Canada Up, U.S. Down in Development List
Canada has leapfrogged from eighth to fourth place in the United Nations’ “Human Development Report 2004” while the United States slipped a notch and Ireland nudged Switzerland from the top 10 list. The 367-page report by the U.N. Development Program released Thursday, said Dublin skipped from 12th place last year over Denmark, which plummeted to No. 17.
The top 10 this year are Norway, Sweden, Australia, Canada, Netherlands, Belgium, Iceland, United States, Japan and Ireland. The bottom five of Burundi, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and Sierra Leone remained unchanged.
The HDI is a composite index that measures the average achievements in a country in three basic dimensions: a long and healthy life measured by life expectancy at birth; knowledge as measured by the adult literacy rate and the combined gross enrollment ratio for schools, and a decent standard of living as measured by gross domestic product per capita.
My guess is words like “plummeted” distort the reality here; the differences among the most developed countries have to be tiny, indeed. Still, I’m a bit dubious of a ranking system that puts Ireland ahead of Switzerland. Some of the statistics employed here are debatable.
Life expectancy at birth is a questionable way of measuring “a long and healthy life,” as different states count it differently. Does one count aborted fetuses? Does one count premature infants who die minutes after delivery? Or who make it past an artificial deadline because of futile heroic measures?
Estimation of the adult literacy rate is difficult and, among developed countries, varies in the range of 97-99%, hardly particularly significant. Educational attainment is somewhat questionable, since different states use different age cutoff points. Societies that only mandate 10 years of school are going to have lower thresholds than those that mandate 13.
GDP per capita is the easiest way to measure economic prosperity, but hardly definitive. The main drawback is that it is a mere arithmetic average and doesn’t account for individual variation. For example, the petroleum rich states used to rank quite high on the list, even though the wealth was concentrated in the hands of the elites with relative poverty among the vast majority of the citizenry. Again, though, this probably matters less within a given category of states than at the aggregate level. Indeed, the US probably benefits from that as a measure.