Absolutely final entry on the Human Development Index

Kristen Lewis from the American Human Development Project wrote in to explain that the green map we’ve been discussing recently was some sort of unauthorized Wikipedia mash-up, and the people at this project have nothing to do with it. As I noted in my blog entry, there were many sources of data out there that were giving different numbers, and, in fact, the data in the project’s preliminary report listed D.C. in the lower half and Alaska as second-to-last, while the data listed elsewhere on the web (on the 1-10 scale) actually had nearly the identical rankings as the states used in the Wikipedia map. I still think there are some difficulties in using the same name (Human Development Index) for two different formulas, one for the U.S. and one elsewhere, and I still have a feeling that it might be better to map the different indexes separately.

The quick take-home point is that my debunking is of that widely-circulated map, not of the work in the report itself.

On the larger issue, I’m still not overly impressed with the revised map of U.S. states, which still tracks average income as much as anything else and has led to sterile blogospheric discussions about how Democratic-voting areas are more “developed” than Republican-voting areas, etc. I basically agree with Megan McArdle’s take, which is that if you take maps that are pretty much ranking states by income, and you call it a Development Index, then you’re just asking for confusion, my-state-is-more-developed-than-your-state arguments, comparisons of Kentucky to Croatia, and all the rest.

I’ll now refer you to Catherine Rampall’s posting of maps from the American Human Development Project, showing the individual pieces of the index.

Also see the update at the Map Scroll, who writes:

It is really danged difficult to find a measure of HDI by US state that can be compared to other countries. But it’s such an inherently interesting – even important – question. The US is a huge country, diverse in every way. To really understand our place in the world, we need more fine-grained data than national scale measurements provide. That’s what makes the AHDP cool. And it’s nice to be able to make intra-US comparisons between states. But it would be fascinating to be able to compare states, in as close to an apples-to-apples way as possible, to other countries.

Good point, and good call to get back to the original question that got us all interested in this. My suggestion, for now, is to look at these variables one at a time, perhaps combining related items to create mini-indexes (health, education, leisure, etc.) but maybe avoiding the temptation to add them all up to create a super-index. I can understand why people do it–the default is to rank countries by per-capita GDP, so maybe the development index is a step forward–but when it comes to making comparisons, especially of the Kentucky-to-Croatia variety, I think you’re better off looking at a set of mini-indexes.