Political Economy of Development A17/18
Essay Question: Income per capita is the most narrow yet best measure of human welfare. Discuss.
Word count: 2,499
Economic development and progress are the main driving forces behind state policies and international politics in the world today. Income per capita via the GDP method, despite being limited in its scope, is thus considered the predominant driver of human development by traditional economists.
However, this essay will attempt to disprove that proposition. Income per capita is too narrow of a determinant and at best, a single factor that contributes to human welfare and development. This essay will explore alternative measures such as the Capability Approach, Human Development Index and the Social Development Index, which regardless of their own limitations, offer a more holistic view of human welfare.
Geographer Garrett Nagle views development as not merely an increase in per capita income but also as an accompanying modernisation of the economy (Nagel, 2015).
For a long time, states have considered economic progress as a means to achieve social progress for their citizens. This perspective is based staunchly in neoclassical economic theory, where the levels of consumption in an economy at the individual or household level are considered derivative of utility. Any measure of subjective wellbeing such as emotional happiness and satisfaction is considered unscientific and untrustworthy. However, the objectivist view has been challenged to great lengths in recent years as more research has determined that there are often inconsistencies between how people feel and what they value in life. The increasing scope of behavioural economics is a testament to this. Moreover, organisations such as the United Nations now employ a different meaning to development as observed from the establishment of the Human Development Index and other indices that capture human welfare across different paradigms.
Income Per Capita
The income per capita approach calculates the total value added by a country’s residents without taking into account the devaluation of capital. Value added by a local resident or corporation abroad is calculated for finding out the gross national income (GNI) whereas gross domestic product (GDP) is calculated without taking into account the value added by local residents or corporations abroad. In both cases, the total value added is divided by the total population of the country to ascertain its income per capita. Development occurs when the increase in national income is greater than the growth in population (Todaro & Smith, 2015). Although this approach seems narrow on the surface, it entails certain advantages – incomes and populations of countries are readily available, which make accurate calculations easy and comparisons between countries can be made methodically and without difficulty (Tucker, 2010). However, as the subsequ...