Laura Levis in Harvard Magazine:
What are the ingredients of a healthy, inclusive society—one that offers its citizens opportunity, happiness, and a positive quality of life? According to Lawrence University Professor Michael E. Porter, models of human development based on economic growth alone are incomplete; nations that thrive provide personal rights, nutrition and basic medical care, ecosystem sustainability, and access to advanced education, among other goods—and it is possible to measure progress toward providing these social benefits. Porter’s 2015 Social Progress Index (SPI)—released in April and developed in collaboration with Sarnoff professor Scott Stern of MIT’s Sloan School and the nonprofit Social Progress Imperative—ranks 133 countries on multiple dimensions of social and environmental performance in three main categories: Basic Human Needs (food, water, shelter, safety); Foundations of Wellbeing (basic education, information, health, and a sustainable environment); and Opportunity (freedom of choice, freedom from discrimination, and access to higher education). Porter considers the index “the most comprehensive framework developed for measuring social progress, and the first to measure social progress independently of gross domestic product (GDP).”
The index, he explains, is in some sense “a measure of inclusiveness,” developed based on discussions with stakeholders around the world about what is missed when policymakers concentrate on GDP (which tallies the value of all the goods and services produced by a country each year) to the exclusion of social performance. The framework focuses on several distinct questions: Does a country provide for its people’s most essential needs? Are the building blocks in place for individuals and communities to enhance and sustain well-being? Is there opportunity for all individuals to reach their full potential?
The United States may rank sixth among countries in terms of GDP per capita, but its results on the Social Progress Index are lackluster.