Global MetricsWhile there are many websites that offer a detailed analysis of the problems facing the world’s poor and their solutions, a deeper understanding of global metrics and indexes will help curious supporters conduct their own research and make informed decisions on the economic, political and social statuses of impoverished countries around the world. Often times, a combination of multiple indicators from multiple governmental and NGO bodies is necessary to form a full picture of a country’s attitudes towards impoverished populations, the economy and governance.

The Three Main Global Metrics

To understand the economy of a country, researchers will look at global metrics such as gross domestic product (GDP), Gini index and the unemployment rate. The GDP is a broad metric measuring the total value of goods produced in the domestic market of the economy. The Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) cites the GDP as “the most popular indicator of [a] nation’s overall economic health.” What the BEA fails to mention is that GDP ignores wealth inequality, quality of life and overall happiness of the labor force.

The Gini index, on the other hand, measures only income inequality. The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) defines the Gini index as “the extent to which income…among individuals or households within an economy deviates from a perfectly equal distribution.” Scores closer to 100 indicate a more unequal society while a score closer to zero indicates a more equal society.

The unemployment rate measures more than just the amount of population able to work but not working. More specifically, it measures the number of people in the labor force looking for a job but who remain unemployed. These three indicators working together can paint a more accurate picture than one alone, but without indicators of political and social health, the overall analysis of a country remains foggy.

Other Important Global Metrics

To better understand the political situation of a country, readers can consult indexes and indicators from a multitude of NGO and governmental watchdogs.

  1. Freedom House creates a comprehensive guide to the status of democracy in each country yearly. Freedom House breaks down its analysis into three categories: “freedom rating, political rights and civil liberties.” Along with these three categories, Freedom House also offers an overview of the key issues facing a countries democracy or lack thereof.
  2. The Economist also offers a comprehensive Democracy Index, which takes into account five categories. These include the “electoral process and pluralism; civil liberties; the functioning of government; political participation and political culture.” Freedom House ranks countries from free to not free whereas The Economist ranks each country in a list that helps give global context to each situation.
  3. The U.N.’s Human Development Index (HDI) measures indicators of social happiness to round out the political and economic indicators and give a completely holistic view of a country. HDI takes into account a number of complex factors but, in short, it consists of “a summary of average achievements in key dimensions of human development [such as] a long and healthy life, being knowledgeable and [having] a decent standard of living.” With a broad scope, HDI can look at metrics that other indexes cannot, such as education and life expectancy. Along with HDI, the World Happiness Report (WHR) offers a holistic analysis of how politics, economics and other indicators of happiness can shed light on a particular country or region. The WHR reports that they “focus on the technologies, social norms, conflicts and governmental policies” that change reports of happiness.

Overall Data Collection

A good place to start for general research into specific countries is the CIA World Factbook. The Factbook includes a summary of the country in question and will provide global metrics mentioned such as GDP, ethnic groups, population growth rate, government type and even electricity access. Global metrics are relatively intuitive, but using only one will offer a narrow view into a specific sector of a countries society.

For instance, according to the CIA World Factbook, the real GDP growth rate of Ethiopia is the fifth highest in the world in 2017, but 29.6 percent of the Ethiopian population lived below the poverty line and the unemployment rate was ranked 180 out of 218 countries studied. Just looking at the real GDP growth rate would lead to the assumption that the economy of Ethiopia thrives and that all members of society benefit from the expansion. However, other global metrics tell a different more concerning story.

Freedom House, along with its democracy in the world report, also operates a number of programs around the world in the interest of freedom. Freedom House’s “Latin America Program” seeks to help “citizens defend their rights against government abuses in Latin America and the Caribbean.” Freedom House has similar programs in both Southeast Asia and sub-Saharan Africa that work towards the political rights of citizens through improving factors such as the rule of law and civic knowledge and engagement. In this way, Freedom House goes beyond just identifying factors that exacerbate global poverty. It goes a step further and also implements programs to fight it.

Having a well-informed viewpoint on the factors that allow for systemic ills in nations across the world helps supporters make informed decisions about how to combat global poverty whether through advocacy, donation or personal action. Some NGOs go beyond observing and documenting poverty to implementing plans to combat it. Whichever approach is used, global metrics help people to stay informed from many different approaches to help enact change.

Spencer Julian
Photo: Flickr