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Major Roles Of Development Studies Politics Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Politics
Wordcount: 3527 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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We live in an unequal world: one part of the world is suffering from hunger, poverty, high child mortality rates, mortal diseases and numerous other grave issues; the other part of the world benefits from high income rates, very good health care systems, excellent educational institutions and superior standards of living. Progressively, many international institutions and non-governmental organizations have taken a stand against this inequality and they continuously seek to develop the world into a better place with better standards. These organizations believe they can make a change by supporting underdeveloped countries and by coming up with measures and goals for the whole world in order to try and stop the biggest threats to further development. Development Studies is, in fact, one of the recent and most important branches of political science nowadays. It is through Development Studies that one can understand the tragic imbalance of the world, and come up with solutions to tackle the issues threatening development.

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Therefore, research and statistics form a major role in Development Studies; by carrying out specific research, one can identify what is hindering a particular country from further development and what solutions may be applied. Throughout the years, many scholars tried to quantify development and find ways to measure it and undoubtedly the most successful instrument for development existing today is the one named Human Development Index (HDI). While many believe that this is the best system and the best indicator vis-à-vis global development, some others believe that there is still much more to be done, and that the HDI might still need some adjustments.

This paper addresses the issue of development in today's unequal world, as well as presents all the arguments in favour and against the use of HDI as the first and most important tool to measure development.

What is Development?

Many scholars, politicians and writers use the term 'development' in their studies, talks or books; however, these persons might be using the word in different contexts. For the sake of this essay, it is imperative to give out the definition of the word 'development' as it is going to be used throughout the whole paper. Professor Jeffrey Haynes, successful author and lecturer, defines development as "a key dimension of personal life, social relations, politics, economics and culture." [1] Development does, in fact, touch many branches of one particular country (economic, social and cultural development); therefore it is made up of various components.

Furthermore, Development Studies "is a vast and rapidly expanding field of inquiry" [2] ; as the word itself suggests, development continuously changes - it is never static. The components making part of development might increase or decrease throughout the years.

It is difficult to set a date to the rise of interest in Development Studies. However, Dr Clark, through his acclaimed book, estimates the origin of awareness in the field of development around the late 1940s and early 1950s [3] , when there was an increasing interest in development economics [4] . Other scholars, such as Todaro and Smith comment on how the Europeans were unable to reach a certain level of developed economy within their countries a decade or so after, despite the willingness and hard work involved. [5] 

The notion of "human development" concerns the actual lives and conditions of the citizens of a specific country; Haynes accurately defines human development as a matter "concerned with [the] stability, security and citizen's relative prosperity." [6] Human development treats all of its components on an equal basis, giving them "direct value" [7] . Since development has a vital link with the wealth of a country, this does not mean that it is highly or solely influenced by the national income rates:

Human development is about much more than the rise and fall of national incomes. It is about creating an environment in which people can develop their full potential and lead productive, creative lives in accord with their needs and interests. People are the real wealth of nations. [8] 

The importance of global development in the world has gradually increased. Nowadays we know more about development, how to measure it and achieve it. Furthermore, there are numerous organizations and international institutions, such as the UN, who give development a huge significance within their agenda and who continuously give their support to underdeveloped countries and urge the world to support each other out.

Measuring Development

There can be no improvement in the field of development if proper analysis is not carried out for every single country and region of the world. Good analysis of statistics provides identification of threats to further development and of possible solutions for improvement: "The analysis of development goals is part of the analysis of development." [9] 

Therefore, measuring development is a significant step in identifying the development index of a country. The problem still remains on what is considered to be a component in measuring the development of a country. Development indicators can be many: the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) within a country, the Gross National Income (GNI), the life expectancy rate, gross education enrolment rates and more. Many scholars do not agree on what these development indicators should be.

There have been numerous conflicting papers written by scholars stating their own opinions on the matter. For example, economist Jan Drewnowski repeatedly states that while economic development indicators contain concrete figures, social development indicators do not possess such precise quantitative results. [10] He states that "welfare indicators are observable and measurable phenomena" and that "welfare is not directly measurable", but he also says that although measuring such development indicators might not produce perfect results, it is better than doing nothing at all.

Other scholars provide other views; economists Irma Adelman and Cynthia Taft-Morris "make a case for a more flexible approach to the measurement of institutional phenomena, which would rely on expert judgment on qualitative rankings." [11] 12

Throughout the years many scholars and organizations have attempted to come up with an instrument to measure development. Although there is still no existing perfect method of achieving such data, there is one leading collection of data which is continuously cited by organizations and governments alike. This index-list was undertaken by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and is mostly referred to as the Human Development Index (HDI).

What are HDR and HDI?

The HDI is a result of the Human Development Report (HDR), a report produced every year by the UNDP. The first HDR was published in 1990 while the latest HDR was published last year, marking its 20th anniversary edition. [13] 

Within the report, the UNDP analyses the results of its research in the development field. For example, the 2010 HDR published by the UNDP contained chapters about various branches of development which analyzed either progress or regress on a global level. In the 2010 HDR, one can learn how progress in the health sector has slowed down, while gender differences in the education sector decreased as well. Other examples include the increased (global) levels of education but also the problem of children not learning. [14] 

For better or for worse, the annual HD reports have provided an intrinsic method of measurement of development. One of the highlights of the HDR is undoubtedly the HDI. Most governments, international and national organizations give a lot of attention to the HDI, because it provides a set of ranks and indices attributed to a number of countries in the world. [15] 

The HDI essentially is a figure, ranging from 0 to 1. This is measured by "combining indicators of life expectancy, educational attainment and income." [16] All countries participating in the HDR are ranked numerically according to this figure. The HDI list in itself is made up of four categories of groups of countries with: very high human development (42 countries in 2010), high human development (43 countries in 2010), medium human development (42 countries in 2010) and low human development (42 countries in 2010) [17] .

