Norway tops global Social Progress Index
Norway has knocked Sweden off the pedestal as the world’s most socially progressive country, beating its Nordic neighbour in the Social Progress Index 2015 largely because of Norwegians’ superior “access to information and communications”.
The index, conceived at the World Economic Forum’s Philanthropy and Social Investing council in 2009 as an alternative to Gross Domestic Product, was topped by New Zealand in 2014, although Sweden would have come top if the same criteria had been used as in 2015.
Norway's edge this year came from taking top ranking in ‘the Foundations of Wellbeing’ category. It lagged in ninth place in both the "Basic Human Needs' and 'Opportunity' categories, however.
Sweden was more balanced across the three categories, coming third in ‘Foundations of Wellbeing’, eighth in Basic Human Needs, and fifth in the Opportunity category.
The index, developed by the Social Progress Imperative, a US non-profit group, gauges factors such as healthcare, education, safety, personal freedoms and access to food, water and shelter to assess what makes a country a good place to live in.
Released on Thursday, the Social Progress Index 2015 aims to give a different assessment of the wealth of the 133 countries surveyed than simple Gross Domestic Product.
Third place in the 2015 index taken by Switzerland, followed by Iceland, New Zealand, Canada, Finland, Denmark, The Netherlands, and Australia.
According to Michael Green, the organisation’s chief executive, GDP is simply an "economic proxy" for wellbeing.
"Let's not go through those proxies, let's measure these things directly," he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in an interview.
The fact that New Zealand came fifth in the index, despite its citizens having only half the average income of Norwegians, demonstrated, he argued, that social progress was not tightly wedded to GDP per person.
Similarly Costa Rica ranked 28th in the survey, coming two spots above Italy despite Italians enjoying roughly two and a half times higher GDP per person.
Many of world’s biggest economies ranked outside the top 10, with the UK taking 11th place, ahead of Germany (14th), the US (16th) and Spain (20th), and with France falling out of the top 20 to languish in 21st place.
After a time in which French economist Thomas Piketty has almost single-handedly made the world's increasing income and wealth inequality an important issue again, Green noted how little social progress, as measured by his index, tallied with income equality within a country, as measured by the "Gini coefficient”.
“Quite honestly I think we were pretty surprised to find that we couldn't find a significant relationship," Green told Thomson Reuters, pointing to countries in Latin America which combine “reasonable levels of social progress" with high income inequality.
Absolute rather than relative poverty, he argued, was a much stronger determinant of low social progress, with the countries at the bottom of the index — Central African Republic, Chad, Afghanistan, Guinea, Angola, Yemen, Niger and Ethiopia — also tending to have low GDP per person.