The relative level of development of countries is frequently compared by reference to their Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita, and their progress is gauged as a function of growth in this value, which can account only for phenomena which can be measured in terms of money. It is nevertheless quite obvious that this indicator can hardly tell us the level of development of countries, much less the well-being of their population, their state of health, level of education, comfort and satisfaction.
Each discipline which focuses on a particular aspect of existence has developed, like economics, specific indicators which are periodically weighted to establish what are called synthetic indicators. Thus, the United Nations Development Program has been working on an Index of Human Development since 1990, which has been subjected to serious critical review.
More generally, Jean Baneth shows what the UNDP synthetic indicators are in this article. They imply some arguable trade-offs for they have to be gauged from data which are not always perfectly reliable and the correlations even less so. He underlines that the exercise is perilous, if not systematically biased by the arbitrary (even idealogical) character of choices made by the authors. Finally, having put in evidence certain abberations that these exercises contain, he shows how it is illusory and eventually dangerous to pretend to measure the level of development of countries by means of synthetic indicators.