An unequal world


██ High human development

██ Medium human development

██ Low human development

██ Unavailable

Map of the Human Development Index – Click on thumbnail for full size

The UN Human Development Index is an attempt at objectively specifying just what we mean by “developed” or “under-developed”, when we talk about countries. I had a look at this list today and one thing I found interesting was the current “top-ten” list:

  1. Flag of Norway Norway 0.965 ()
  2. Flag of Iceland Iceland 0.960 ()
  3. Flag of Australia Australia 0.957 ()
  4. Flag of Republic of Ireland Ireland 0.956 ( 4)
  5. Flag of Sweden Sweden 0.951 ( 1)
  6. Flag of Canada Canada 0.950 ( 1)
  7. Flag of Japan Japan 0.949 ( 4)
  8. Flag of United States United States 0.948 ( 2)
  9. Flag of Switzerland Switzerland 0.947 ( 2)
  10. Flag of Netherlands Netherlands 0.947 ( 2)

There are relatively few surprises here. The Nordic countries, the US, Canada, Japan, and European countries fill out the list. But my eyebrow rose when I saw Ireland at number 4! Are we really that developed. And this is a lagging index, meaning the 2006 ratings are from data collected around 2004. So, might it be that by now, in reality, Ireland would have risen to number 1?

Okay, let’s say it does happen soon and Ireland sits on top of an – admittedly subjective – measure of human development. And if we also assume that this is, on the whole, the most developed period of human history. So, does that imply that Ireland would then be – prepare to be shocked – the most developed country in the world ever? Would it mean that, on average, we score the highest ever for literacy, life expectancy, education, and standard of living. Quite apart from the obvious quibbles about the measure itself (such as measuring our quality of food, public transport, culture, drama, sport, health facilities, and alcoholism rates…) shouldn’t we be proud of this feat?

To my mind, after the mutual back-slapping and political congratulations are over, we should assess what responsibilities this places on Ireland. I believe we would have a moral duty to promote the development of our less fortunate fellow-UN members. I am glad to say that Irish Aid has recently been greatly improving our contributions to overseas development, although a lot more needs to be done. And organisations like Concern Worldwide are actively working in the lowest 40 countries on the HDI.

However, aside from this good work, I propose something appropriate to mark the (possible) topping of the list by Ireland. Let’s mark the occasion by a 100% commitment to meet or exceed our Overseas Development Aid contribution of 0.7%. That’s all, not even 1% of our huge budget. Go on, set an example, show we’re not just economically developed, but socially and morally developed too!


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