Norwegian Magazine Criticizes United Nations' 2005 Human Development Report

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Business magazine Farmann, criticizes UNDP's report that Norway is the world's number one country.

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(PRWEB) September 8, 2005 -- The United Nations Development Programe UNDP has released 2005 Human Development Report (HDR). Norwegian magazine criticizes the UNDP report placing Norway as the world’s number one country according to the Human Development Index – HDI. "The report gives little basis for any claim that Norway is the best country in the world in which to live, something which media and politicians seem to infer," the magazine says.

The Human Development Index (HDI) ranks the world’s countries. The Human Development Index ranks countries by three variables, GDP per capita, knowledge level (school enrolment and adult literacy) and life expectancy. In the HDI for 2005 the country of Norway is ranked as the #1 country, making this year Norway’s fifth consecutive year on the top.

Business magazine Farmann criticizes the report:

"While we appreciate that Norway has been named the number one nation according to this index, we want to arrest anyone thereby inferring that Norway is the best country in the world in which to live, something we find dubious. What this report says is that Norway according to these three variables ranks as number one in the world. But how relevant are these variables?"

The UNDP measures through its HDI three basic aspects of human development. Norway is a small homogeneous population that currently is experiencing enormous wealth due to oil production and historically high oil prices. This wealth can hardly be attributed to the hard work of Norwegians, but must rather be viewed as an enormous windfall gain.

Due to the oil production per capita income is nominally very high. Also, one needs to remember that this is not money that benefits the pockets of Norwegians. Rather this money is put into the state budget and into the swelling Norwegian petroleum fund, making the state rich – as if it were not powerful enough without that wealth.

Norway has a small population of 4.6 million people on which to divide the oil income. Naturally this means more money per capita than for example the UK which needs to divide her part of the North Sea oil on her 60 million people.

The Norwegian welfare state sees to it that the very young and the elderly are taken care of in institutions. Hence, taking care of the young and the elderly is part of the GDP. We need to ask ourselves if the transfer of these responsibilities to institutions represents a step towards a higher level of development. Moreover, given the "best place to live" interpretation, it is even more important to ask ourselves if this transfer has made Norway a better place to live.

One of the things the Norwegian government does with the oil revenue is to provide an extensive free education system. Free education naturally encourages people to study – more than what might be strictly necessary. This is a large part of the reason why Norway has such a high rate of people enrolling in schools.

Note also that measuring the combined gross enrolment ratio for primary, secondary, and tertiary schools says nothing about the quality of the education. And the quality of education is vital to the basic aspect of human development of knowledge.

With few real budgetary restrictions the Norwegian government is also employing a huge number of new graduates making an artificially large market for people with higher education in Sociology, Political Science, Dance, Cultural Sciences and other professions that might have had a much harder time finding employment in a more competitive market economy.

The high average life expectancy is mostly due to the homogeneous population with few minorities dragging the average up or down.

We would also have liked to see economic freedom as an aspect. We do concede that economic freedom is not so relevant for human development as for whether a place is a good place to live. However, it is relevant. Moreover, we realize that economic freedom is partly measured indirectly through the standard of living – or GDP per capita. However, when a country is soaked in wealth from natural resources, it needs less economic freedom to get a high GDP ranking.

We have yet to see any quote by any representative of the UNDP, or the UN as such, stating that Norway is the best country in the world in which to live. The UNDP is measuring human development, and as the UNDP itself says in its FAQ. "Is the HDI enough to measure a country’s level of development? – Not at all. The concept of human development is much broader than what can be captured in the HDI, or any other of the composite indices in this Report."

The "Norway is the best place in world in which to live" misconception is generally due to media disconnecting their critical role in order make headlines. Politicians are no better, using this "interpretation" as documentation of "good policies." We do, however, concede that a high ranking on the HDI contributes to making a country a good place to live, but the top ranking is by no means any documentation that this country is THE best place to live.

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Hans Glint Lysglimt

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