As mentioned in the text, “Reflections on Human Development” by Mahbub ul Haq, after the Second World War, there was an obsession with economic growth models, national income accounts and the strict quantification of progress (Haq 24). What were forgotten were the human element and an understanding of what the true role of development was meant to be. Development was meant to enrich the lives of people in a variety of ways. By removing the humanity from indicators of progress, inequalities had the potential to and ultimately did arise. A nation state that had high levels of productivity after considerable development efforts might have been considered a success under the previous way of thinking, regardless of potentially high levels of income inequality and a lack of social mobility. To alleviate this, the Human Development Report was devised to change the conversation from, “how much is a nation producing?” to “how are its people faring?” (Haq 25).

With this in mind, the Human Development Report was created, exploring the relationship between economic growth and human development (Haq 26). There is always a policy issue that the report takes up in depth; in this case, the report covers “how work can enhance human development, given that the world of work is changing fast and that substantial human development challenges remain.” (United Nations Development Programme 1) The report goes on to define work as consisting not just of revenue generation schemes- which previous policy experts might be familiar with- but also by making the definition inclusive of volunteer, creative and care work. The definitions continue to be large in scope, and potentially ill-defined. The report talks of human development as being, “…a process of enlarging people’s choices—as they acquire more capabilities and enjoy more opportunities to use those capabilities.” I empathize with the post-World War II policy makers; it seems difficult to quantify enjoyment and its subsequent impact on the human condition. However, the report continues to discuss building human capabilities in tandem with an understanding that jobs in creative fields, like writing or painting, also have value to the human need for dignity.

While I agree with the human need for dignity, there is a point at which a country can be considered sufficiently advanced to have the luxury of those enterprises. While creative works will enhance the cultural identity of the nation-state, they are unlikely to positively affect economic indicators in the same way that a robust capabilities building development program would. This point is made later in a brief overview of the capabilities required in a post-conflict state:

“…it is important to focus on productive jobs that empower people, build agency, provide access to voice, offer social status and increase respect cohesion, trust and people’s willingness (to) participate in civil society.”

(United Nations Development Programme 22)

It goes on to mention those productive jobs as related to the health system, basic social services, public works programs and targeted community-based initiatives (Ibid). While the report talks at a macro level of the types of industries the developing world will need to invest in, in order to remain competitive and productive in an increasingly global commercial society, it doesn’t seem to acknowledge (other than the passage referenced above) that these changes and initiatives need to come in a certain order. More to the point, there are certain minimum ‘gates’ developing nations will have to pass, in order to ensure inequality doesn’t become rampant. When one segment of society advances rapidly toward a first world service economy, leaving the other segment behind in poverty, it becomes a classic case of developmental programs directly causing economic indicators to rise, while promoting income inequality.

While it is difficult to generate a universal roadmap to prosperity and understanding that not all things are equal between nation states, some attempt should be made to demonstrate what gates a host nation must pass before development continues to the next level. For example, the text mentions that it is “…wrong to think that countries lack the resources to address human development needs. …They often face large roadblocks to restructuring present priorities.” (Haq 29)

If a nation emerges from its post-conflict phase, and an acceptable percentage of its basic needs are met, then that civil government should be able to begin internal development programs targeted toward promoting human development, ensuring their economy can continue participating at a global level. Once the government has demonstrated both a capacity and buy-in to implement programs internally, then multilateral and bilateral organizations can begin to partner with them to develop those higher needs positions- those that maximize choice and promote dignity.

The report, published annually, is a tool that can provide development experts an understanding of what programs need to go where. A proper assessment of the target nation will determine when those programs become appropriate.


Works cited

Haq, M. u. (1995). Reflections on Human Development . New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

United Nations Development Programme. (2015). Human Development Report. New York, NY: United Nations Development Programme.