It is through these three basic development indicators that the UNDP was able to produce such a high-quality index:

Life expectancy

For this particular development indicator, the HDI takes the average life years of a citizen in a specific country during a period of thirty years. For the 2010 HDI, for every country on the list, the life expectancy rate was calculated on the timeframe starting from 1980 till 2010. The minimum value was set at 20 years, whereas the maximum one was set at 83.2 years. [18] 


The second development indicator used in the HDI is education, and this is calculated by looking at the average years of schooling of every minor and adult citizen at every level of education. [19] This HDI indicator also encompasses the gross enrollment rate of the country; both the people applying for education and the school-leavers are taken into consideration when formulating the education indicator. This indicator, just like the previous one, reflects the regress or progress made in a specific country on a timeframe of thirty years, from 1980 till 2010. [20] 


The last indicator for development is income, or the "wealth component." [21] When carrying out its research and analysis, the UNDP sets the minimum per capita gross national income (GNI) rate at $163 (purchasing power parity - PPP) at its maximum income rate at $108,211. [22] The minimum rate was actually attained by Zimbabwe in 2008, marking it the lowest income rate in history so far. This income value of $163 means just around 45 cents of income every day. [23] 

It is therefore believed that the key to further development is found in the combination of the above three development indicators. Geometrically, the HDI ranking can be calculated using the following economic formula:

HDI = ( 1/3 Life expectancy rate + 1/3 education rate + 1/3 income rate) [24] 

Using this formula, the UNDP was able to create the HDIs of the last twenty years. The following table portrays some results from the 2010 HDI, showing one country from all four categories of the HDI. For every country represented in the table there are the resultant figures of the three main HDI indicators.

HDI Rank


HDI value

Life expectancy (years)

Mean years of schooling (years)

Expected years of schooling (years)

GNI per capita (PPP 2008 $)

GNI per capita rank minus HDI rank

Nonincome HDI value





































Data source: UNDP 2010 HDI [25] 

As one can clearly see, the leading country in the world with the best possible value was found to be Norway, which attained the HDI value of 0.938. All Norwegian statistics are impressive in all sectors of development. Leading economical countries, such as China and India, do not have such impressive results, with them ranking 89th and 119th respectively. The country ranking last with the worst HDI value in the world is the African country of Zimbabwe, of which statistics contrast severely with those of Norway. In fact, an average Zimbabwean lives up to 47 years and enjoys only $176 GNI per capita.

The Arguments in Favour of HDI

Since 1990, there have been many scholars and economists who have praised the initiative behind the HDI. In fact, many have considered the HDI as a huge step towards understanding what human development constitutes and what changes are needed.

The HDI was first seen as an ideal way to compare one country with another and to find a specific country's place in the whole world. In fact, this method "simplifies the comparison among countries" [26] , and this can beneficial to all governments in order for them to perform better as countries and states. Consequently, this index is described as "instructive" [27] as "its empirical relevance has proved to be very meaningful to [both] UN agencies and governments all over the world." [28] 

Throughout the years, distinguished political scientists have continuously declared that the HDI contributes "in terms of multidimensionality" [29] . Among such scholars, one finds Streeten (1994 and 1995), Desai (1993) and Ul Haq (1998), with the latter saying that HDI "can capture many aspects of human life that were not capture before." [30] 

Most positive feedback concerning HDI has been about how the HDI has managed to reflect the human condition in no other way other methods can. The methodology used in HDI has also been described as being "relatively simple" [31] , thus favoring it over other indices such as the Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) and the Environmental Sustainability Index (ESI); "its strength lies in its simplicity: a simple measure is more understandable to the policy-maker and the public." [32] 

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The Arguments against HDI

The HDI gained a lot of criticism from scholars and economists alike; this chapter will focus on the most famous critiques. Some writers criticized the indicators the UNDP used to measure development and discourage "the practice of classifying countries into the three bins," [33] while others disapproved of the whole system, labeling it theoretically weak (Srinivasan 1994). Moreover, Amartya Sen was "concerned by the difficulties of capturing the full complexity of human capabilities in a single index." [34] There are also a few who think that the HDI leaves a lot of questions unanswered and they proposed development indices specific to each and every country (such as an American HDI) [35] In fact, the HDI seems to conduct general analysis, ignoring differences. [36] 37This last argument is also sustained by Hicks. [38] 

The majority of critiques debate on the HDI indicators used. Some of them do not agree on how the UNDP uses these indicators, or on how the UNDP interprets its results. For example, the Task Force on Education and Gender Equality disapproves the use of education enrolment rates, finding them imprecise, and proposes school completion rates instead, defining them "a more appropriate indicator of educational 'output'". [39] 

Some others argue on the lack of HDI indicators. Eric Neumayer believes that there is the need of a 'greener' HDI; he argues that the HDI does not take into account "natural resource exploitation and environmental degradation" [40] Finally, there is also a group of writers (like McGillivray, 1991) who believe that the HDI is redundant, meaning that it provides very little or no insight to its analysis.


Taking into consideration what has been said on the subject, one cannot deny that the HDI has been influential in bringing forward the concept of development. It has been an impressive advancement from the previous attempts. Using the HDI as the main tool for development presents many advantages for governments, to improve their countries - its role has been instructive throughout.

However, many critics emphasize the disadvantages of HDI, such as the lack of sufficient insight or efficient indicators. Therefore, one can conclude that while it still stands as the reigning instrument to measure development, the HDI leaves much to be done and that in order to achieve a more efficient result, one has to make amendments - the HDI "is not [yet] an indicator that can reflect properly the idea that Human Development concept brings in itself." [41] 


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