We expect to see countries ranked and compared all the time. This seems a natural enough process in sporting occasions such as the European Football Championships under way now (though as with the EU, the list of participating nations helps to define what we understand as “European”). And there are hundreds of international league tables for everything from health, wealth and education to crime, corruption and war.
I’m always interested in attempts to produce league tables that are a bit more thoughtful and informative than the average. One of these is the Social Mobility Index, which I blogged about here. And now along comes the 2016 Social Progress Index (SPI), a composite table that draws on a range of social and environmental outcome indicators, with the aim of informing policies to improve well-being.
The resulting league table tells you which countries over-perform on social progress in relation to GDP (per capita). Costa Rica leads this group, suggesting strong social progress; however, it is followed by Kyrgyzstan, which is probably down to economic decline.
Those who come top overall are those which are both prosperous and socially progressive: Finland ranks first, followed by Canada, our friends the Danes, and then Australia. Three oil-rich countries lead the table for low social progress relative to GDP. Saudi Arabia is way out ahead, followed by Kuwait and then the United Arab Emirates. Significantly, the USA also makes it into the top 20 for this group, just ahead of Venezuela.
I take a particularly close interest in the fortunes of Germany (15th) and the UK (9th), as these are the countries where I live. Interestingly, the UK is among those who are high on social progress relative to GDP, though with some problem areas, including perceptions of crime. Despite its higher GDP, Germany is the other way round, thanks mainly to low scores on health and wellness and even lower scores on tolerance and inclusion.
I like the way that SPI applies an outcomes approach to wealth, rather than treating it as the main indicator of well-being. Rather than relying directly on measures of wealth, it treats health, education and freedoms as the outcomes of wealth. And what it tells us is that while being rich certainly helps, what also matters is how you use your riches.