Global prosperity

Legatum Institute for Global Development has launched the first annual global prosperity index, which establishes a new measure for national prosperity. It defines the well-rounded prosperity of a nation as the combination of the material wealth and life satisfaction of its citizens.

The study reveals US, Norway and Sweden as the most prosperous nations on earth despite differing social models, while Zimbabwe, Pakistan and Egypt are the least prosperous.

Despite India’s strengths in democratic governance, it is rated poorly. India’s long-term economic growth has been impeded historically by very high costs of bureaucracy, poor education and an extreme deficiency in average health.

The 2007 Legatum Prosperity Index combines more than 70 variables into 20 key indicators in order to rank countries, based on the degree to which the actions of their people and governments drive or restrain prosperity.

Norway achieved high scores, not only due to its rapid economic growth via the successful management of its natural resource wealth, but also for its positive social conditions.

Sweden performs marginally less well economically, but scores better for social indicators such as political and civil liberties, community life, health, leisure time, and equality of opportunity.

US, similarly, has good scores in most areas, but is exceptional in the degree to which its citizens maintain strong social values, including religious beliefs and that they feel secure in their ability to make free choices and control their lives.

Drop in poverty in Asia, inequality on rise:

Rapid economic growth has lifted millions in Asia out of extreme poverty, but the continent has at the same time experienced a dramatic rise in income inequality.

The UN report was released to mark the midway point of a 15-year global development plan – dubbed Millennium Development Goals – that targets improvements in various social and economic indicators.

The worldwide report said the greatest progress was made in East Asia, including China and South Korea, where the proportion of people living in extreme poverty fell to 9.9 per cent in 2004 from 33 per cent in 1990, in part because of rapid economic growth.

In Southeast Asia, the ratio of people living in extreme poverty dropped to 6.8 per cent in 2004 from 20.8 per cent in 1990, according to the new statistics. Extreme poverty is defined as an income the equivalent of $1 (euro 0.74) a day, or less.

At this rate, Asia is on a target to meet the goal of cutting extreme poverty by half by 2015. World leaders at a summit in 2000 adopted the 2015 target date.

The report also highlighted what officials said was a worrying trend in rising income inequality within and among countries in the Asia-Pacific region.

Given the resources, it should be doing much better, but the benefits of economic growth in the developing world have been unequally shared. Widening income inequality is of particular concern in East Asia, especially China.

The share of income of the poorest 25 per cent of the population in the region declined to 4.5 per cent in 2004 from 7.3 per cent in 1990, contrasting with sub-Saharan Africa, where the share of income of the bottom 25 per cent remained the same at 3.4 per cent.

Overall success in achieving the millennium goals is also being hindered by a number of challenges such as slow progress in improving child nutrition, gender inequality and unplanned urbanization.

South and Southeast Asia are still among regions with the highest percentage of children under five suffering from malnutrition. Asia would fall short of reaching the target of halving the proportion of underweight children – a key statistic in measuring global hunger – if the current trend continues.

Only a little more than one-third of women in South Asia received medical attention from health care personnel when giving birth.