World Human Development 1870-­2007

Human development

How has world wellbeing evolved over the long run? How does the West compare to the Rest? Have their differences widened? How do regions in the Rest compare to each other? Economists usually address these questions in terms of per capita income (See Oulton, 2012). Human wellbeing is widely viewed, however, as a multidimensional phenomenon, in which income is only one facet. As a matter of fact, attempts at providing more comprehensive measures of living standards go back to the origins of modern national accounts (Engerman, 1997). Non-­‐income dimensions of wellbeing (infant mortality, life expectancy at birth, height, literacy, etc.) have been used individually or combined into a composite index (physical quality of life, basic needs, and, more recently, human development) to provide welfare measures that go beyond GDP.

Human development was originally defined as “a process of enlarging people’s choices”(UNDP, 1990, p. 10), namely, enjoying a healthy life, acquiring knowledge and achieving a decent standard of living. These achievements provide individuals with freedom to choose (Fleurbaey, 2009) and the opportunityto lead lives they have reasons to value” (Sen, 1997, p. 1959). Human development can, thus, be depicted as positive freedom (Desai, 1991, p. 356) by which individuals are granted access to goods and services, including property, that allow them to develop their personal potential.