Richard Jolly, Special Advisor,
United Nations Development Program
This text has been professionally transcribed. However, for timely distribution, it has not been edited or proofread against the tape.
MARY GRAY DAVIDSON, producer: This is Common Ground.
RICHARD JOLLY, Special Advisor, United Nations Development Program: The United States,
Britain, and Australia are now the most unequal societies within the industrial countries.
Unequal, measured by the share of income of the top 20% relative to the share of income of the
poorest 20%. And in the case of UK, United Kingdom, and Australia that’s nine and a half and in
the case of the United States it’s about eight and a half.
DAVIDSON: The United Nations takes stock of human progress, on this edition of Common
JOLLY: And we warn in the report, that if the trends of the last 30 years or so continue
we will have a world gargantuan in its excesses and grotesque in its extremes.
DAVIDSON: Common Ground is a program on world affairs and the people who shape
events. It’s produced by the Stanley Foundation. I’m Mary Gray Davidson.
A nation’s total wealth is not an adequate guide to how its people live. You need to look at
other factors that affect day-to-day existence, like education and health. That’s the underlying
philosophy of the Human Development Report produced annually by the United Nations
Development Program. Richard Jolly, the Special Advisor to UNDP’s head administrator, is the
principle author of this year’s Human Development Report, which features a Human Development
Index, a ranking of 174 countries based on a number of criteria including life expectancy at
birth, educational attainment, and adjusted real income.
JOLLY: The Human Development Index was created in 1990, along with the Human
Development Report. The index is an attempt to give a measure of the level and over time the
progress of human development for virtually all countries in the world. And in a sense you can
say, as opposed to GNP per capita. Income per capita, GNP as it’s usually called, has widely over
the last 20, 30 years become the index that people kept using and using to indicate country
DAVIDSON: It is still what we hear in our news in terms of the country’s progress.
JOLLY: That’s it, that’s it. And in fact it’s a very narrow index. It’s a sum total of
all the goods and services a country produces, divided by the number of people. So in some sense
it is an average income, average index of production. But it doesn’t touch on human welfare. It
doesn’t deal with issues of distribution. And the Human Development Report was created to
say what matters about a country’s development is how people are being affected. So the Human
DAVIDSON: Their well being, you could say…
JOLLY: Their well-being. The Human Development Index is a measure of well-being or an
attempt. It’s not perfect, but it’s much better than GNP per capita. And the Human Development
Report is a report trying to look each year at a particular theme from the point of view of
how are people affected. So the latest 1996 report is about human development and economic
growth. Not about how economic growth affects economies or industry or agriculture or production
or transport communications. How does economic growth affect people, and that’s been the theme of
all the human development reports—how does the various changes, how do they affect people.
DAVIDSON: Well, who ranks at the top and the bottom of this list?
JOLLY: Well in 1996, Canada scores at the top of the human development index. In fact the
United States second. And some of those countries in West Africa, I regret to say ten of them,
are at the bottom.
DAVIDSON: Because so many African countries are facing dire situations, this past March
the Secretary General of the United Nations launched a special initiative on Africa which focuses
on education, health, and governments. The Human Development Report calls for a new
North-South compact as well, saying if the poor nations can demonstrate their willingness to
invest in their people and economies, the rich nations can offer aid, debt relief, and trade
concessions aimed at generating growth and providing basic services. One of the newer features of
the Human Development Report is the gender empowerment measure. It looks at women’s share
of national income and the representation by women in parliaments and among managers and
JOLLY: The GDI, the Gender Development Index, and the GEM, the Gender Empowerment
Measure, and both of those have introduced attention to not just how people in general are being
affected or empowered by human development, but how are women, in particular, being affected. And
that leads to some very interesting shifts. For example, the gender related development index
shifts Canada from being number one to Sweden being number one, when Sweden was number nine on
the general index. And the United States, for example, shifts from being number two on the human
development general index to number four on the gender related development index.
DAVIDSON: What factors does the index take into account in determining how women fare?
