Determining a country’s development status without economists

There are numerous ways to determine the development level of a country, both economic (Gross Domestic Product) and social (Gross National Happiness). But those of us who spend our years bouncing from one country to another begin to establish our own. This list started when I realised that a city or village should be classified by whether or not you could get Coke Zero. Sounds silly but it reflects two key determinants: one the logistical infrastructure of a country and two the dietary concerns of the people. Coke zero can only be popular where obesity or a healthy lifestyle have become relevant.

So here are a few others that I’ve collected over time – add yours in to the comments below.taxi1

  • Number of attendees invited to a wedding
  • Importance of driving or motor boat licences
  • Prevalence of corrugated iron sheets
  • Number of shopping malls
  • Prevalence of rubbish on the streets and number of people employed (formally and informally) to collect and sort rubbish
  • Number of stray dogs/cats
  • Noise pollution which transfers to light pollution as a town develops
  • Air conditioning temperatures in public places like trains, coaches and shopstx3
  • Visibility of cleft palates amongst the population
  • Accessibility and availability of pirate goods
  • Number of passengers allowed in one taxi
  • Number of national tourists
  • Number of people and animals on a motorbike
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9 thoughts on “Determining a country’s development status without economists

  1. 1) How many people are watching when you eat in public?
    2) Are the government offices keeping normal hours?
    3) Do you hear gunfire at night?
    4) Are landmines a problem in the countryside?
    5) Do aid groups fly flags and string tape at project sites?
    6) How well armed is the convoy that accompanies the president of the country and and does he mostly dress in military fatigues?
    7) Does the president of the country travel unexpectely and mostly at night?
    8) When you land at the airport are people leaving or coming?
    9) How often do you drink with local embassy staff and are they glad to see you?
    10) How many compartments do you keep in your mind?

    Duke Miller, Living and Dying with Dogs

  2. Duke gives some great extra indicators. Love no. 7, 8 and 9.
    I have never seen embassy staff happier with my (healthy) arrival than in war-torn countries…

    Some other indicators:
    1) Number of people you as expat have to live with under one roof you’d normally never consider sharing a place with – this is like a composite indicator, because the number of people in 1 house as well as the type of people change
    2) Number of NGO license plates as % of total traffic passing in 5 minutes
    3) Number of cars with no license plates at all as % of total traffic passing in 5 minutes
    4) Kalashnikov density per square kilometer
    5) Number of guns that are not bought in a toy store in the hands of kids
    6) Number of newspaper retractions
    7) The color and smell of tap water
    8) Number of people offering ‘official documents’ outside of the gates of government buildings
    9) Number of top generals in the army
    10) Size of the president’s portrait in government buildings and schools.

    When I worked on medical supply chains, I would track the supply chain and infrastructure needed to get a cold beer. You’d be amazed about the inventiveness people display when it comes to getting a cold beer in remote locations. Great to apply that local knowledge to vaccines – not in the same fridges though…

      • Well, I think some medical supply specialists – like, ‘moi’ in the past – might disagree on beer and vaccines in the same fridge. A standard fridge used for beer does not give a very stable temperature – it goes up and down, it will be opened too often to get beer, not the most hygienic, and often in rural settings you’ll find a big frozen block of ice in the top and a puddle of water in the bottom. Not the best conditions for vaccines… Then again, I’d go for it if it is the only thing we’d have, but would put a temperature logger in it to make sure the vaccines did not get too hot or too cold.

        But well, off-topic from the non-economic indicators for development part!

  3. 1. Presence of food aid distribution programs in farming communities including food for work programs.
    2. Proportion of foreigners to indigenous on numbers using air travel.

  4. Pingback: The Real World: Developing countries | WhyDev

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