This article provides information about the evaluation of human development approach:
The human development covers many dimensions of well being but for the purpose of focus and measurability and comparability the Human Development Report team had focused on three important elements of human development; life expectancy or longevity, access to knowledge or literacy and standard of living which is largely measured in terms of income levels with its purchasing power. The Human Development Index (HDI) focuses on the three above mentioned indicators.
The reports, however, that “Although the HDI is a useful concept, it is important to remember that the concept of human development is much broader and more complex than any summary measure can capture even when supplemented by other indices. The HDI is not a comprehensive measure. It does not include important aspects of human development notably the ability to participate in the decisions that affect one’s life and to enjoy the respect of others in the community”.
The report adds that a person can be wealthy, educated and healthy but not participating in the development processes that add to his/her well-being. It is omissions like these, which have been highlighted in the early reports on human development. In 1991, prompted by these omissions, there was an attempt to come up with a “Human Freedom Index” and a “Political Freedom Index” in 1992.
These measures were popular but they were soon abandoned, which is a testament to the fact that such complex phenomena are very difficult to quantify. Though they have been difficult to capture as human development index, many reports have attempted not to undermine the issue by devoting several reports on aspects such as democracy, political freedom, multiculturalism, etc.
The HDI measures average achievements in a country but does not capture the differences in each category. Two countries with the same average literacy level may have disparities between men and women. The Gender Related Development Index (GDI) introduced in Human Development Report, 1995 measures achievements in the same dimensions using the same indicators as the HDI but captures inequalities in achievement between men and women. It is simply that the HDI is adjusted downwards for gender inequality. The greater the gender disparity in basic human development, the lower is a country’s GDI relative to its HDI. The countries with worst disparities between their GDI and HDI values are Saudi Arabia, Oman, Pakistan, Yemen and India.
Similarly, having a high GDP index does not necessarily rank you high on HDI index as well-being is not just about incomes alone. Some countries have done a lot to distribute their incomes much more equitable and have strived to provide health facilities and education. Thus, a country like Bolivia, with a much lower GDP per capita than Guatemala has achieved a higher HDI because it has done more to translate that income into human development.
Underlying the Human Development Reports are the contributions of Amartya Sen and his close associate Mahbub-ul-Huq. The report was influenced greatly by concepts such as “capabilities”, which was introduced in to the vocabulary of economics by Sen. He introduced the term capabilities to understand the multidimensional aspect of well-being in terms of choices people make for their capabilities.
The concept of capability or choices attempt to identify what those choices may be. Included in some basic and valid choices are such elements as empowerment, equity, sustainability, membership in a community or group(s) and security. Various attempts were made to capture these elements in the series of reports, which were published over the years.
The HDI as a measure of relative achievements of various countries remains the chief indicator of development. And as some critics like Apthorpe have pointed out that this measure only captures such items as longevity, education and income, which only captures human capital and not choices that people make.
Another point which was raised by Apthorpe, who is an influential anthropological voice in development studies, is that the global human development report is dominated by economists and therefore remains an economist dominated world though their plea has been to take it away from pure economics to social dimensions.
According to Apthorpe the “human” in the development report gives a good feeling, but it can divert attention from serious social and political analysis and hence from real understanding of human life. The social aggregates used are demographic trends and sectoral and never about social institutions, social structures or social groups own categories.
Besides these, the universalising and global trends and categories do not reflect the differentiations within, and many times some of these categories are problematic. For instance when we talk of freedom, we have to realise that what might be considered freedom by one set of people might be considered an oppression by others. For example, wearing a veil might be liberating for some women who want to escape from over-sexualised treatment of women in the West.
In the “Human right” debates there have been many such voices, which have pointed out to this kind of universalisation and how they do not necessarily represent communities and people’s categories. One of the charges leveled against the human categories in the human development approach is that they stem from a liberal position, which talks about individual aspirations and rights and choices and not about deeper levels of analysis.
There have been criticisms that the categories and terms do not have epistemological groundings. Ananya Mukherjee Reed in her critique of the Human Development Report of 2004 and its recommendations of multi-culturalism, points out that while the report acknowledges the various symptoms of the problematic of multiculturalism it refuses to acknowledge the salience of the underlying structures that generate those symptoms.
Reed further adds: “Is anything really lost in speaking of issues and yet not of the phenomena that these issues comprise as a totality? I believe so. As Marilyn Frye, the feminist philosopher explains with her metaphor of the birdcage, if one looks at a cage one wire at a time, then it is not quite clear how it might have the power to imprison a living being. If however, one examines the cage in its entirety, focusing on the specific pattern) which connects the wires to make possible the imprisonment, then a different picture emerges.
The problem is not simply one of omission. It gives the mistaken impression that the cage is only a simple sum of the wires; and that liberty can be won by removing one wire at a time. She also says that this kind of understanding comes essential from a distributive paradigm of justice”. She quotes Young to support her argument as thus: “The focus on distribution ignores and tends to obscure the underlying structural/institutional context within which those distributions take place; this context includes any structures or practices, the rules and norms which guide them, and the language and symbols that mediate social interactions within them, in institutions of state, family and civil society, as well as the workplace”.
This emphasis on patterns of distribution is typical of liberal models of justice, which as Marx pointed “frequently presuppose institutions of private property, wage labour, and credit, when these might come into question for a more critical conception of justice. Indeed, the precise goal of policy approaches premised on the liberal distributive model is to accommodate political demands within existing structures of property rights, gender relations divisions of labour and cultural norms”.