The link below is to an article by Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft. He argues that per-capita GDP is a poor indicator of development, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa.
The problems with using GDP as an indicator of the level of development of a country are well known and several alternative measures are in common use. Perhaps the best known is the United Nations Development Programme’s Human Development Index (HDI), where countries are given an HDI of between 0 and 1. HDI is the average of three indices based on three sets of variables: (i) life expectancy at birth, (ii) education (a weighted average of (a) the mean years that a 25-year-old person or older has spent in school and (b) the number of years of schooling that a 5-year-old child is expected to have over their lifetime) and (iii) real gross national income (GNY) per capita, measured in US dollars at purchasing-power parity exchange rates (see Box 27.1 in Economics 8th edition for more details).
But although indicators such as this capture more elements of development than simple per-capita GNP or GNY, there are still serious shortcomings. A major problem is the lack of and inaccuracy of statistics, especially when applied to the rural subsistence and informal urban sectors. The problem is recognised and some countries are trying to address the problem (see the second article below), but the problem is huge. As Gates says:
It is clear to me that we need to devote greater resources to getting basic GDP numbers right. … National statistics offices across Africa need more support so that they can obtain and report timelier and more accurate data. Donor governments and international organisations such as the World Bank need to do more to help African authorities produce a clearer picture of their economies. And African policymakers need to be more consistent about demanding better statistics and using them to inform decisions.
Another problem is how you convert data into internationally comparable forms. For example, how are inflation, exchange rates, income distribution, the quality of health provision and education, etc. taken into account?
How GDP understates economic growth The Guardian, Bill Gates (8/5/13)
States’ GDP computation report out soon, says Nigeria statistics bureau Premium Times (Nigeria), Bassey Udo (9/5/13)
Michael Porter Presents New Alternative to GDP: The Social Progress Index (SPI) Triple Pundit, Raz Godelnik (13/4/13)
- By accessing the Human Development Index site, identify which countries have a much higher ranking by HDP than by per capita gross national income. Explain why.
- Why is expressing GNY in purchasing-power parity (PPP) terms likely to increase the GNY figures for the poorest countries?
- Explain the following quote from the Gates article: ‘I have long believed that GDP understates growth even in rich countries, where its measurement is quite sophisticated, because it is very difficult to compare the value of baskets of goods across different time periods’.
- Why is GNY per capita, even when expressed in PPP terms, likely to understate the level of development in subsistence economies?
- Explain whether the rate of growth of GNY per capita is likely to understate or overstate the rate of economic development of sub-Saharan African countries?
- Why are the challenges of calculating GDP or GNY particularly acute in sub-Saharan Africa?
World leaders have been meeting in Rio de Janeiro at a United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development. The conference, dubbed ‘Rio+20’, refers back to the first UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) held in Rio 20 years ago in June 1992.
The 1992 conference adopted an Agenda 21. It was “comprehensive plan of action to be taken globally, nationally and locally by organizations of the United Nations System, Governments, and Major Groups in every area in which human impacts on the environment.”
The 2012 conference has looked at progress, or lack of it, on sustainability and what needs to be done. It has focused on two major themes: “how to build a green economy to achieve sustainable development and lift people out of poverty, including support for developing countries that will allow them to find a green path for development; and how to improve international coordination for sustainable development.” Issues examined have included decent jobs, energy, sustainable cities, food security and sustainable agriculture, water, oceans and disaster readiness.
But just what is meant by sustainable development? The conference defines sustainable development as that which meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. “Seen as the guiding principle for long-term global development, sustainable development consists of three pillars: economic development, social development and environmental protection.”
The articles below look at prospects for national and global sustainability. They also look at a new measure of national wealth, the Inclusive Wealth Index (IWI). This index has been developed under the auspices of the International Human Dimensions Programme on Global Environmental Change (IHDP) and published in its Inclusive Wealth Report 2012 (see report links below).
The IWR 2012 was developed on the notion that current economic production indicators such as gross domestic product (GDP) and the Human Development Index (HDI) are insufficient, as they fail to reflect the state of natural resources or ecological conditions, and focus exclusively on the short term, without indicating whether national policies are sustainable.
The IWR 2012 features an index that measures the wealth of nations by looking into a country’s capital assets, including manufactured, human and natural capital, and its corresponding values: the Inclusive Wealth Index (IWI). Results show changes in inclusive wealth from 1990 to 2008, and include a long-term comparison to GDP for an initial group of 20 countries worldwide, which represent 72% of the world GDP and 56% of the global population. (Click on chart for a larger version.)
So will growth in IWI per capita be a better measure of sustainable development than growth in GDP per capita? The articles also consider this issue.
