Below is my abstract for our upcoming research seminar in Havana in collaboration with Universidad de la Habana.
By Morten Tønnessen, Associate professor of philosophy at University of Stavanger´s Department of social studies
There are several reasons why Brazil, Cuba and Norway are of special interest in an investigation of connections between prosperity and welfare: Brazil is one of the BRIC-countries (Wilson & Purushothaman 2003) and has undergone tumultuous economic, social and political changes the last two decades or so. Cuba is internationally known for its excellent results within the health care system given limited resources. And Norway currently has the highest score concerning human development according to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
A possible starting point for comparisons is the Human Development Index (HDI), which is calculated based on data on GNI per capita (PPP), life expectancy at birth, mean years of schooling (for adults) and expected years of schooling (for children). The overall HDI score for Cuba was 0,676 in 1990 and 0,775 in 2015 (ranked as no. 68), versus 0,611 in 1990 and 0,754 in 2015 for Brazil (ranked as no. 79), and 0,849 in 1990 and 0,949 in 2015 for Norway (ranked as no. 1). In comparison, the global average score in 2015 was 0.717. Both Cuba and Brazil have a «High human development», whereas Norway has «Very high human development» according to the UNDP.
However, since HDI includes GNI per capita as one of its factors, the index itself can not be used directly to look into connections between prosperity on one hand and welfare on the other. In 2015, GNI per capita was 67,614 USD in Norway, 14,145 in Brazil and 7,455 in Cuba (2011 PPP$), compared with a global average of 14,447. This can be taken to imply that whereas Norway had an average prosperity level per capita of 4–5 times the global average, Brazil´s average prosperity level was roughly on par with the global average, and Cuba´s average prosperity level was around half of the global average.
For most countries, there is a fairly good correlation between their HDI ranking and their GNI per capita ranking. This indicates that the welfare level often corresponds to a country´s prosperity level. In the HDI data for 2015, however, Cuba stands out with a «GNI per capita rank minus HDI rank» of 48, reflecting that Cuba is ranked as having the 69th highest HDI, with only the 117th highest GNI per capita. In fact, no country has a higher «GNI per capita rank minus HDI rank». This fact makes Cuba a particularly interesting country when comparing prosperity and welfare levels.
Life expectancy at birth can be considered as a key indicator of health conditions, and is 81.7 years in Norway, 79.6 in Cuba and 74.7 in Brazil, compared with a global average of 71.6. The life extectancy in Cuba is in the top two for countries grouped as having «High human development», and is actually higher than that of the United States (79.2) and Qatar (78.3), with their GNI per capita of 53,245 PPP$ and 129,916 PPP$ respectively.
Actual welfare levels depend not only on GNI per capita – a gross average – but also on a country´s level of inequality. Here, Norway stands out as a country with high equality, e.g. with one of the lowest Gini coefficients (for income inequality) in the world, whereas Brazil still has a high Gini coefficient and considerable equality challenges by other measures too (World Bank 2016). Unfortunately, there are no data for Cuba in this data set.
In addition to making use of data from the Human Development Index, I will consider alternative indices such as the Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI) and Index of Sustainable Economic Welfare (ISEW).
A few preliminary observations: Even though there is usually a clear correlation between the prosperity level and the welfare level of a country, there are important exceptions representing deviations from this correlation. The circumstances and specific approaches of these countries may have important lessons for welfare policies.
During our research seminar in Havana, I will be very interested in getting response on my preliminary analysis and receiving suggestions concerning relevant explanations, data and literature.
Human Development Index. URL: http://hdr.undp.org/en/content/human-development-index-hdi
Wilson, Dominic & Roopa Purushothaman 2003. Dreaming With BRICs: The Path to 2050. Global Economics Paper No: 99. Goldman Sachs.
World Bank (2016). World Development Indicators database. Washington, DC. http://data.worldbank.org. Accessed 14 October 2016.