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The Social Progress Index (SPI) rates 132 countries on more than 50 indicators, including health, sanitation, shelter, personal safety, access to information, sustainability, tolerance and inclusion and access to education.
The SPI asks questions such as whether a country can satisfy its people's basic needs and whether it has the infrastructure and capacity to allow its citizens to improve the quality of their lives and reach their full potential.
"The index shows that economic growth does not automatically lead to social progress," Michael Green, executive director of the Social Progress Imperative, a non-profit organization that publishes the index, told Thomson Reuters Foundation.
"If we are to tackle problems such as poverty and inequality, it shows that measuring economic growth alone is not enough."
We in the United States grow up celebrating ourselves as the world’s most powerful nation, the world’s richest nation, the world’s freest and most blessed nation.
In some ways we indisputably are, but a major new ranking of livability in 132 countries puts the United States in a sobering 16th place. We underperform because our economic and military strengths don’t translate into well-being for the average citizen.
In the Social Progress Index, the United States excels in access to advanced education but ranks 70th in health, 69th in ecosystem sustainability, 39th in basic education, 34th in access to water and sanitation and 31st in personal safety. Even in access to cellphones and the Internet, the United States ranks a disappointing 23rd, partly because one American in five lacks Internet access.
This Social Progress Index ranks New Zealand No. 1, followed by Switzerland, Iceland and the Netherlands. All are somewhat poorer than America per capita, yet they appear to do a better job of meeting the needs of their people. Canada came in seventh, the best among the nations in the G-7. Germany is 12th, Britain 13th and Japan 14th.
All this goes to what kind of a nation we want to be, and whether we put too much faith in G.D.P. as a metric.
Over all, the United States’ economy outperformed France’s between 1975 and 2006. But 99 percent of the French population actually enjoyed more gains in that period than 99 percent of the American population. Exclude the top 1 percent, and the average French citizen did better than the average American. This lack of shared prosperity and opportunity has stunted our social progress.