Rio+20 deal weakens on energy and water pledges BBC News, Richard Black (17/6/12)
Rio+20: Progress on Earth issues ‘too slow’ – UN chief BBC News, Richard Black (20/6/12)
Rio+20 Earth Summit Q&A The Telegraph, Louise Gray (16/5/12)
Rio+20 Earth Summit: campaigners decry final document Guardian, Jonathan Watts and Liz Ford (23/6/12)
A catastrophe if global warming falls off the international agenda Observer, Will Hutton (24/6/12)
Analysis: Rio +20 – Epic Fail The Bureau of Investigative Journalism Brendan Montague (22/6/12)
Accounting for natural wealth gains world traction Atlanta Business NewsKaty Daigle (17/6/12) (see alternatively)
New index shows lower growth for major economies Reuters, Nina Chestney (17/6/12)
A New Balance Sheet for Nations: UNU-IHDP and UNEP Launch Sustainability Index that Looks Beyond GDP EcoSeed (20/6/12)
World’s leading economies lag behind in natural capital Firstpost (18/6/12)
Beyond GDP: Experts preview ‘Inclusive Wealth’ index at Planet under Pressure conference EurekAlert, Terry Collins (28/3/12)
New sustainability index created that looks at more than gross domestic product bits of science (17/6/12)
For Sustainability, Go Beyond Gross Domestic Product Scientific AmericanDavid Biello (17/6/12)
Inclusive Wealth Report 2012: Overview IHDP
Inclusive Wealth Report 2012: Summary for Decision-makers IHDP
Inclusive Wealth Report 2012: full report IHDP
- What progress has been made towards sustainable development over the past 20 years?
- What are the limitations of conferences such as Rio+20 in trying to achieve global action?
- With the current challenges faced by the eurozone and the global economy more generally, is this a good time to be discussing long-term issues of sustainable development?
- Explain how IWI is derived and measured?
- Looking at the chart above, explain the very different positions of countries in the three columns.
- What are the strengths and weaknesses of using growth in IWI compared with using growth in GDP as measures of (a) economic development; (b) economic wellbeing?
According to GDP figures released on 15 August, China overtook Japan in the second quarter of 2010 to become the world’s second largest economy. This raises two questions: just what do the GDP figures mean and why has this happened?
The GDP figures are total figures measured in US dollars at current exchange rates. According to these nominal figures, Japan’s GDP was $1.286 trillion in the second quarter of 2010; China’s was $1.335 trillion. This follows several years when Chinese growth rates have massively exceeded Japanese ones.
As far as explanations are concerned, economists look to a number of different factors, including investment policies, relative exchange rates, confidence, deflation in Japan and the scope for catching up in China.
The following podcasts and webcasts look at these questions, as do the articles.
Podcasts and webcasts
China eyes Japan’s slowing GDP growth BBC News, Roland Buerk (16/8/10)
Japan’s economic strategy ‘not happening’ BBC Today Programme Interview with Dr Seijiro Takeshita of Mizuho International banks (16/8/10)
China’s growth rate slows to 10.3% as lending tightens BBC News, Chris Hogg (15/7/10)
China exports jump in May BBC News, Chris Hogg (10/6/10)
China Overtakes Japan in 2Q As No. 2 Economy Associated Press on YouTube (16/8/10)
China’s economy takes over Japan’s AsianCorrespondent on YouTube (16/8/10)
China overtakes Japan to become world’s second-biggest economy Telegraph, Roland Gribben (17/8/10)
Chinese economy eclipses Japan’s Financial Times, Lindsay Whipp and Jamil Anderlini (16/8/10)
Decoding China’s modesty Financial Times blogs, Jamil Anderlini (17/8/10)
China ‘overtakes Japan in economic prowess’ asiaone news (17/8/10)
China overtakes Japan to become second largest economy in world Irish Times, Clifford Coonan (17/8/10)
China Passes Japan As Second-Largest Economy Huffington Post, Joe McDonald (16/8/10)
World Economic Outlook July 2010 Update IMF (7/7/10)
China Economic Statistics and Indicators EconomyWatch
Japan Economic Statistics and Indicators EconomyWatch
- Why may simple GDP figures be a poor indicator of the relative size of the Chinese and Japanese economies?
- If purchasing-power parity figures were used, how would this affect the relative sizes of the two economies? Explain why purchasing-power parity exchange rates are so different from nominal exchange rates in the two countries.
- What impact have the relative exchange rates of the two countries had on economic growth?
- Why are simple GDP figures a poor indicator of living standards?
- What factors will determine whether income inequality is likely to widen or narrow in China over the coming years?
- What factors explain Japan’s low rate of economic growth since the early 1990s? How likely is it that these factors will apply in China in the future?
