Thursday, March 7, 2013

Venezuela's Human Development Index

In response to yesterday's post, several commenters suggested looking at the UN's human development index, a composite measurement which combines components of education, life expectancy, and income.  I was able to generate the above figure at the UN's HDI website; which again compares Venezuela to Brazil, Mexico, Argentina, and Chile.

I think the comparison is important.  Most countries have developed significantly in recent decades, so absolute improvements from the beginning to the end of Chavez's reign don't tell us much - we want to know if he did better or worse than governments in somewhat similar countries.

I agree this index places things in a different perspective.  Recalling that Chavez came to power in 1999, we see that there was a long period from 1980 to the late 1990s when Venezuela was doing much worse than its neighbors (possibly why the citizenry decided they needed Chavez).  After 1999, Venezuela appears to have done better than its neighbors.

I'm somewhat puzzled by this - given that yesterday we found that income and life expectancy did worse in Venezuela, this implies either that Chavez massively outperformed on the education front, or that there is a data or analysis issue of some kind.  I will try to investigate further tomorrow.


Unknown said...

I think the issue is just more complex than we want to belive. To our eyes, Chavez was a bit of a nut. But for the sake of discussion, let's say that as President, he was tasked to improve the quality of life in multiple areas (education, personal income, health, lifespan, environmental health, etc.). If it could be shown that he made a qualitative difference in even one of those areas while NOT also taking the country back in other areas, then for a country that is still struggling to leave the third world, we'd have to say that he was successful. When you think about it, our own presidents are lucky to have a positive influence in even one aspect of our quality of life. That exercise in thinking does not excuse Chavez's failures or that he could have done more given the oil export money. But let's also remember that his northern neighbor (the U.S.) didn't exactly help him either. Pretty hard to accomplish a lot when a country like the U.S. is actively trying to knock you off.

dr2chase said...

Some changes take time -- an elementary school principal we know says it takes five years to change a school -- so I don't know what you can read into the life expectancy index from the previous post.

On economic well-being, I think you might want to try a log scale to help reduce the effect of big numbers on the RHS of the graph, so we could better see changes in growth. Things don't look that wonderful pre-Chavez, either.

And how sure are we that US opposition to his rule did not play a part in this?

russell1200 said...

I find Argentina even harder to figure out. There economy collapsed sometime around 2002, and you have all sorts of stories about continuing problems, but it doesn't seem to budge their numbers at all.

It makes me wonder what any of this is actually measuring.

Douglas said...

I would think life expectancy would be a significantly lagging indicator. Infant mortality seems like a more timely measure, and this dropped substantially under Chavez, but unfortunately the Guardian article doesn't include comparisons with other countries.

The larger story -- not told enough in the US I think -- is the remarkable advances throughout South America in 2000s, including Venezuela. Whenever I get depressed about that otherwise dismal decade, I think of this real and important success story.

HalFiore said...

As an old hydrologist, my first thought is "Antecedent conditions." Education might have a lot less inertia than health outcomes and wealth.

James said...

I think that forming one's opinion in light of the numbers is a great way to go. I have another approach that I like to use - I like to go to the country and ask the people there what they think.

I was in Venezuela about 5 years ago and asked about 16 different people what they thought of Hugo Chavez. My sample was skewed towards upper middle class professionals (engineers, pharmacists, MBA students) because that is what I am and because I thought that the responses from the very rich and the very poor would be easily predicted.

To my surprise almost everyone replied the same way. After an initial eye roll from them followed by my insistence that I really wanted to know what they thought, pretty much everyone replied: "Look - Chavez isn't perfect, but he is definitely better than the alternative." The one exception was a guy who was much less well off financially, who thought Chavez was the greatest thing since sliced bread.

Unknown said...

This is really interesting. I also saw that Venezuela has an HDI of a highly developing country, but this does not match to what we see in the news and hear about the regime. Even with Maduro their HDI is above 0.7 how is this possible?