A revealing report card on global living standards

There are not too many reliable reports and pronouncements coming out of the United Nations, which has become subservient to the whims of some of the worst-run regimes on the globe.  The UN Human Rights Council, for example, has become a joke, solidly in the grip of some of the worst human rights abusers.  The UN General Assembly regularly embarrasses itself with multiple anti-Israel resolutions, while turning a blind eye to real violators of civilized norms.

All the more reason to plumb a rare UN document that tells it like it is, even as it puts some of these brutish autocrats under an unsparingly critical lens.

I am referring to the annual Human Development Index (HDI) issued by the UN Development Programme.  Put aside the label, it's simply a global report card on living standards in UN member states and some polities that aspire to membership.  The HDI, developed by non-partisan UN technocrats, ranks all of them according to three-main criteria - personal income, public health measured by longevity, and educational attainment - primary, secondary and post-secondary schooling.  It's a telling barometer on governance.

The index of the latest UN report ranks  Norway in No. 1 position, with Niger at the bottom in 186th.  Before drawing some interesting nuggets from the HDI, here are the other nine countries in the vaunted top-10 HDI circle --  Australia No. 2 behind leader Norway, followed in turn by the United States, Netherlands, Germany, New Zealand, Ireland, Sweden, Switzerland and Japan.

Digging further into the HDI, one finds very poor performances among countries in the Arab/Muslim world, especially by some of its oil-rich members. In contrast to the gloomy HDI picture of living standards among Arab/Muslim countries,  Israel, the UN's favorite bête noire, is among the high performers in No. 16 position just behind Denmark in No. 15 slot and followed by Belgium in 17th position.  What makes this especially noteworthy  is that Israel is able to maintain high living standards for its people despite its existential need to divert inordinate resources to beefing up its security.

In comparison with Israel in No. 16, the first Muslim country on the HDI is oil-rich Brunei in southeast Asia in the 30th slot.  Unlike Brunei, Israel was not blessed in valuable natural resources while the latest HDI was being compiled.  Things may change - in Israel's favor - when it starts capitalizing on recently discovered huge off-shore oil reserves.

As for performances in the  Arab Middle East, every country lags significantly behind Israel's 16th position.  The Arab lead goes to oil-rich Qatar in No. 36 slot, followed by oil-rich United Arab Emirates in 41st, oil-rich Bahrain in 48th, and oil-rich Kuwait in 54th.

Saudi Arabia, the most blessed Arab country with its massive oil reserves, checks in scandalously in the 57th slot. 

And what about Israel's immediate neighbors?  There's Jordan in 100th, Egypt in 112th, and Syria in 116th

As for what the UN terms the "occupied Palestinian territories," the West Bank and Gaza, they occupy the 110th position.  Yes, far behind Israel.  But still,  the Palestinian territories notably rank ahead of Egypt by a couple of rungs, and top Syria by six rungs  Plenty of room for improvement for Palestinian areas, but not exactly the down-and-out, deprived places portrayed by Western media.

Back to Israel, for a final look at the HDI. The UN yardstick for living standards also breaks down rankings by continents.  Ratings for Asian countries show Israel in No. 6 position, just behind Hong Kong but ahead of Singapore.

Not a bad overall showing by Israel,  the UN's usual bête noire.



Leo Rennert is a former White House correspondent and Washington bureau chief of McClatchy Newspapers