The east African countries of Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Burundi and Rwanda have been operating with a common external tariff for some time. The East African Community (EAC), as it is known, came into force in 2000. Initially it had just three members, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda; the other two countries joined in 2007. As the Community’s site says:
The EAC aims at widening and deepening co-operation among the Partner States in, among others, political, economic and social fields for their mutual benefit. To this extent the EAC countries established a Customs Union in 2005 and are working towards the establishment of a Common Market in 2010, subsequently a Monetary Union by 2012 and ultimately a Political Federation of the East African States.
This Common Market came into force on 1 July 2010, with free movement of labour being instituted between the five countries. The plan is also to do away with all internal barriers to trade, although it may take up to five years before this is completed.
The following articles and videos look at this significant opening up of trade in east Africa and at people’s reactions to it. Will all five countries gain equally? Or will some gain at the others’ expense?
East African Countries Form a Common Market New York Times, Josh Kron (1/7/10)
Dawn of an era for East Africans The Standard, John Oyuke (1/7/10)
5 East African countries create common market The Associated Press, Tom Maliti (1/7/10)
FACTBOX-East African common market begins Reuters (1/7/10)
Bold plan to have single EAC currency by 2012 Daily Nation, Lucas Barasa (1/7/10)
East Africa’s common market begins BBC News, Tim Bowler (30/6/10)
East Africa: Poor Road, Railway Network Holding Back Integration allAfrica.com, Zephania Ubwani (1/7/10)
Challenges for one East Africa Common Market The Sunday Citizen, James Shikwati (4/7/10)
Common market barriers NTVKenya (on YouTube) (2/7/10)
The fruits of E.A.C. NTVKenya (on YouTube) (2/7/10)
The East African Community (EAC)
- Distinguish between a free trade area, a customs union, a common market and a monetary union.
- How is it possible that all five countries will gain from the establishment of a common market?
- Distinguish between trade creation and trade diversion. Under what circumstances is the establishment of a common market more likely to lead to (a) trade creation; (b) trade diversion?
- Why do some people worry about the consequences of free movement of labour with the EAC? How would you answer their concerns?
- What factors would need to be taken into account in deciding whether or not the five countries would benefit from forming a monetary union?
Throughout 2009/10, a new millionaire was created in Brazil every 10 minutes – not bad for a developing country! Despite the global recession, Brazil has managed growth of almost 5% and is set to overtake both the UK and France to become the world’s 5th largest economy. Brazil will hold the next World Cup and the Olympic games after London, bringing it further recognition as a global power. It has the third largest aircraft manufacturing industry in the world and is even doing its bit to tackle climate change, with 50% of its cars running on bio-fuels. It exports more meat than any other country and is looking to become an energy power. With falling unemployment, a buoyant economy, growing confidence, fantastic beaches and 6 millionaires created every hour, Brazil looks like the perfect place to live.
However, that is just one side of the story. Brazil is still a country with deep poverty – approximately 60 million people. The slums, or favelas, are home to 1 million people in Rio alone, where unemployment is high and drug wars common. There has been a concerted effort to reduce the drug trafficking business, but this has only created more unemployment. There is little sanitation, poor electricity and minimal chance of escape. Neighbourhoods need rebuilding, and despite high growth and arguably the most popular president in the world (Lula da Silva), there are calls for political, social, taxation and labour market reforms. This cycle of poverty and the equality gap needs addressing before the Brazilian economy can really be considered a global power.
Webcasts and podcasts
Will Brazil’s economy keep growing? BBC News, Matt Frei (27/5/10)
Brazil’s bid to be ‘world’s breadbasket’ BBC World News America, Paulo Cabral (26/5/10)
Tackling Brazil’s poverty BBC World News America, Gary Duffy (28/5/10)
Brazil’s development spurs economic quality hopes BBC World News America, Matt Frei (27/5/10)
Brazil’s air industry takes off BBC World News America, Paolo Cabral (24/5/10)
‘Our growth quality is better than China’ BBC World News America, Marcelo Neri (25/5/10)
Brazilian economy poised to overtake UK’s BBC News Today, Matt Frei (27/5/10)
Economic data Banco Central do Brasil
Brazil Economy EconomyWatch
Brazil CIA World Factbook
Brazil data World Bank
- What are the main causes of (a) inequality and (b) poverty in an economy? What is the difference between these concepts?
- How does the government subsidised housing programme aim to help low income households. Use a diagram to illustrate the effect.
- What policies can be used to reduce the equality gap?
- Are those living in the favelas in absolute poverty? How do we distinguish between absolute and relative poverty? Is it the same across the world?
- What are the adverse effects of fast growth in Brazil?