Back in 1990, Indian Nobel prize winner Amartya Sen along with Pakistani economist Mahbub Ul Haq developed an index to measure the overall impact of a country’s economic policies on the quality of life of its citizens.
The index which came to be known as the Human Development Index (HDI) measures the life expectancy, literacy, education, and standard of living for countries worldwide. Furthermore, it is also used to indicate whether the country is a developed, developing or an undeveloped nation.
Last month, the United Nations Development Programme compiled and published its 2007/2008 Human Development Report, based on data and statistics collected worldwide. The findings revealed a contrast in the quality of life between high performing Asian economies and moderate performing European economies, with Asians trailing far behind.
The findings once again highlighted the fact, that despite strong robust economic growth across the region, Asian nations are way behind their Europeans counterparts when it comes down to the bottom line that really matters- the quality of life of its citizens.
Asian economic giants, China and India have been enjoying one of the highest economic growths in the world for the past couple of years. According to the GDP figures released by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank based on purchasing power parity, China and India are the world’s second and third largest economies respectively. Yet, these high economic growth figures are not reflected in the report published by the UNDP.
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Based on the HDI rankings in the report, China are a lowly 81st on the list while India is worse at 128th in the world when it comes to the overall quality of life and well being of its citizens. This suggests the fact that even though the economies of these two nations are expanding at robust rates, the economic boom has not been passed on to its citizens especially those at the grassroots level.
Corruption and bureaucracy coupled with incompetent implementation of public and social policies has left a vast population of these two countries with nothing to gain from the recent economic developments.
On the positive side, Japan is the only Asian country in the top twenty. The country is ranked eight in the world, one place lower than it was a year ago.
The IMF and the World Bank ranks the Japanese economy as the fourth largest in the world based on GDP (PPP), thus the country is not only the highest ranked Asian nation based on the HDI, but also the most consistent with respect to its economic performance and development. This comes as no surprise, as Japan invests heavily on the development and well being of its people.
As for Thailand, there is a clear lack of consistency as well. The UNDP ranked Thailand 78th in the list based on the HDI, four places lower than it was a year ago.
It is interesting to note that the country is ranked 19th according to the World Bank in terms of GDP (PPP), second highest in South East Asia behind Indonesia, yet the country finds itself way behind the likes Singapore, Malaysia and Brunei when it comes to quality of life and well being of its people.
With general elections due in a few weeks from now, it is a custom for all political parties to come up with populist policies to attract votes in order to make their way into the assembly. Educational reforms, inflation control, improvement in living standards, and public spending will all be addressed before the elections by various parties.
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Economic growth and GDP will nevertheless be top of the agenda. However, it is to be seen whether, the promises made to the public will really be fulfilled once the seats in the assembly has been warmed by the newly elected senators.
Targeting high economic growth is fundamentally important, but what is more significant and needs be addressed as top of the priority list, is the social and public welfare, quality of life, and the well being of the citizens of the country.
The right policies need to be drafted and well implemented, in order to ensure that the economic growth is passed on to all strata of the society and eventually push the country up the rankings in the coming years and most important try to get ourselves rid of the tag of a developing country that seems to have got into our blood, and turn ourselves into a well functioning democratic and developed nation.