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December 20, 2014
Sunday, July 27, 2014

Development in progress

Argentina has once again passed the Human Development Report (HDR) of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), a positive news item for once which in no way should permit smug self-satisfaction or even a respite from criticism. The three key criteria of life expectancy, education and per capita income all place Argentina’s Human Development Index in the top “Very High” category, topped only by Chile and Cuba within Latin America and ranking among the top third globally (49th of the 187 countries covered) — adjusting these values for inequality (especially high in this subcontinent), Argentina actually tops Latin America although dropping to 53rd worldwide. Moreover, the brand-new Gender-related Development Index shows Argentina to have the second-lowest difference globally in the way the above benefits are shared between men and women (although plunging to 74th in the Gender Inequality Index for reproductive health, empowerment and economic activity).

In global terms, while there is little enough change from previous rankings (thus Norway, Australia, Switzerland, Holland and the United States top the list while five African countries occupy the foot of the table), its findings are widely taken as confirming that oft-repeated conclusion about the rich growing richer and the poor poorer. The former is probably truer than the latter— especially if, as the UN report informs us, 85 billionaires own as much as the poorer half of world population (even though it is also true that early last century, the Rockefeller and Morgan families alone accounted for half the US economy). Yet while it is shocking to read of 842 million people suffering malnutrition, this is little over half the number half a century ago when world population has almost trebled since then — the estimates of five or so decades ago (before there was a HDR, pioneered in 1990 by the Pakistani economist Mahbub ul-Haq) speak of two-thirds of mankind going hungry as against an eighth now. Neither growing inequality, misgovernment nor the increasing disasters from climate change have fully offset the sheer pace of technological progress. Yet not only is a billion people living on a dollar a day (with over twice that number poverty-stricken) a billion too many —the report’s impatience with current aid programmes and cash transfers are fully justified when it would take less than two percent of global economic output to eradicate poverty.

A report well worth reading in depth.

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