Friday, April 24, 2015

The Social Progress Index (Not Required)

Trying to measure well-being with something other than real GDP per capita is a good thing.

Doing it well though? I’m not sure how well we do at that.

One of the most famous alternative measures is the Social Progress Index created by Social Progress Imperative. Go play with it: they have fun, interactive tools, for slicing and dicing their data. This was started out by Michael Porter (yes, that Michael Porter from your management classes).

But these things bug me. I am sure some of this is some natural American Chauvinism.

But I also wonder about why they choose the data series they do, and why they weight them the way they do.

For example, the U.S. ranks 35th in freedom of the press, a step lower than Romania. Who are they kidding with this nonsense?

As an economist, my biases are towards accepting what people do (rather than what they say or believe) as indicative of how they’re doing. And I really frown upon it when experts assert that individuals decisions are somehow incorrect because they’ve voluntarily chosen something that the experts might not.

So, for me, something like immigration is a good sign, and emigration is a bad sign. On this count, America’s doing pretty well.

And, of course, in the news this week has been the sinking of a ship overloaded with migrants, heading to Italy. Italy ranks even further down the Social Progress Index than the U.S. does.

At a minimum, I’d be happier if this sort of thing was also included in the Social Progress Index. Oh … and how about including the money expended by rich countries to rescue these migrants: Italy actually scaled back a huge rescue program and still spends more money than other countries on this. Shouldn’t that get credit somewhere?

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