JOLLY: The same indices that are included in the Human Development Index, life
expectancy, adult literacy, enrollment in primary and secondary and higher education, but looked
at from the point of view of girls or women as opposed to the average. When it comes to income,
the index takes account of the earned income share of women compared with men. Which is a
combination of both what proportion of women are employed and what are the average levels of
women’s earnings compared with male earnings in each country.
DAVIDSON: Since its creation, the Human Development Report has highlighted not
only the vast differences in wealth and well-being between various countries, but also within the
same country. What’s particularly alarming in this year’s report is the increasing gap between
rich and poor world wide. And in the United States, for instance, where per capita income in 1993
was $24,240, the per capita income of the bottom 20% of the population was only $5,821.
JOLLY: I think there’s actually a lot of messages in the Human Development Report
1996 of great relevance for the pattern of economic growth and economic priorities for all
countries, including industrial countries. For example, the Human Development Report shows
that the United States, Britain, and Australia are now the most unequal societies within the
industrial countries. Unequal measured by the share of income of the top 20% relative to the
share of income of the poorest 20%. And in the case of UK, United Kingdom, and Australia that’s
nine and a half. And in the case of the United States it’s about eight and a half.
If you take the case of Japan it’s more like four and a half. So there’s a big difference. But
what is very interesting and somewhat new about this report is that the latest research on income
distribution is showing that the societies that have grown fastest over the last, say, 30 years
or indeed for industrial countries over the last 100.
DAVIDSON: You mean their economies?
JOLLY: Their economies have grown fastest over this period. That these, the economies
which have had greatest equality have actually done better. So for example, if you look at which
countries grew fastest from the mid towards the end of the nineteenth century to the present it’s
Japan and it’s Sweden. Both societies which in the late nineteenth century put quite an emphasis
on greater equality and certainly a very strong emphasis on education for all, considerably ahead
of many of the other industrial counties or industrializing countries of the time. And similarly,
if you look at the fast growing tigers of the last 30 years—Thailand, Malaysia,
Indonesia—they’re all countries which have given a lot of emphasis to greater equality. And
they’ve also done much better in economic growth, and not surprisingly they’ve also done
remarkably in bringing down the number of poor people. Malaysia’s an excellent example.
Malaysia had race riots in the late 1960s, between the Chinese part of the population and the
majority, the Malay majority. And instead of sweeping this under the carpet and police force and
all of that, they said, “Let us have a long-term development plan that recognizes the case for
more justice for the Malays and goes for strong emphasis on poverty reduction. Greater equality
and access say to higher education or, to be honest, affirmative action for the Malay minority.
More access to share-ownership and more access to jobs in the civil service.” And they also
combine this with a program of economic and targets for economic growth. The result is that there
were 55% of the population in poverty in 1970, that came down to just about 15% in 1990. And
they’re now working for the eradication of, what they call, core poverty, the most severe poverty
by the year 2000. It’s a dramatic success story.
DAVIDSON: We’ll pause for just a moment to identify ourselves. You’re listening to
Common Ground, a service of the Stanley Foundation. My guest is Richard Jolly, the
principle author of the Human Development Report, which is produced annually by the United
Nations Development Program. Mr. Jolly is also Special Advisor to Gus Speth, the Administrator of
The Stanley Foundation is a non-profit, non-partisan organization that conducts a wide range of
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details on how to order.
Just before our break, my guest Richard Jolly, the principle author of the UN’s Human
Development Report was talking about countries which have been able to combine rapid economic
growth with widespread improvements in quality of life. And those countries offer valuable
lessons to the rest of world.
JOLLY: South Africa is one of the countries which of course has much to cope with since
its got rid of apartheid and is a very unequal society. And they are following very closely the
Malaysian experience. President Mandela has already visited Malaysia, I think, several times. And
South Africa is host to more investment from Malaysia than from any other country at the moment,
it’s not widely known, but a very interesting example of how economic dynamism and realism can be
combined with justice and more attention to the needs of the poorest.
DAVIDSON: Are there countries that are actually using the Human Development Index as
motivaters for their own development programs?
