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The Social Progress Index

In this video, Michael Green introduces the Social Progress Index
The Social Progress Index is built on a conceptual model that has three basic categories. First of all, does everyone in your society have the basic needs of survival– food, water, shelter, safety? Secondly, does everyone in your society have the building blocks of a better life– education, information, health, and a good quality environment? And finally, does everyone in your society have the opportunity to pursue their hopes and dreams without impediment? Do they have rights, freedom of choice, freedom from discrimination and access to the world’s most advanced knowledge? So the Social Progress Index is a measure of the progress of a society measured in solely in terms of social indicators. So no economic or GDP indicators in the model.
And so it works as a complement to not a replacement for GDP. What it allows us to do is it allows us to look at the relationship between GDP and social progress. So if you look at this chart, on the horizontal axis we’ve got GDP per capita. Further to the right is more. On the vertical axis, we’ve got social progress, higher is better. And then what we see is if we look at the countries of the world then we sort the countries of the world, each one represented by a dot and then put the regression line through it. We see that there’s actually a pretty positive relationship between GDP and social progress and that kind of makes sense.
It shows us that countries that get a bit more GDP if they invest it in the right things like roads and nurses, et cetera, can get a lot of social progress bang for their GDP buck. But what we also see is that there’s plenty of noise around that trend line. GDP is not destiny. At every level of GDP, there’s opportunities for more social progress, risks of less. If you are a society that has a development plan based only on getting more GDP, you have an incomplete plan for developing your society. So the Social Progress Index because there’s no GDP in the model lets us look at performance relative to GDP. So it’s a bit like in boxing.
We compare heavyweights to heavyweights lightweights to lightweights and that certain relative performance. And what we find is that some economic heavyweights are really underperforming on their social progress. Countries like not just Saudi Arabia but also the United States. Here is one of the richest countries in the world, a G7 economy, and it’s significantly underperforming on social progress relative to its GDP. What we also find is that there could be countries that are relatively poor but actually doing very well. Do a good job of turning their GDP into social progress. We find countries like Malawi, or Senegal, or Rwanda in that category. But the top performer in turning GDP to social progress is Costa Rica. It really is a star performer.
It’s got a level of GDP that puts into a middle-income country status about $14,000 a year GDP per capita, which got a level of social progress almost the same as Italy and a bunch of other Western European countries.

In this video Michael Green discusses the fact that there is no clear correlation between GDP and social progress, providing empirical proof that “GDP is not our destiny”.

He shows that although GDP increases are hugely beneficial in poor countries when the money is well invested, the benefit of further GDP growth becomes less clear as countries get richer. After a certain point, the extent that more income impacts a country’s social progress depends on how that extra income is spent. So for wealthier countries, pursuit of growth is not necessarily a valid goal.

Why do you think some countries over-perform and some under-perform so drastically? Can you ever imagine a measure like this playing a greater role?

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Global Prosperity Beyond GDP

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