Usefulness of Development and human development in understanding differences between nation states Essay

Economists and politicians have brought up the term “development” in the 20th century. But the West is familiar with the term for centuries. This term is closely related with Modernization and Industrialization are other words directly connected with economic development. The term ‘development’ may be given different meaning as every individual’s perspective allows him in a particular period of time (Coopper.1999). The world has passed through feudalism, Colonialism, Capitalism etc., to reach the present state of development. It has been subject to colonial forces of all kinds. Even though it is said that Colonialism involves the colonization of a country of dark skinned people by a lighter-skinned people, it is not so always. We also come across different countries being subjected to slavery by people of the same origin (Issues of race and imperialism). The world has gone through these stages of development and each stage has left its mark on the face of earth. While we study development or human development, a basic knowledge of these words and the process are necessary to understand their influence on the difference between nation state.

To consider and understand the influence of development we should strive to understand about nation states, how individual nation states were formed and how the world developed to its present form. We can use the term ‘development’ to trace the formation of the world order till the end of twentieth century and then turn to ‘human development’, which was a term used only by the end of twentieth century (Coopper.1999).

The concept of development

The development of a nation is a very complex multi-faceted notion. It is a much broader concept than income and national GDP. The rate of growth of income of individuals, especially the common working class can be considered as a judge of progress of economies over time. It includes what people with diverse and broad expectations, of the “good life” that each society envisages for itself. Even though the concept includes growth of income level and economic growth, it can go well beyond these as well. The changes should not only be on the large scale it should also involve whole scale social and economy wide transformations (Haq.2009).

The formation of nation state

The order in the modern world is established by nation states. States are the law makers; they make sure that these are observed and breaking of the law is also the concern of the State. Markets are under the control of states, currency is managed and its value is controlled by the State in both direct and indirect ways. In short every aspect of our life is touched by the state. State has been defined as the body which has legitimate monopoly on the force within a certain territory. The state in its modern form came into being in Europe.

Earlier, the state, in West, was under the king. He was sole ruler and everything was monopolized by him so that he and his train were the sole beneficiaries. We see that the system of government was rooted on the King’s right to property. But this was subjected to change. When the system of state was built around property rights, kings had a place in the system. But when the meaning of the state changed from family property to a functional organization to provide law and order within the territory of the state, monarchy was undermined. There was no reason for power to be concentrated on one man, as it was in the feudal system. Along with this the power of the Christian Church disintegrated. With the Reformation, the Church lost its monopoly of Truth. Finally, the thirty years war brought and end to any pretence of Christian order in Europe. Thus the development of the idea of state became stronger and took more roots with the British breaking up with Church (Conteras.2010).

Formation of nation-states with different ideologies

So the term development has a time bound variation in the history of Europe and its nation states. As the states slowly from feudalism to Capitalism, i.e., from the concept of development also underwent drastic changes. In a feudal society, the general economic welfare of the people was less of a concern and thus the present form of development which means the continuous improvement of social welfare was almost non existent. So the development of society gradually pointed towards a general change in the concept of development itself. This system of Capitalism was exported to the rest of the world. Hence there existed in the world nation states in different stages of transition from the feudal system to Capital system (which might be contented by the Marxian ideologist).

In a feudal society, a person’s position is predetermined. Even when there was some change it was not due to systematic approach or application of science and technology to production which was the mark of industrial revolution. There was no concern for the society as a whole and whatever change was taking place, too place for the early capitalist. They wanted freedom for the serf as they wanted free trade so that their personal well being depended on it. But by the formation of nation state rulers found that the best method to strengthen the nation was to improve the tax revenues and the easiest method as compared with conquest was to increase the production of the goods in the country. Thus a self sustaining solution for the permanency of the nation state was found – economic progress. Acquiring wealth was an option needed for stability of the nation and the channel to this was industrial growth which meant economic growth. This gave rise to the industrial revolution and increased demand for unskilled laborers who lived on meager amount of money which would not suffice for their daily sustenance. So the revolution needed laborers who could keep working mechanically and demand lesser wages. This growth in economy demanded that the capitalist find out new pastures for raw materials and also consumers for the produced goods. Thus the nations involved in capitalist process. Thus the British, the French along with Portuguese and the Spaniards entered into the arena of colonialism. The nation states of the West were identified by the urge to colonize and find new markets for their finished products. So development in the West lead to the formation of Imperialist states in the West and Slave States in the continents of Asia and Africa. Consumer states were also formed in Latin America and the North. The western countries exported capitalism around the world. It had spread but only the west reaped the rewards. The wealth from the rest of the world flowed to the nation states of Europe and there was considerable expansion in the area controlled by countries like Britain, France, Portugal, Spain, Germany Belgium, Italy etc.