JOLLY: That is another thing that has grown a lot in the last few years. We count about
50 countries which have developed their own Human Development Report focused on their own
country. In the room here, I’ve got one from Russia. I was receiving one from Brazil, in
Portuguese, just the other day. Virtually all of the countries of the former Soviet Union have
produced reports on human development and are incorporating these elements within their own
development efforts at the moment.
DAVIDSON: The 1996 Human Development Report introduced another new measure of
national growth called the Capability Poverty Measure. Just as human development encompasses
aspects of life much broader than income, so poverty should be seen as having many dimensions. In
other words, says Richard Jolly, do people have the minimum capabilities to lift themselves out
JOLLY: A measure of poverty at the moment in many countries mostly focuses on how many
people have less income then they seem to need to buy the basic things. It’s important. And
let’s, don’t let’s understate it. That’s the main element of the American definition of how many
people are below the poverty line. But if you want to know how many people are able to do
something about their poverty, help themselves if you like or look after their children so their
children will have a better chance in life, you want to go for something that’s more related to
their capabilities. So we have developed this year the Capability Poverty Index, in order to
measure what proportion of people have the basic knowledge, the basic health, and even some
element of other help and assistance in order to help themselves. So we have an index that
combines core education, life expectancy, access for women to help with childbirth so their
reproductive capacity can be protected and assisted.
It’s an index very much in the early stage of development. And we wouldn’t defend all the
elements as being exactly right at the moment. But the principle of somehow measuring capability
and not just income poverty seems to us very important.
DAVIDSON: The point the 1996 Human Development Report continually drives home is
that economic growth does not automatically improve everyone’s life. Growth does not
automatically translate into much needed jobs. In fact, of 47 countries with economic growth only
27 saw employment grow too. And despite a dramatic surge in economic growth in 15 countries over
the past decade, a quarter of the world’s people are no better and even worse off than they were
15 years ago.
JOLLY: Well this is a very important message because one still hears when almost any
problem emerges in a country, how will we pay for pensions, we need to reform health—how will we
get the resources for doing that, we’ve got unemployment—how are we going to get more jobs. We
keep coming back to growth growth growth. And when we analyzed the link between growth and these
sort of issues, or if you like, the links between growth and human development, we found a lot of
strong linkages. But they weren’t automatic. And we found too often growth was jobless, it wasn’t
generating employment. Growth was ruthless, it wasn’t being shared fairly, it was being too much
hogged by a small number of people. Growth was voiceless, it wasn’t democratic. Growth was
rootless, there wasn’t enough attention to culture. And in some cases growth was futureless, not
enough attention to the environment.
So we deduce from this, that all countries need to give more attention to the quality of growth.
To make sure that economic growth is a real means to these human ends and not merely something
that is assumed always to deliver.
DAVIDSON: And one of the more disturbing findings of the report too is that the
disparities between income is increasing in the world.
JOLLY: Certainly globally that is much more than most people realize. Even in 1970, the
gap between the richest countries and the poorest countries—the gap between the 20% of people
living in the richest countries and 20% of the world’s population living in the poorest that gap
was 30 to 1. Compare what other figures for the United States or Britain where the gap within
countries is more like nine or eight to one. Globally it was 30 to 1 in 1970, but its doubled
since then. So the global gap is now 61 to 1. And we warn in the report that if the trends of the
last 30 years or so continue, we will have a world gargantuan in its excesses and grotesque in
DAVIDSON: And the obvious result of that then must be social unrest.
JOLLY: Social unrest. More countries, as we’ve seen in too many African countries, caught
up civil conflict. Because suspicion, great inequality in genders, those frustrations which then
people look to find an excuse for. And if race or ethnicity or boundaries of the country seem
misplaced and are there as a convenient excuse, people blame that. But as I think you implied,
the real thing to blame is the widening economic inequalities, and the real solution is not
armies or military force but better development. And development that really helps people.
