Assorted Thoughts

Given that, as of late, the world is revolving around the Financial Crisis and its ramifications (or the Crash of 2008 – I think we should now think of this as a seminal event that deserves capitalization!), conversations usually veer off on that topic. I was recently discussing the measurement of prosperity with a friend – and how, for rich countries, GDP appears to be the single most important determinant of prosperity. As Megan McArdle from The Atlantic aptly puts it:

Because fiscal stimulus “working” is more than a question of increasing measured GDP. In every other context, liberals are all too aware of the limitations of GDP as a proxy for human wellbeing. In the context of the stimulus debate, however, all those reservations seem to fly right out of their heads.

Interestingly, the stimulus measures being debated in the United States are intended to positively affect different areas of our society – chief among them, economic output – but also, for instance, the quality of education and access to medical care.

There seems to be a tension in the public debate: we are asking for genuine, systemic change, but at the same time, we are not willing to spend the time and resources necessary to do so. What gives? And the United States is a good example, but it’s true in many other places where the status quo is maintained because of some sort of collective inability to compromise.

We have been using the Human Development Index to measure progress in and between countries for nearly two decades – perhaps it would be interesting to adapt some variation of it to suit a national context — as a proxy for human wellbwing — it would allow the public to construe well-being in a less unidimensional, more holistic way.

Just a thought.

By the way, the US ranks 15th in the 2008 HDI rankings. Liberia 176th out of 179 countries. And Sierra Leone, its neighbor, trails in the last position.

I like this, although I’ll cynically add that there might be something a little bit contrived about it… (via TED)

– I missed this story earlier this month. The violation of refugee and human rights goes unabated, in a context of complicated politics between Egypt and Israel. Once again, the UNHCR is unable to weigh in decisively – I’m looking forward to the 2009 edition of the Human Development Report, which will focus on migration, both within and beyond borders.

– Lastly… I am extremely pleased that B. Easterly just debuted his blog. He started with a bang, throwing punches at Jeff Sachs and Robert Zoellick, and making fun of Davos party-goers (I am secretely hoping that the title of that particular post…”and now for something completely different:…” is a direct reference to Monty Python.)

A good response to Easterly’s criticism of Zoellick’s plea for increased and sustained foreign aid flows can be read here. Excerpt:

But these are not normal times we are living in. Poor countries, especially those in Sub-Saharan Africa, are facing an unprecedented crisis. Private capital flows, which had been rising faster in Africa than any other region, are drying up or reversing. Remittances, estimated at $20 billion a year to the continent, are also slowing because, for the first time, the crisis started in the sending countries (77 percent of remittances to Africa come from the U.S. and Western Europe). And the fall in commodity prices is sending many commodity exporters into a recession. Previous growth decelerations in Africa have been associated with increases in poverty, infant and child mortality and out-of-school children. Worst of all, just when economic reforms were beginning to take effect in Africa (growth had been sustained for ten years and accelerating over the last three), people are being asked to tighten their belts—for a crisis that is not even remotely their fault.

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