With the release of ‘Das Capital’ by Karl Marx, a new line of thought emerged, pointing out that the government was just a tool in the hands of the capitalist and the victorious revolutions were used to obtain political power for the Capitalist class.. If the capitalist could wrest power from the nobility, so could the working class wrest power from the government. For him the eventual fall of the capitalist economy was inevitable. The capitalist could survive only with the continual creation of new markets. Also combined with this would come the working class which would eventually join hands around the world against the capitalist. Soon, in Russia, Vladimir Lenin opted for a revolution sooner, rather than later. He believed that the time had come for the revolution and thought that the establishment of a dictatorship was necessary. Thus it could promote economic development by generating wealth and distribute it. So countries that went under this ideology developed a separate group under dictatorship which was supposed to form a stepping stone to the ultimate Proletariat (Cypher &Dietz. 2008).

So the two blocs of nations were born after the Second World War and the Russian revolution. These ideological differences also brought in enmity between the two blocs and the Cold War was the result. Nation States were identified as being with the Capitalist and the Communist block. There was also the third world block which did not join any of the two blocks. These were the countries that had been under the Imperialist rule and which received freedom, during the twentieth century (Coopper.1999).

The concept of human development

When the concept of development did not give the expected fruits and there were inconsistencies in the results produced by the accepted criteria of development, the need for another criteria was felt. The principles have been taken from many societies whose scholars and philosophers paved the fundamentals, for the new concept. The work of Amartya Sen, along with others also provided for an alternative and broader human development approach (State of human development.2001). This is a comparatively new concept which is dependent on further things that just the rise and fall of national incomes. They should be able to lead long and healthy lives; they should have access to knowledge and resources needed to live a decent life. The main point being emphasized in this view is that “People are the wealth of the nations”. Human development has been defined as the process of “enlarging people’s choices and enhancing human capabilities” (Sen. 2009).

‘Human development’ as related to ‘development’

With several inconsistencies coming to the attention of the policy makers and evaluators about the lack of direct relation of indices like the GDP, GNI and per capita income with the actual well being of the people in a nation, the actual need for another index was felt during the 1980s. So the human development concept was introduced by the last decade of the twentieth century. Nation states with similar development indices were found to be poles apart in the actual well being of people and choices available. The actual well being of people depends on the choices made available to them and making them strong enough to avail these choices

On the other hand, the human development indices are able to capture the desirable outcomes for which the means and ends of the development process (History of the Human Development Report). The main indicators in this index are Longevity, Education and Command over resources. The UNDP, has brought this need to the forefront and brought out Human Development Reports, given awards for the best achievements and given wide range of publicity through the media, for this concept. A list of nations, comparing the nation states according to the indices, has also been prepared by the body.

After the reports were first published in 1990, new efforts were made to bring people to the centre of focus and four new composite indices were developed. They are the Human Development index, the Gender-related Development index, the Gender empowerment measure and the Human poverty index. This has been a huge success around the world (20 Years on.2009).As of this year; the twentieth report has been published. Every year a theme is explored in the report and it thereby adds to the understanding of global human development in a deeper sense thereby expanding the use of the same in international forums and debates. This year the report dwells on the term of human development itself. Rethinking human development is the theme of this year’s report.

