University of Earth
Projects Overview (Explanations)
Human Development Project (Explanations)

Significance: Social and educational biases

Human Development Project

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1. Acknowledgement of non-economic dimensions

The limitations of the economic focus of human development have long been acknowledged in isolated statements. Examples include:

(a) Progress of people: The economist Frederick Harbison (1963) points out: "The progress of a nation depends first and foremost on the progress of its people. Unless it develops their spirit and human potentialities, it cannot develop much else - materially, economically, politically or culturally. The basic problem of most under-developed countries is not a poverty of natural resources but the underdevelopment of their human resources."

(b) "Human factor": In preparation for the first United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (Geneva, 1964), the secretariat of UNESCO (1964) prepared a report which included the following statement: "The ultimate justification for the development of human resources is man's basic right to the full realization of his potentialities. In addition, however, the development of human resources is a crucial factor in stimulating economic growth. Numerous studies analyzing the economic history of countries at varying stages of development arrive at a common conclusion: the increase in inputs of labour and capital in a given period does not fully account for the expansion of general output achieved in subsequent periods. Indeed, in a number of cases the role of these two factors in economic growth appears to be quite minor. The residual element - often referred to as the "human" factor - which is left after the contribution of labour and capital is allowed for can be very considerable. It has been tentatively estimated that in some developing countries this element accounts for up to half of the increase in the GNP. It is evident, therefore, that the human factor in economic growth is extremely important and warrants attention in efforts to achieve the targets of the (First) Development Decade."

(c) Full development of the human being: UNESCO, in a communication to the Preparatory Committee for the Second United Nations Development Decade, stated: "Development is meaningful only if man who is both the instrument and beneficiary is also its justification and its end. It must be integrated and harmonized; in other words, it must permit the full development of the human being on the spiritual, moral and material level, thus ensuring the dignity of man in society, through respect for the Declaration of Human Rights."

(d) "Social aspects": In an address to the Intergovernmental Conference on Institutional, Administrative and Financial Aspects of Cultural Policies (Venice, 1970), René Maheu, Director-General of UNESCO, stated: "The idea of development has, in fact, gradually become broader, deeper, and more varied so that going beyond the purely economic aspects of improving man's lot, it now also embraces the so-called social aspects...Man is the means and the end of development; he is not the one-dimensional abstraction of homo economicus, but a living reality, a human person, in the infinite variety of his needs, his potentialities and his aspirations...Even the economists now admit that development is not development unless it is total, and that it is no mere figure of speech to talk of cultural development: cultural development is part of total development".

(e) "Human capital" and human investment: In 1988 UNICEF noted: "As a response to the predicament of developing countries, the role of "human capital" in the development process came to be emphasized. That is to say, better education, better training, better health and better nutrition have a positive effect on productivity. While the logic of this argument is irrefutable, its application presents serious problems in an underdeveloped economy insofar as the financing of improvements in education, nutrition and health depends on previous output. The issue...demands a redefinition: Expenditure on social factors of development must be considered as investment in the quality of life of all human beings, right from earliest childhood. It represents also a choice between deflationary economic policies and a dynamic approach to development with the human resource as its prime mover...In this perspective, because "human investment" -- rather than physical capital accumulation -- is the essential basis for higher productivity, the truest investment of any community, rich or poor, developed or underdeveloped, capitalist or socialist, ancient or modern, is the investment in its own children." (UNICEF, The Child in South Asia; development as if children mattered).

(f) Job satisfaction: The documents of the International Labour Organisation hint at the general concern about job enrichment and the need to make the work experience a fulfilling one for the worker. The Director-General's annual reports note the programmes relating to conditions of work and life (namely occupational safety and health, social security, and remuneration and conditions of work) and to the development of human resources (namely vocational training and management development).

2. Social indicators of development

It is the interpretations of development implied in the previous note which continue to prevail internationally. The following are indication of increasing consensus on the importance of the social dimension:

(a) United Nations University: In the Goals, Processes and Indicators of Development project (1978-82) of the United Nations University's Human and Social Development Programme (1983), an effort to define human development led to consensus on the following: "Human development refers to the development of human beings in all life stages, and consists of a harmonious relationship between persons, society and nature, ensuring the fullest flowering of human potential without degrading, despoiling or destroying society or nature." The same report identifies four additional requirements for a human-centred development, namely: social equity, inter-regional and international equity, living presence of the future, sensitiveness to the present. No effort is made to defining "fullest flowering of human potential".

In an excellent follow-up report on the implications for social indicators, Ian Miles (1985, p.152) notes that: "Human development does imply a process. The term leaves it open as to whether that process necessarily has a culminating point or tends towards some limit. It is distinct from human resource development which...sees human potentials in terms of their contribution as means towards other ends. The use of the term "human development" implies instead the view that human beings themselves should be the end to which economic development, political development, and other social changes are means." Miles continues his report with reviews of human development as the satisfaction of human needs and the relation of such needs to political and social liberation. The insights of eastern cultures and of many schools of psychoanalysis and psychotherapy are totally absent.

(b) United Nations Development Programme: Possibly in response to such insights, the United Nations Development Programme initiated in 1990 an annual series: Human Development Report (1990) which attempts to define officially a "Human Development Index". The central message of the document is that while growth in national production is absolutely necessary to meet all essential human objectives, what is important is the translation of this growth into human development. To this end the report defines human development as "a process of enlarging people's choices. In principle, these choices can be infinite and change over time. But at all levels of development, the three essential ones are for people to lead a long and healthy life, to acquire knowledge and to have access to resources needed for a decent standard of living. If these essential choices are not available, many other opportunities remain inaccessible. But human development does not end there. Additional choices, highly valued by many people, range from political, economic and social freedom to opportunities for being creative and productive, and enjoying personal self-respect and guaranteed human rights. Human development has two sides: the formation of human capabilities -- such as improved health, knowledge and skills -- and the use people' make of their acquired capabilities -- for leisure, productive purposes or being active in cultural, social and political affairs. If the scales of human development do not finely balance the two sides, considerable human frustration may result."

The term "human development" here denotes both the process of widening people's choices and the level of their achieved well-being. The report elaborates an index of human development.


From Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential

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