More sad news for Turkey. The United Nations Development Programme released its latest global report last week, placing Turkey 71st out of 188 countries on its Human Development Index. “71st! How bad is that!” I thought.
But then I looked a little closer. The first thing I noticed was that Turkey had actually moved up one place from the previous year. In fact, from 1990 to 2015, the country’s HDI value had increased by more than 33%.
The UN uses three factors to determine its HDI value: Life expectancy at birth; expected years of schooling and mean (average) years of schooling; and per capita Gross National Product. Over that period since 1990, life expectancy had increased by 11.2 years. Average years of schooling had increased by 3.7 years. Per capita GNP increased by 78.2%.
It is also important to recognise that, as a country moves higher up the rankings, it becomes increasingly difficult to overtake those ahead on the list. The top five countries are Norway, Australia, Switzerland, Germany and Denmark. The USA ranks 11th, and the United Kingdom, 16th; Japan is in 17th place, and Finland, 23rd. Even if Turkey’s standards improve markedly, how is it possible to overtake countries that have such a head start? Turkey is, however, well placed in the second category of countries, labelled as having “High Human Development”, its HDI index placing it in the upper half of this group.
Then there are other countries ahead of Turkey on the list whose high rankings are open to question. How does Greece, for example, with its economy in tatters, manage to slot in at number 29? Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have healthy rankings of 39 and 42 respectively, yet many of their residents are poorly-paid migrant workers, without the benefits of citizenship and, one assumes, not counted for statistical purposes.
Kazakhstan (57), Cuba (68) and Iran (69) all have higher rankings than Turkey – which makes me wonder how much credence I can give to the UN report.
I suspect that few people will actually read the report’s 288 pages. Most likely, those in countries at the higher end of the list will wallow in unjustified complacency. One point the report writers make is that average figures can hide wide discrepancies in internal standards. “This is a concern in developed countries,” they say, “where poverty and exclusion are also a challenge, with over 300 million people – including more than one-third of all children – living in relative poverty.” This is undoubtedly true in New Zealand, despite its HDI ranking of 13.
“Legal and political institutions can be used and abused to perpetuate group divisions,” the report says. It cites the LGBTI demographic as an example – but what about the broader situation in the United States, where Wall Street financiers buy political influence with professional lobbyists, and 45% of eligible voters do not even bother to participate in presidential elections?
“The top 1 percent of the global wealth distribution holds 46 percent of the world’s wealth.” Well, we knew that. So what does that mean in reality? Those Western First World countries may have high per capita GNPs, but clearly the average figure is distorted by a small number of multi-billionaires. Far more than half of their population exists well below that per capita average GNP.
The report goes on to make a number of recommendations which, sad to say, are unlikely to receive much serious consideration in the corridors of global power:
“Measures are needed to strengthen strategies that protect the rights of and promote the opportunities for migrants, to establish a global mechanism to coordinate economic (voluntary) migration and to facilitate guaranteed asylum for forcibly displaced people.” Can you see the Saudi royals or those United Arab emirs taking much interest in rights and opportunities for those indentured labourers from Asia and Africa who do most of the unskilled work? As for rich countries in Europe “facilitating guaranteed asylum for forcibly displaced people” from Syria, for example – Dream on!
“Accountability is central to ensuring that human development reaches everyone, especially in protecting the rights of those excluded. One major instrument for ensuring accountability of social institutions is the right to information.” The people at Wikileaks are doing their best here – but it’s also clear that Western governments have little interest in transparency, and deal harshly with whistleblowers who challenge their right to withhold information.
“Sustainable development activities at the national level must be complemented with global actions. Curbing global warming is possible. Continuing advocacy and communication on the need to address climate change and protect the environment are essential.” It may be possible – but to me it seems that the forces of conservative capitalism are working to undo most of the progress that had been made in protecting the fragile ecosystem of Planet Earth.
“Reforms should focus on regulating currency transactions and capital flows and coordinating macroeconomic policies and regulations. One option is a multilateral tax on cross-border transactions; another is the use of capital controls by individual countries. To move towards a fairer global system, the agenda for global institutional reforms should focus on global markets and their regulation, on the governance of multilateral institutions and on the strengthening of global civil society.” Don’t hold your breath waiting for Wall Street and the puppeteers of global finance to “regulate currency transactions and capital flows” and “move towards a fairer global system”.
Once again we see the need to view all published statistics with a healthy measure of scepticism.