Thursday, November 12, 2009

What does the Legatum Prosperity Index measure?

Prosperity. However, my initial reaction when I first looked at the index was that it was more like an index of the quality of life or well-being than of prosperity. My perception of prosperity was too narrow. One of the purposes of the index is apparently to encourage people ‘to take a holistic view of prosperity’. The authors might have a point. Dictionary definitions of prosperity don’t focus solely on economics – they suggest that prosperous is synonymous with flourishing, successful and thriving.

The index has nine components or sub-indexes:
• Economic fundamentals
• Entrepreneurship and innovation
• Democratic institutions
• Education
• Health
• Safety and security
• Governance
• Personal freedom
• Social capital.

Is this a comprehensive list of factors affecting human flourishing? One apparent omission is environmental quality. Although this is considered to some degree in the indicators used for health, I get the impression that the authors’ view of prosperity does not place much value on the enjoyment that people obtain from the natural environment. I wonder whether that view is backed up by research findings.

The main problem I have with this report is that I am not sure how much substance lies behind it. The presentation is incredibly smooth, mainly because it is completely uninterrupted by references to research papers or data sources. The preface suggests that information on data sources is available on the prosperity web site. All I could find on that site, however, apart from the acknowledgement of input from research consultancy, Oxford Analytica, is a statement that the index draws on the Gallup World Poll and other data and includes only factors for which a statistical link with material wealth or life satisfaction can be shown.

The Legatum Institute claims to be a think tank. It seems to me that no organisation claiming to be a think tank should publish research findings without making sure that the underlying research is open to public scrutiny.

However, leaving aside my doubts, this report is worth looking at just to view the chart showing that countries with high prosperity tend to have high performance on all sub-indexes and those with low prosperity have low performance on nearly all sub-indexes.

Hamish Banks of Legatum has responded as follows:
"Thank you for writing about the Prosperity Index; may I refer you to the Prosperity Index website where you may download both the 55 page Methodology and 85 page Technical Appendix, which should answer your questions on the the data sources? (

So far as possible we have been transparent with the sources and in some cases the data is publicly available; in others, like the Gallup World Poll, it is proprietary and not ours to publish.
You are right in surmising that the non-inclusion of environmental quality is based on research findings: we did not simply choose the factors that appealed to us, but regressed more than 200 variables to the 79 for which there was a clear and strong correlation with prosperity - environmental quality qualified only, as you note, in the general health indicators."

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