More on the Human Development Index

Catherine Rampell posted some attractive county-level Human Development Index maps and also discussed my criticisms of the index: I wrote, “if you go by the maps that everybody’s linking to…you’re pretty much just mapping state income and giving it a fancy transformation and a fancy new name.” In its defense, she wrote:

Which is, I [Rampell] suppose, why the American Human Development Index, an adapted version of the U.N.’s original H.D.I., was created: because the U.N.’s index was not designed to capture the levels of variation that would occur within a single country. It was designed to make international comparisons.

This, to me, indicates the problem with the index. It was advertised as putting U.S. states on an international scale (Louisiana vs. Croatia and all that) but, if it needs to be redefined for the U.S., it seems to me that you’re losing the universal interpretation, which is a big justification for the index in the first place. At this point, I’d rather map each of the components of the index separately (as Rampell actually does illustrate on her blog).

2 thoughts on “More on the Human Development Index

  1. Ack!

    "It was advertised as putting U.S. states on an international scale (Louisiana vs. Croatia and all that)."

    No, I did that! I wanted to compare the level of development of states to the level of development of foreign countries, and this table, which was just some table posted on Wikipedia, was the only source I could find that did that. So I went with it. But the American Human Development Project itself never meant to compare states to foreign countries – indeed, they went out of their way to say that their scale was not compatible with the UN's scale; that's why they used a 1-10 scale, rather than the UN's 0-1.

    I just blog about fun maps I find on the internet; please don't conflate what I wrote with the work of the AHDP. (They have, by the way, their own <a />fine maps, and no mention of Croatia anywhere.)

  2. Chachy: Thanks for the note. Just to clarify: when I said "It was advertised…", I wasn't saying that you were doing the advertising! You put the graph out there, then other people trumpeted it as being useful for comparing U.S. states to foreign countries.

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