figures are finessed to make it appear that poverty is decreasing.

The figures used for the 2005 HDI are from 2003. Our status relative to other developed nations has been in sharp decline since around 2000. Wages and spending power are decreasing for most Americans while healthcare costs are skyrocketing. There are several statistics that indicate sharp decline in our quality of life, but no one is paying attention. The alarm bells are ringing but America's dreaming.


Blogger fatrobot said...

i am going to kill everyone in luxemburg so canada can take their spot

October 13, 2005  
Blogger Robert Enders said...

Part of it is due to a wartime economy, which, contrary to popular belief, is not good for the economy. 21st century warfare depends more on high tech gadgets made by highly paid, highly skilled technicians, while WWII required mass produced goods cranked out by anybody with a strong back.

Part of it is due to unneeded defense spended that happens even during those increasingly short periods of peace. We have men stationed in Germany to protect Berlin from the Soviet Union and East Germany, two countries that don't even exist any more. People complain that there is no time table to bring tropps home from Iraq. There are men who haven't come home yet from Korea yet.

October 14, 2005  
Blogger lemming said...

Americans aren't dreaming, we're in denial. I've lost track of hjow many editorials I've read which argue that we need not worry about the death of the middle class - they've all moved into the upper class.

(examines pay stub)

I have?

October 14, 2005  
Blogger torporific said...

LMAO. Where are you reading these editorials? The Wall Street Journal? That's ridiculous. Well, we live in a nation where 19 % of us believe that we're in the top 1% of earners.

October 14, 2005  
Blogger lemming said...


(lemming munches appetizing oranges?) :-)

Saw one such editorial in my local 'burban paper, another in the student paper and a third sent by my mother from a paper back east known (in a very small circle) for being a liberal rag.

I don't pretend that this is a definitive sample, only that Americans are reluctant to face facts. Witness people's enthusiasm for repealing the estate tax... I will not inheirit enough money form anyone that it will impact me, but optimism is a natural part of human nature.

October 18, 2005  
Blogger torporific said...

I didn't mean to sound so snarky. Americans believe this I guess, but I figured the news media was a little smarter than that (did I just say that?) A poll at the time of the 2000 elections found that 19% of those asked believed they were in the top 1% income bracket. Another 20% expected to be there soon. That's 39% of Americans who think they are going to be filthy, filthy rich. Amazing.

October 18, 2005  

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