Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Hierarchical Human Development Index (HHDI): Search for a better index

There is a multitude of indicators that quantify human progress on economic and social development. But what makes a person developed? Yes for the vast majority of people, getting the basic necessities of life, food, shelter and clothing is an everyday struggle. Once a persons basic needs are taken care of, is he content in mere sustenance. Can we call him developed?

If we say that a true measure of development is happiness, what is the index that measures true development of people? Until we develop happiness meters to measure happiness, we have to keep looking for better indicators that measure development.

One way of thinking about and happiness and development is in terms of evolution of needs. As a person evolves, his focus shifts to a new level of needs. If we consider Maslow’s hierarchy of needs to be absolute (although there is no proof of that) how would we want to measure our progress? For some one in search of Actualization, how good is to force him or her to think about basic material needs. Every excess is limited by the law of diminishing returns. Having one common measure of development index is like forcing everyone to keep thinking about needs that he or she derives only a marginal benefit from.

Maslow's hierarchy of needs.
5. Actualization
4. Status (esteem)
3. Love/belonging
2. Safety
1. Physiological (biological needs)

Countries, just like individuals, differ in their focus based on the level of collective development. After having achieved a level, they may want to focus on another set of needs to satisfy. Although, HDI indicator in its present from is a powerful tool for countries to measure their development on the bottom level and there is no doubt that there is a pressing need for them to do so, it has limited significance to top one third of the countries. Why not have different levels of HDI for countries on different levels. This index, called HDDI, would retain the advantages of the current HDI, and would give the relatively advanced societies a handle on their development based on their current level. Countries would be rated on the level they are and compared to countries at the same level. Measures such as environmental protection, political freedom, and gender and secularity issues can be built into appropriate levels. Also, the level of a country can be used to decide upon its responsibilities on each of these levels and those below it. The goal of the nations would be to move up in the hierarchy and then move forward in its level until they reach a new level.

Such an index should take care of the concerns of most nations and possibly give them relevant measures to focus on.

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