Needs and Wants: What is Social Progress and How Should it be Measured
In: The Review of Economic Performance and Social Progress 2001: The Longest Decade: Canada in the 1990s
In this chapter, Lars Osberg has the daunting task of examining the conceptual issues involved in defining and measuring social progress. As he highlights in his introduction, while much had been made of the fact that Canada in 2000 earned first place in the United Nations' Human Development Index, other indices have produced much less brilliant results. Modern pluralist societies, however, have no common benchmark from which to define the "good" society. As a result, Osberg argues, "social progress" in a liberal society must be measured in the "enabling" sense that a society progresses when it enables more of its citizens to achieve the kind of life they personally value. Some of the empirical difficulties involved in constructing a measure of the attainment of social and economic rights are discussed and several quantitative indices of social progress are examined using the prism of human rights.
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