2010 U.N. Human Development Report Released—U.S. Is Fourth Place


The HDI ranks countries using not only income, but also measures such at average level of educational attainment, life expectancy, income inequality, robbery rate, and gender equality. The New York Times points out that trends for human well-being have been strongly positive since 1970:

Over all, average life expectancy around the globe jumped to 70 years in 2010, up from 59 in 1970. School enrollment through high school reached 70 percent of eligible pupils, up from 55 percent, and average per capita income doubled to more than $10,000 in the 135 countries for which numbers were available. The statistics cover about 92 percent of the world's population.

But make no mistake—human evil and stupidity can reverse progress:

Zimbabwe is one of three countries — along with Congo and Zambia — that rank lower now over all than in 1970, with Zimbabwe at the very bottom of the list.

Zimbabwe was once one of the continent's most promising nations, known as a regional breadbasket whose people were highly literate. But it now has the lowest per capita income of the countries and territories for which the United Nations has data, two-fifths lower than the second worst-off nation, Congo.

Zimbabwe's per capita gross domestic project peaked in 1998, and has plunged since then to a level far below what it was in 1970.

The United States is fourth behind Norway, Australia, and New Zealand. Below are the top ten and bottom ten countries.

  1. Norway
  2. Australia
  3. New Zealand
  4. United States
  5. Ireland
  6. Liechtenstein
  7. Netherlands
  8. Canada
  9. Sweden
  10. Germany
  1. Mali
  2. Burkina Faso
  3. Liberia
  4. Chad
  5. Guinea-Bissau
  6. Mozambique
  7. Burundi
  8. Niger
  9. Congo (Democratic Republic of the)
  10. Zimbabwe

Go here to check out the HDI statistics of your favorite and least favorite countries.

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  1. Look at all those African countries at the bottom. Proof once again that blindly throwing money at a problem doesn’t fix it.

    1. Proof once again that blindly throwing money at a problem doesn’t fix it.

      I had to think about this one. So, what you’re saying is, we need to throw larger sums at it? Hey, maybe i could just become a slave to some African family, would that appease a few liberals?

    2. No. I am saying that foreign aid to Africa has been a popular pet cause for decades (see: Bono). But just throwing money at the continent did nothing to improve the lives of African people, and arguably made life worse.

      1. But it has improved my quality of life considerably.

        1. Mine too.

          1. Ditto

    3. truth. its a shame that the aid industry works the way it does – without active participation from those at the bottom. aid has failed miserably because it usually is administered in a top-down fashion. either it is given to weak and corrupt governments and leaders, or it is given to communities by controlled by donors (USAID, World Bank, etc). in my experience in development work, the most successful development aid is bottom-up/participatory (the local community is active in creating and designing projects and programs) and it is sustainable (positive change continues or is sustained even when funding stops). the US and the EU could drastically reduce aid spending if they adopted an approach that makes participation and sustainability the goals of aid – not unachievable, wide, overarching goals like “end poverty” (see the millenium development goals).

    4. Look at all those African countries at the bottom. Proof once again that blindly throwing money at a problem doesn’t fix it.

      One problem with that theory:


  2. Hey, Chad is there!!!!!

    1. And Niger is 8th. Racist!

    2. Where’s Tony?

    3. Chadster goes into denial….3,2,1

  3. Long live Central Banking and Fiat Currency!

  4. The HDI ranks countries using not only income, but also measures such at average level of educational attainment, life expectancy, income inequality, robbery rate, and gender equality.

    Income inequality? Gender equality?

    Does anybody else suspects that the statistic is pure bunk???

    1. By the way, I prefer gender inequality – Vive la diff?rence!


      1. Yeah. I like masc men and fem women. I’m not attracted to fem men.

        1. Femophobe!

      2. I like income inequality, too. I want the unproductive to have zero income and I want the sky to be the limit for the capable.

        1. You are so lucky. The lower limit of income is zero and the upper limit is – there is no limit! So, you have what you want as long as you live in a free country!

          1. Congratulations, you figured it out!

    2. What they are saying is that countries get bonus points for being run by modern liberals or socialists lite, regardless of whether that affects how nice a place is to live.

      Shorter: this rankings contain a significant level of bullshit.

      1. Doesn’t Norway have the highest suicide rate in the world? I’m sorry, but those winter days must be like 4 hours long.

        That alone puts it pretty far down the list of places to visit, let alone live.

        1. There’s a good reason for the expeditions and those well-made draken ships . . . those guys wanted to bail out of there!!!

        2. I think that’s Finland you’re thinking of.

    3. No.

    4. HDI complete bullshit. The fields are ranked completely arbitrarily, and in such a way that Socialist countries will rank higher than Capitalist countries. It’s just more left-wing propoganda (sure am seeing a lot of that on Reason all of the sudden).

      As Bryan Caplan said, “HDI isn’t a measure of how good your country is, it’s a measure of how ‘Scandanavian’ your country is.”

