Out of 133 countries rated on indicators of well-being such as health, water and sanitation, personal safety, access to opportunity, tolerance, inclusion, personal freedom and choice India has secured the 101th place. This is lower than India’s rank, of 93, for GDP per capita income. Even Nepal and Bangladesh rank higher than India on the Social Progress Index (SPI) ratings to be released globally on Thursday. Norway has bagged the first rank; the U.S. is at the 16th place.
On the parameter ‘Tolerance and inclusion’ India ranks 128th and is at the 120th place on ‘health and wellness’ that, says economist and executive director of the SPI, Michael Green, is the toughest parameter for a country to excel at. As a country becomes richer while tackling sanitation and water becomes easier, tougher challenges emerge such as air pollution and obesity, Dr. Green told The Hindu in an exclusive phone interview. The U.S. despite its high levels of spending on health and wellness ranks 68th.
Even harder to tackle are freedom and tolerance, he says. “The most striking findings for India are the worst performance on the tolerance and inclusion front…It’s a complex problem in a diverse country…another thing I will be watching for as India grows economically is when obesity as a crisis will start hitting.” The SPI was launched in 2013 and is based on 52 indicators of countries’ social and environmental performance. It includes no economic indicators and measures outcomes. The UN’s Human Development Index and Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness Index are also alternate measures for well being but they use GDP or other economic measures.
Focusing exclusively on GDP implies measuring progress in purely monetary terms and failing to consider the wider picture of the real things that matter to real people, Dr. Green says. “GDP isn’t bad but it’s not the whole story… alongside economic growth social progress is more important for policymaking.”
Need for a complete model to measure growth: SPI official
Unlike GDP, a country cannot boost its SPI score just by improving the lives of the most well off, or even the majority. At any level of GDP per capita, countries with lower poverty tend to have higher social progress, the SPI shows.
“Richer countries do better on the SPI as more GDP in general makes lives better but that is not the whole story…there is good correlation between GDP and social progress but not perfect correlation as other things matter…and therefore there is need for a complete model not just a GDP methodology,” says executive director of the Social Progress Index, Michael Green.
As the GDP is increasingly seen as an adequate measure of only economic progress but not overall well-being, the World Bank, OECD and European Commission are in discussions to adopt measures of social progress as an indicator of inclusive growth.
“Time is right for new thinking…The inequality debate over the last ten years has showed that there is need to bring inclusion on board. Kuznets when he created the GDP knew and said it was not perfect,” Dr. Green says. The concept of GDP was introduced in the 1930s by economist Simon Kuznets, who warned at the time that “the welfare of a nation can… scarcely be inferred from a measurement of a national income” such as GDP.
The European Commission is set to create an SPI for the regions of the European Union. Paraguay is using it to guide an inclusive national development plan for 2030. Cities across Latin America, such as Rio de Janeiro and Bogota, are setting up SPIs to guide urban renewal strategies.
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