, Volume 9, Issue 2, pp 249-288
Date: 24 May 2011

The HDI 2010: new controversies, old critiques

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Abstract

Since its introduction in the first Human Development Report in 1990, the Human Development Index (HDI) has attracted great interest in policy and academic circles, as well as in the media and national audiences around the world. Its popularity can be attributed to the simplicity of its characterization of development - an average of achievements in health, education and income – and to its underlying message that development is much more than economic growth. The index was originally conceived by the late Pakistani economist Mahbub ul Haq, in collaboration with Amartya Sen and other scholars, as a response to their dissatisfaction with GDP as the standard measure of development. As Haq noted, “Any measure that values a gun several hundred times more than a bottle of milk is bound to raise serious questions about its relevance for human progress.” Yet the HDI’s very simplicity prompted critiques from the start, with some contending that it was too simplistic, while others who accepted its self-imposed limitations still questioned its choice of indicators and its computational methodology. This article discusses the concept and key insights learnt from the HDI, provides a detailed review of key critiques of the HDI, today and in the past, and explains the recent changes introduced to the HDI formula and indicators. Recent controversies are highlighted and placed in the context of longer running debates. The innovations to broaden the measurement of deprivations and disparities in human development are introduced, with some key global and regional insights.