      1. True but Bryan Caplan also remarked that HDI has a remarkable correlation with GDP per capita. So I don’t mind HDI much though i prefer GDP/capita (taking into account natural resource wealth like in Norway or kuwait, or tax havens like lichtenstein)

        1. I like (GDP-2G)/capita.

    5. HDI complete bullshit. The fields are ranked completely arbitrarily, and in such a way that Socialist countries will rank higher than Capitalist countries. It’s just more left-wing propoganda (sure am seeing a lot of that on Reason all of the sudden).

      As Bryan Caplan said, “HDI isn’t a measure of how good your country is, it’s a measure of how ‘Scandanavian’ your country is.”

    6. not sure how they compute gender inequality but i know that they use the gini index for income inequality. its true that this is a really awful way to measure development. income is highly skewed in the united states but it does not mean we are undeveloped. the problem many development academics and aid workers have is that they view inequality as bad in and of itself – but inequality is less important than absolute poverty. put it this way: if i earn $100,000 per year and you earn $1billion, there is a vast income inequality in our society. but i’m still earning $100,000, so clearly i am not living in poverty.

      inequality is a virtually meaningless score, because it doesn’t matter how rich the rich are – it matters how POOR the poor are. poverty reduction should be the focus, not income equality. if equality is the goal, we could all be equally poor. if poverty reduction is the goal, we can have a less egalitarian but far richer society.

    7. Why would the U.N. make anything up?

  5. Over all, average life expectancy around the globe jumped to 70 years in 2010, up from 59 in 1970.

    Is it a “jump” when it happens over 40years? Outside of “climate science”, I mean.

    1. Yeah, sounds like it was constant from 1970 through 2009 and then skyrocketed up by 21 years.

  6. average level of educational attainment

    Actually, the variables are “mean years of schooling” and “expected years of schooling” (hdr.undp.org). Like most status symbols, education is measured in costs, not results.

  7. So, as I understand it, having a grossly wasteful educational system, and an economy so bad that men and women are equally impoverished across the board, will actually improve your score under this thing?

    1. Not necessarily – you also have to have a very stoic stamina and a determination to live past 70 despite the worst your government can throw at you. Norway thus wins them all, North Korea, alas, doesn’t, even though they are pretty much the same . . . the NK people don’t possess the stoicism of the vikings . . .

      1. And to continue your track record of stupidity …

      2. the stoicism of the vikings

        The vikings were defeated by a skinny Jewish carpenter who had died 1000 years prior.

        That does not sound very stoic to me.

    2. You are correct. Which is why HDI is bullshit. But like I said, it’s just Socialist propaganda, meant to distract you from the fact that Socialist countries have lower per capita GDP’s than Capitalist countries.

      For instance, with “free” education, even your janitors have PHD’s. Great! So you wasted a lot of resources confusing the hell out of people who only wanted, and would have done just fine getting through life with a few simple aphorisms.

      1. While I agree with your sentiment about “socialist propaganda”, I think I may disagree with your reasoning for that thinking. The HDI was developed because the development community realized that defining “development” as “increasing GDP” is a really awful way to help poor countries.

        Increasing GDP is important, but not the only indicator of development. However, what many proponents of the HDI fail to recognize is that higher GDP generally makes the other qualities (education, life expectancy) more attainable. That is, countries with higher GDPs generally have more money to spend on health or schooling.

        What I see as the major flaw in the HDI is that by predetermining these things – health, schooling, equality – they have chosen what values are important. What development should truly mean is enabling more choices for people. Reducing poverty (increasing real income) is the surest way to increase choices for people in developing countries. When individuals have more choices and more opportunities to exercise their choices (again, via increased income) then this is development. HDI predetermines those choices and calls it development. This is why I think its “socialist” – a bunch of elites in board rooms make choices and value judgments for millions of poor around the globe.

        In sum, GDP should not ever be the bottom line for development agencies, but it is a helpful measure. I think the most important indicator of development is income levels for individuals and families. (And none of this $1 a day bullshit, which doesn’t account for the fact that a dollar in Congo is different from a dollar in Kenya which is different from a dollar in Tanzania.)

  8. Maybe now Canada can shut the fuck up.

    1. You beat me to it. Vancouverites especially revel in their “OMG most livable city in the world” status. If I thought this would get my Canadian family off my back for moving to the gun-infested US, I’d show it to them.

      1. Most Canadians I know take to heart any stats that make Canada look better, and dismiss/ignore any stats that make the US look better. It’s a religion to them, or at least denial. If Canadians really believed their country was better, they wouldn’t need constant affirmation that it was so.

        1. That is my experience too. Not only do I get crap from my family, it even seems like the Canadian border guards are offended at my defection to the US. It is classic short man-style overcompensation.

          1. Blessed be the self-righteous for they shall inherit Canada.

    2. I like the US and wouldn’t mind living there. But 300,000,000 people is too many people for my taste.*

      *OTOH, the Pacific Northwest in particular has some nice uncrowded spots.

  9. How the hell is NZ so high. Bunch of nonsense.

    1. The All-Blacks and Weta. They both rock.

      1. The AB’s do indeed rock, but not with Stephen Donald at 1st five.

        1. If we really deserved such a high HDI, then Nick Evans would still be around playing 10 for North Harbour in the domestic provincial competition. 😉

  10. People often wonder what the middle east will be like after their oil reserves are used up. I wonder what Norway will be like after its petro-state status has worn off and they can’t just pump wealth out of the ground.

