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Discuss about the Comparing HDI and ISEW.


Human Development Index (HDI)

Growing realization of the failings of the conventional GNP and income as the primary indicators of economic progress has led to the development of alternative yardsticks. After the failure of GNP on an international scale, two alternative yardsticks for assessing economic progress have emerged - The Human Development Index (HDI) sponsored by UNDP and the Index of Sustainable Economic Welfare (ISEW) developed jointly by economist Herman Daly and theologian John Cobb, (Takhar-Lail & Ghorbani (ed), 2014).

HDI measured on a 0 to 1 scale for an economy, is aggregated using three indicators, say (Arthur, Waring, Coe & Hedges (ed), 2012): Longevity, Knowledge and availability of resources required for a progressive nation. Longevity is the life expectancy of a citizen. Knowledge is measured by adult literacy. GDP is used for the availability of resources per person after purchasing power is adjusted. Since all three are taken as National Averages of the nation, inequality of wealth among the population is not considered. Although availability of resources for longer periods does indicate higher levels of Literacy and Longevity, (Arthur, Waring, Coe & Hedges (ed), 2012).

Controversial and wide disparities among the nations is seen when nations are ranked using GDP as the basis for HDI, (Grbich, 2012). Costa Rica is ranked 40th in a HDI table, whereas South Africa, having GDP 27% higher than Costa Rica, is ranked 57th in the same table.  Despite having a lower GDP, Costa Rica boasts of 92% adult literacy rate, compared to 85% in South Africa. Similarly, Life Longevity in Costa Rica is 13 years longer than in South African. Similar disparities, says (Grbich, 2012), can be found when comparing Argentina, Chile, Poland, and Yugoslavia.

Index of Sustainable Economic Welfare (ISEW)

The Daly-Cobb Index of Sustainable Economic Welfare (ISEW) is comparatively a comprehensive indicator of a nation’s well-being, as it takes into account the average consumption of the nation along with its distribution and environmental degradation. Although it has been implemented in the USA so far, as per (Takhar-Lail & Ghorbani (ed), 2014), it is progressively introducing adjustments for consumption and an index for distributional inequality. The authors have also taken in several environmental factors, including depletion of non-renewable resources, loss of wetlands, loss of farmland and costs of air and water pollution. To take the effect of ‘long-term environmental damages’, it also includes factors effecting global warming and damage to the ozone layer, (Takhar-Lail & Ghorbani (ed), 2014).

Based on this methodology, welfare per person in the USA has been found to increase by 42% between 1950 and 1976. But the decade from 1977 to 1986 saw a decline in the ISEW and it fell by over 12 percent in this period, showing a decline in individual welfare in the USA.

The main weakness of ISEW is the dependence of this methodology on information which is recorded only in few advanced nations. Data on air and water pollution and the availability of non-renewable resources is available in a few developing countries only, (Grbich, 2012). A similar drawback is applicable to HDI, which faces lack of reliable data on life expectancy, which astonishingly, is collected once in a decade in many of the Third World countries, (Arthur, Waring, Coe & Hedges (ed), 2012).



Arthur, J., Waring, M., Coe, R. and Hedges, L.V. (ed). (2012). Research Methods and Methodologies in Education. London: SAGE.

Grbich, C. (2012). Qualitative Data Analysis: An Introduction. 2nd ed. London: SAGE.

Takhar-Lail, A. and Ghorbani, A. (ed). (2014). Market Research Methodologies: Multi-Method and Qualitative Approaches. Hershey, PA: IGI Global.

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