Judging a Country by Happiness or Unhappiness?

Gross Domestic Product has become the yardstick by which we measure a country’s success. But, says Michael Green, GDP isn’t the best way to measure a good society. The Social Progress Index determines what it means to be a good society according to three
dimensions: Basic Human Needs (food, water, shelter, safety); Foundations of Well-being (basic education, information, health and a sustainable environment); and Opportunity (do people have rights, freedom of choice, freedom from discrimination, and access to higher education). In other words: things that contribute to happiness.

“When outcomes are measured and not inputs, there are no cheats or quick fixes.”

Some countries over-perform on social progress relative to their GDP per capita. Costa Rica is the biggest aggregate over-performer, showing strength across all the dimensions. The key lesson here is that building social progress takes persistence. Costa Rica (SPI 77.8, GDP $13,431) has had strong education, health and welfare systems for a long time, as well as a long democratic tradition. SPI measures outcomes — life expectancy, literacy rate — not inputs, like laws passed or money spent. There are no cheats or quick fixes.

Tanzania ranks 116 (SPI 47.14, GDP $1,718) – there is way to tackle.

New Zealand achieves a Social Progress score of 87.08, which is almost as high as Norway’s 88.36, but at a GDP per capita that is half that of Norway: $32,808 versus $62,448. What would happen if New Zealand took Norway as a role model and found a way to increase GDP per capita?


On the other end of the scale are the “unhappy” countries, where again the GDP doesn’t tell the whole truth of what really adds up to the fragility of these states.  The OECD’s new report on Fragile States  assesses fragility across five dimensions: Violence, Justice, Institutions, Economic Foundations and Resilience. This view is not entirely without criticism – however, aid interventions can much better target required needs when taking into account specific dimensions.


Tanzania is not considered a fragile state (lucky them and lucky me), so let’s look at Kenya and Uganda:  Institutions and economic foundation seem to be there. However, injustice for some, reduced resilience to shocks and violent deaths are observed in both countries.  There’s something to work on.

Source: IDEAS.TED.COMBlog “from poverty to power” (photo by Leanne on flickr)


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