Sunday, April 11, 2004

Well Offness

Is social science an oxymoron? History will tell. To date, it is hard to make the call. Can the well-offness of the population be calibrated with any precision? GDP and national income accounts have taken their lumps but, at least, they use endogenous and plausible weights (market prices; it is still unclear what Soviet GDP stats were -- nor how serious people could take them seriously).

We now have all sorts of new indices of human welfare. The newest, reported in this morning's NY Times Magazine by Ann Hulbert, is the Brookings Child Well-Being Index (C.W.I). Hulbert questions how in the world all of the C.W.I. components (more obesity, less teenage pregnancy, etc.) can be weighted equally?

Equal weights are a sign of maximum uncertainty. How about this as an interim rule: If one is ever prompted to create a new index, forget about it if equal weights are all that are available.