    1. Igloos and seal blubber?

    2. Nothing to wonder about. Their statistical rankings will fall and they’ll start to denationalize and deregulate in order to keep up with the rest of the world.

      Although, to their credit, the Norwegians already have a lower corporate tax rate than the US, so at least on some level, they get it.

      1. i will think about that the next time i drink a $15 beer while eating my $20 happy meal in Stavanger.

        1. At least you can still get that Happy Meal in Stavanger. That is more than San Francisco natives can say

  11. I look at that top 10 and I think I could live and be happy in any of those places. They all have more pros and than cons. The bottom 10 I don’t even want to see on TV.

  12. O.M.,

    Does anybody else suspects that the statistic is pure bunk???

    There is absolutely positively no BS in these stats.

    Unfortunately you have not been privileged to a proper education, or you would see this immediately.

  13. I know a lot of us are upset by the presence of all those loony-left Socialist countries in the top ten, but it should be pointed out that ‘Socialism’ varies quite a bit in its definition. The countries shown do have a lot of expensive welfare programmes, but they actually rank pretty high in most measures of economic freedom (regulation, licencing, labour laws, that sort of thing). It’s been a while since I looked at the figures, but the only country shown here with a really high level of regulation (by world standards) is Germany. Sweden, New Zealand, Canada, and Ireland, for instance, actually have some of the freest markets in the world. (Which does show how much room there is for improvement.)
    The Socialist countries with much more regulation, such as France and Italy, rank much lower on this list.

  14. The fact that Zimbabwe is last shows that those who drafted this list are biased and overly influenced by crazy tea-party types.

    Since Mugabe has taken control of the country, he has lessened racial inequality, as well as income inequality.

    He has also successfully implemented a inflation, something Bernanke has been unable to do. It is a indisputable fact that inflation is necessary for economic growth.

    The tea-parties and Republicans in this country have blocked the will of the vast majority of Americans, thus impeding democracy.

    Mugabe has prevented the opposition from thwarting democracy and has thus successfully granted the wishes of ordinary Zimbabwe citizens by banishing racial inequality, promoting inflation and therefore allowing for more economic opportunity for its people.

    1. Quite right.
      I don?t think I could intentionally screw up a country as badly as Mugabe has unintentionally, nor do I think any other poster here could. Bring the breadbasket of Africa into starvation and create megainflation? I lack the imagination, or perhaps the faith.
      PS: Zimbabwe has nothing to do with foreign aid, just the product of a megalomaniac.

  15. Liechtenstein

    How hard is it to make the top ten for a European county with only 35 thousand residents?

    I will give them credit for actually remaining an independent nation of only 35 thousand in Europe…but once that achievement is met they don’t have to do shit for a military and hardly anything for trade and transportation infrastructure. Compared to Norway let alone the US they have it way easy and should not be allowed to be on this list. Hell the US probably has many states if considered separate nations would pull ahead to the #1 spot.

    In fact thinking about it to keep things equal the EU should be considered one county if you want an accurate comparison to the US.

    1. I didn’t even see Vatican City on the list at all. Yes, I clicked on the link. I saw Italy but not Vatican City. I think they must be sizist.

  16. Where’s North Korea?

    1. The counterrevolutionary forces have lied to the people of the world because the legitimate government of Korea is not listed as the most developed country in the World.

    2. Where’s North Korea?

      It will be added when you figure out how to get remotely accurate mortality rates, GDP, education levels, ect. from the Hermit Kingdom.

  17. Heh i guess only a racist like me would notice that all the top ten are White countries and all the bottom ten are black.


    ok ok ill stop!

    1. You’re a positionist, because you assume being in top is better than being on the bottom. (Not a sexual reference).

  18. What did Zambia do wrong? I thought they were okay nowadays.

  19. Is Michael Moore asking where Cuba is on this list?

    1. This report will pave the way for shake-downs for multi-billion-dollar aid packages. The lefties will play along, all to the delight of the Swiss bankers.

  20. The HDI has its metrics and they are typically nanny-state ridden but it doesnt look THAT bad overall. Norway as no. 1 may be somewhat biased due to oil, otherwise it would be similar to Sweden, which made it to no. 10.
    BUT in Scandinavia there is a problem with alcoholism which combined with a high tax govt results in it being prohibitive for the normal joe to go out drinking. Dining out is also heavily taxed. I?ve been told the nightlife in Oslo lasts little more than an hour, the people get tanked up at home and they go out pissed and drink a couple of beers, which is what they can afford.

    I can?t understand a high standard of living correlating with not being able to afford going to the pub, but those are my metrics.

    How many people emigrate to Scandinavia? Mostly the “asylum” crowd, welfare recipients.

  21. I think it is a huge underreported story that the world has gotten so much better and the human race has accomplished so much in the last 40 years. Yes many problems remain (including the severe poverty that affects 1/4 of the world’s population), but while addressing those problems let’s keep in mind the enormous amount of succesful problem-solving that has evidently been occurring in the recent past. We actually are living in a golden age.

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