DAVIDSON: Where do political rights fall into the Human Development Report? It
seems like much of the focus is on basis human needs. But you did talk about equality between men
and women. And I’m wondering where other political rights are measured within the Human
JOLLY: They’re there very strongly. And what I was saying about the need for growth not
to be rootless, is perhaps a simple phrase, but implying not only culture but social harmony and
sensitivity to other people. We had in the 1991 report an attempt to incorporate an index of
compliance with human rights. It was known as the Humana Index. And the report took account of 40
different dimensions of human rights and then scored each country for compliance or
non-compliance. In fact, it led to a lot of controversy, partly because these issues can get very
controversial. But also because there were a lot of oversimplifications in the issue.
But there are complications. I mean if I quote, for example, gay rights or rights of life from
the earliest days, we know that from within most countries in the world there are controversies.
But perhaps there are bigger controversies sometimes between countries, depending on their
religious traditions and the religious traditions and the cultural traditions differ. So it
becomes quite sensitive to produce one index, one combination for all countries. What we’ve done
this year is to include at the end of the report a listing of all the agreed human rights
conventions of the United Nations that bear on people. And then to give, at least simply, a
listing of which countries have ratified those conventions and which countries have not. It’s not
as much as we had in 1991, but it is an attempt to recognize that man does not live by bread
alone. You’ve got to account for human rights… their right to choose, their freedom to
assemble, to meet, and so forth.
DAVIDSON: News accounts about poverty in the world tend to be rather sporadic and
isolated, and so you tend to get a fractured picture that’s really rather overwhelming and
depressing. I’m wondering, what your feeling is coming out with all this information from the
UNDP report is the overall human situation a glass half full, half empty situation? Do you see
genuine progress in the world? As I said with news accounts it’s difficult to really get a grasp
of the situation.
JOLLY: There’s no doubt that the glass is filling up. Let’s put it that way. Whether it’s
half full or half empty, we certainly know that many people in this world are not benefiting as
they easily could from the wealth of the globe and of most countries as they are at the moment.
But if you ask, how has life expectancy changed in the last 30-50 years. It has increased in
virtually every part of the world, including in Africa. Not only very rapidly, but it’s increased
more than in any 50-year period in the history of the world. And it’s certainly increased much
more than anyone expected in the 1950s and the 1960s. So those are quite strong tests. And you
can say the same if you talk about access to education, if you talk about access to clean water,
if you talk about fertility coming down, nutrition, malnutrition has been coming down.
Nutritional status has been going up and so forth.
There is much more hope from the record of the last 30-50 years than most people in the West
realize. I slip in, in the West, because if we were living in Asia at the moment, certainly in
China, if we were living in Malaysia, in Indonesia, Thailand, I think in many parts of India we
wouldn’t have the same pessimistic view of development that somehow so many people in Europe and
the United States have. I think it’s interesting to ask why, at this very moment when we’ve seen
such development success, is somehow the West losing faith in the efforts which they greatly
supported over the last 30-50 years?
DAVIDSON: That is a good question.
JOLLY: Well I think there are some, at least, initial answers. One is, that of course we
have our problems at home. And many people, perhaps many politicians, want to emphasis the
problems at home and want to play down the needs abroad. And even more so if you say, “But look,
you’re succeeding abroad.” It rather unlines that perhaps we’re not succeeding so well at home.
And certainly a second reason is, that poverty has been rising in the United States, in my own
country the United Kingdom over the last 10-15 years, rising quite a lot. So people from those
countries at least say, “But if poverty is rising in our countries and we’re so rich, surely
poverty must be rising everywhere.” Which isn’t true. Because countries in Asia, particularly,
have been doing much more about poverty. So I think there is a positive dimension to the messages
of the Human Development Report that people need to give more weight to.
DAVIDSON: Richard Jolly has been my guest on Common Ground. He’s the principle
author of this year’s Human Development Report, an annual publication of the United
Nations Development Program. Mr. Jolly is also Special Advisor to the Administrator of UNDP. For
Common Ground, I’m Mary Gray Davidson.
Our theme music was created by B.J. Leiderman. Common Ground was produced and funded by the Stanley Foundation.
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