‘Social progress’ is a rather difficult thing to define, and yet more challenging to measure, given the substantial range of factors which must be considered before any worthwhile assessment of it might be made.
One of the main challenges of commentary on social progression is the objective nature of the variables involved; what qualities contribute positively to a country's ranking on the ‘social progress scale’ and which have a negative impact?
‘Who cares?’ you might say ‘Social progress’ will happen regardless of whether we measure it or not!’ but that would be a fairly blunt and unhelpful assessment.
We have recently discovered a project called the Social Progress Imperative, which takes the viewpoint, that in order to nurture and encourage social progress, we must find a comprehensive and exhaustive means of measuring it.
The problem with the now-standard way of measuring a nation's social progress, or indeed development as a whole, is that the most major contributing factors in results are those centred on economic performances.
Things like GDP per capita are given a high level of precedence, whilst less easy-to-measure factors such as access to shelter, water, proper nutrition etc (which are arguably more indicative of a state of development) are pushed to the fringes, or worse, left out altogether.
This leaves us with a situation, in which economic factors are disproportionately prized as a route to social development, to the detriment and downgrading of some of the most basic of human needs.
Of course we are not suggesting that there isn’t a discernible correlation between economic development and social progress (quite obviously there is) but perhaps this is not as clear cut as most would at first suspect?
If you live in the UK, or indeed another ‘well developed’ country, you will probably be quite familiar with the phrase ‘trickle down economy’; it is one of the favourite ideals of the capitalist system; an economy in which the wealth of an elite few, filters down through the countless socio-economic layers beneath ensuring that everyone within a market benefits from it. That's the theory, but in truth, it rarely works as designed. It is the basic assumption upon which nations seek to increase economic output, but clearly its failure would suggest that GDP (and the like) as a measure of development are fundamentally flawed.
But is that really such a problem? The conclusion which some have settled upon is that it breeds a Society in which economic gain is not treated as a means to an end, but as the end itself.
A new way of approaching it?
The Social Progress Imperative, has proposed a new method of measuring social development, shining a light on 52 social and environmental indicators, it believes are a more reliable and accurate way of assessing a nation's social progress. It strays from the hitherto held belief that average economic factors almost entirely account for development, and suggests that factors affecting quality of life are far more reliable indicators.
Some of the measurable factors that they have identified include;
Basic Human Needs; Nutrition and medical care, water and sanitation, shelter, personal safety
Foundations of well-being; Access to basic knowledge, access to information and communication, health and wellness, ecosystem sustainability
Opportunity; Personal rights, personal freedom and choice, tolerance and inclusion, access to advance education
From all of this has come the Social Progress Index, which ranks the world's nations in order of their social development… what it found, supports the rejection of economic factors as a measure of development.
The most notable example of this is the United States which is the world's wealthiest country in terms of total GDP, but lags behind 15 other nations according to this measure of social progress.
According to the index, the countries with the highest level of social development are (In descending order);