Economic growth does not ensure human well-being

Protest in Wall St. last week.
(Photo: Matt McDermott/Flickr)

Far from improving the quality of life of the world population, increased trade and per capita income have not resulted in reduced poverty, according to the most recent Basic Capabilities Index (BCI) published by Social Watch, an international network of civil society organizations.

The index was launched on Friday 14, in the Netherlands, on the eve of the international days against hunger and poverty. October 16 commemorates the creation of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and October 17 is international poverty day.

Global trade and average per capita income have grown faster in the first decade of the 21st century than the decades before, but progress against poverty slowed down. World exports multiplied almost five times between 1990 and 2010 and income more than doubled, but the world average BCI only increased by one tenth in those same 20 years.

Macroeconomic performance and human well-being do not go hand in hand, concludes Roberto Bissio, coordinator of Social Watch.

The countries where the social situation is most critical are Chad, Sierra Leone, Niger, Somalia and Guinea Bissau, all of them in Africa. Afghanistan was the worse positioned ten years ago, but there are no reliable data to compute its BCI in 2011.

The index “shows that the last decade was a lost decade in the fight against poverty, in spite of the excellent performance of emerging economies,” commented Bissio. The gap between the slow progress in social indicators and the rapid growth of world trade and per capita income is explained “by growing inequalities in distributing the benefits of economic prosperity,” he added.

The BCI is based on key indicators that measure essential aspects of survival and human dignity: mortality among children under five, reproductive health (measured by births attended by skilled personnel), and primary education (school enrolment, proportion of children reaching fifth grade and adult literacy rate).

The available figures do not allow to assess the whole impact of the crisis that started in 2008, because social indicators are gathered and published much slower than the economic numbers. Yet, Social Watch member organizations have already verified in their countries that the most vulnerable sectors of the population are the ones carrying the largest burden of the crisis. 

Before the crisis, gross income was growing fast while progress in education, health and nutrition was already too slow. If industrialized countries enter into a prolonged period of stagnation or recession, the situation of the most vulnerable sectors at global level can only become worse.

More information:

The Basic Capabilities Index 2011 (in xls format)
The Basic Capabilities Index 2011 (in pdf format)
BCI trends by region, 1990, 2000 & 2011
BCI trends, 1990 to 2011 – Slowing down
See the ICB in a interactive map