The Social Progress index 2015: NZ v. Yemen – Blog No. 34.


For many years, the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has been the measure most frequently chosen for assessment of one country’s performance in relation to another. If you divide the GDP by the population you end up with per capita GDP as an indication of how well individual citizens are faring.

If you study the definition given above, you don’t have to be particularly gifted to realise that money spent within a state does not necessarily enhance the welfare of its citizens. In the USA for instance, Hillary Clinton’s proposed budget for her presidential campaign is in excess of $2 billion. The USA’s defence budget exceeds $600 billion – much of it to be spent on increasing the misery of nations overseas. The USA’s annual budget for maintaining the highest per capita rate of incarceration in the world, is in excess of $70 billion. All of the examples given contribute to the GDP of the USA, without adding one iota to the quality of life enjoyed by its citizens.

earthquake 1
The moment of destruction: Christchurch CDB


Rebuild Chch
Planning the rebuild & boosting GDP

At home, New Zealand’s GDP is enormously boosted by the $40 billion to be spent on rebuilding Christchurch after it was demolished in an earthquake. However, there is no compensatory sum entered into the calculations for the loss to the nation’s wealth caused by the earthquake in the first place. As a measurement of productivity, if New Zealand could arrange to have one of its cities destroyed by earthquake each year, it would appear in the global GDP per capita league table as one of the world’s wealthiest nations.

Clearly there is something wrong with such an economist’s simplification. For the past several decades, economists and wise heads from other disciplines have been working to find an alternative measure of how well a nation is doing in regard to the welfare and happiness of its citizenry. Instead of GDP they have come up with a complex measure called “The Social Progress Index.”

Every year the Social Progress Imperative, an organisation in the forefront of the development and propagation of this concept, produces a league table of performance. In 2014 New Zealand was the highest performer of the 132 nations measured. In this month’s report it has slipped by four places – but all within a whisker of each other. New Zealand is six rankings higher than Australia and eleven rankings above the USA – and ahead of both on each of the three main statistics displayed.,dim2,dim3

Make sure you click on the ‘data’ button at the top. This is a fascinating table to play with – at ‘add aspect to compare’ there is a further choice of indicators that you can add to the display. For instance, though NZ is No 5 on the main chart, on both ‘Child Mortality’ and ‘Ecosystem Sustainability’ it is only thirty-seventh in the rankings.No doubt our civil servants and politicians will be studying this report in detail and looking for ways in which they can raise our act still further.

If New Zealanders find themselves in a sweet spot, it is in marked contrast to many of the others with whom we share our planet.Though fifth in the overall rankings at $33,000, we are only 22nd in terms of per capita GDP. That would imply that New Zealand cannot afford to be one of the big cash donors of international aid. However, now that we have a seat on the UN Security Council, it costs us nothing in terms of cash to use that seat to help further the interests of the less fortunate nations.

In contrast to New Zealand 5th position in the Social Progress rankings, Yemen comes in at 128th. Per capita GDP stands at just short of $3000. Currently, Yemen is being assaulted, against all the norms of international law, from air and sea by a consortium of Arab nations led by Saudi Arabia.  Though standing at a lowly (and self-inflicted) 69th in the Social Progress Index, the Saudis have a per capita GDP of $52,000 (thirteen times higher than that of the Yemen) and as such, are ranked fifth in the world in terms of per capita GDP. Their vast riches have been used to acquire all the latest US weaponry and in addition the US has allied itself to them in this assault by providing aerial refueling and targeting facilities – as well as munitions re-supply.

saudi air force

On the 14th April, New Zealand had its opportunity to stand up for a small state in line with the Foreign Minister’s assurances given in his press release of January this year:

Murray McCully

5 January, 2015

New Zealand takes UN Security Council seat

Foreign Minister Murray McCully today welcomed New Zealand taking up its seat as a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council.

“New Zealand’s term on the Security Council will place us at the heart of international decision-making for the next two years,” Mr McCully says.

“The Security Council is currently considering some of the most pressing issues the international community faces, including; the dire humanitarian situation in Syria, ISIL, and Ebola.

“It’s been 21 years since New Zealand last served on the Security Council. We are ready to serve again and to provide and independent voice at the world’s top table.

“Importantly, we will seek to ensure that the perspective of small states is reflected in the workings of the Council,” Mr McCully says. (New Zealand’s term on the Council runs until 31 December 2016.)

NZ Foreign Minister: Murray McCully


Earlier this month, the Saudi assault on the Yemen was debated at the Security Council. Rather than taking concrete steps to stop the Saudi bombing and the Egyptian naval bombardments the Security Council passed the following resolution:

The Yemeni ambassador who spoke at the meeting represents a discredited government in exile in Riyadh and not the actual government in power in Sana’a. The Security Council saw as its duty to do what it could to prevent the unfortunate Yemenis acquiring further weaponry with which to defend themselves from this unprovoked assault. New Zealand’s contribution to the debate was as follows.

JIM MCLAY (New Zealand) said it was important that the Council send a clear signal on the urgent need to end hostilities in Yemen and return to the political process agreed previously by the Council. In that light, he welcomed the fact that the resolution imposed measures for non-compliance. “This time the parties must listen”, he stated. He also supported the call for resumed political dialogue, which, he noted, was in the best interests of all parties. Expressing deep concern about the humanitarian situation, he called for parties involved in military operations to comply with international humanitarian and human rights law. Absent a political solution, the humanitarian situation would continue to deteriorate, he warned. All parties should facilitate delivery of humanitarian assistance.

Despite the lip service paid to the importance of sending “a clear signal on the urgent need to end hostilities in Yemen” no rebuke was administered to the external forces assaulting the Yemenis, but only to those poor tribesmen trying to defend themselves from simultaneous assaults by the local al Qaeda franchise and massive external force. New Zealand voted for the Saudi sponsored resolution and never said a word against their aggression.

To give the reader an idea of the legitimacy of the rejected government that the Saudis and the UN (with New Zealand’s compliance) are trying to insert into the Yemen, here is a recent report from Abu Dhabi (also a member of the Saudi consortium.)

And here is what the UN has formally enacted in regard to the Principle of Non-interference

It is hard to see how the world can expect to benefit from the rule of international law, when the main organ of its execution is so supine and clearly subject to the wishes of one super-power as to pretend that its own rulings do not exist. It is not in New Zealand’s national interest that this situation should persist.

international-law 2As I asked in my previous blog: what would the UN Security Council’s reaction have been had Russia launched a massive air assault on the Ukraine and announced that the assault would cease when they restored to power their unpopular President Viktor Yanukovych, who had fled in fear of his life? At least, in contrast to Riyadh’s fugitive President Hadi, Yanukovych was still a constitutionally legitimised president.

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