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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

  • Lars Osberg

    (McCulloch Professor of Economics, Dalhousie University)

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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This item is provided by Centre for the Study of Living Standards & The Institutute for Research on Public Policy in its series The Review of Economic Performance and Social Progress with number v:1:y:2001:lo.
Handle: RePEc:sls:repsls:v:1:y:2001:lo
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  1. Andrew Sharpe, 1999. "A Survey of Indicators of Economic and Social Well-being," CSLS Research Reports 99wb, Centre for the Study of Living Standards.
  2. Julie A. Nelson, 1995. "Feminism and Economics," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 9(2), pages 131-148, Spring.
  3. Osberg, L. & Sharpe, A., 1998. "An Index of Economic Well-being for Canada," Department of Economics at Dalhousie University working papers archive 98-08, Dalhousie, Department of Economics.
  4. Michael Hagerty & Robert Cummins & Abbott Ferriss & Kenneth Land & Alex Michalos & Mark Peterson & Andrew Sharpe & Joseph Sirgy & Joachim Vogel, 2001. "Quality of Life Indexes for National Policy: Review and Agenda for Research," Social Indicators Research, Springer, vol. 55(1), pages 1-96, July.
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