Human development in Nation States

Now, coming to the difference between nation states, we find that generally, the world’s average Human Development Index grew by about 29 per cent in the last four decades. The only country that saw a development in the HDI since 1970 is Zambia. There have been all round improvements in education and health. Four decades back, only 60 percent of the world knew how to read and write and only 48 per cent of the children were able to go to school. Now the figures are beyond 81 per cent and 71 per cent respectively. Evidences show that this has nothing to do with globalization, but the decision of nation states to expand their educational and health systems, with the help of the international community was the direct cause. The intervention of the nation state has been the key factor leading to this huge change. But it also presents the differences between nation states brought out in comparison. For eg., Afghanistan has a low longevity period of 44 years whereas the topper of the table Japan has a life expectancy of 83 years. The life expectancy in Japan is more by 39 years. Such facts can be understood directly from the comparison tables derived from the indices in consideration.

The HDI provides a more elaborate view of the aspect. As may be seen, it measures adult life expectancy, literacy of adults and decent standards of living. It thus puts the nation states of the world in a table which is sorted according to the index and change in the index. Let us take a country, say India, as an example. Her HDI has increased by 1.33 annually from 0.427 and has become 0.612 today. We find that HDI has risen all over the world recently.

It helps the comparison with nation states. We could compare Norway which is first with 0.971 has the highest the world over. India is immediately behind Lao People’s Democratic Republic and followed by the Solomon Islands. Life expectancy in India is 63.4 years whereas in Yemen it is 62.5. Adult literacy rate is topped by Georgia which has a 100 adult literacy rate whereas India is just behind Egypt with 66.0 adult literacy. Egypt has 66.4 adult literacy. If we analyze the GDP per capita income which is also a factor we find that Vietnam has only a per capita income of $2,600 as compared with India which has a per capita of $2,753. But we find that the HDI of Viet Nam is higher than that of India(0.71). Thus, HDI gives a more complete picture than GDP alone.

Similar tables are found for other indices like human poverty and building capabilities of women, adhering to the development of human centered approach to development. Another important factor is gender inequality. This index is called the Gender Development index added in the 1995 HDR. It is HDI adjusted for gender inequality. This gives another method of differentiating nation states. Continuing the above example, we can see that the GDI for India is 0.594. GDI of India is 97.1 of HDI. This means that of the 155 nation states 138 states have better ratios. Thus we find that gender disparity in India is very high.

We can also identify nation states on the basis of migration to another state by the population. We find that in Qatar, 4 out of every 5 people is a migrant. Thus that nation has around 80 of migrant population. Such differentiations have made it possible to identify nation states more clearly and specifically for what they are, though life expectancy and health could hardly be considered as proper indices for the political situation that the country is going through. As of now, the human development indices have replaced development indices that had been accepted earlier (The Human Development Index. 2009).


Thus we find that the two concepts of development and human development are very useful in identifying the nation states to a very large extent. Both these concepts have to be evaluated within a time frame so that the influences are brought to light. Some as we saw have been direct and some, indirect. As we delve deeper for understanding development in more reality related contexts, we will keep coming up with new criteria for human well being (Coopper.1999).


20 Years on:Pushing the frontiers of human development. (online). 2009, Available from: Accessed 29 April, 2010

Coopper.R. 21st Century Trust (online). 1999. Available from: Accessed 29 April, 2010

Conteras.R. How the Concept of Development Got Started. (online). 2010. Available from: Accessed 29 April, 2010.

Cypher.J.M &Dietz.J.L. The process of economic development. New York: Routledge. 2008.

Haq.M.U. The Human Development concept. (online). 2009. Available from: Accessed 29 April, 2010.

History of the Human Development Report. (online). 2009. Available from: Accessed 29 April, 2010

Issues of race and imperialism. (Online).2010. Available from: Accessed 29 April, 2010

Sen.A. Origins of the Human Development Approach. (online). 2009. Available from: Accessed 29 April, 2010

State of human development. (online). 2001.Available from: Accessed 29 April, 2010

The Human Development Index – going beyond income. (online). 2009. Available from: Accessed 29 April, 2010

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