Conflict can be used as an indicator for development of a society or country. Conflict reflects fight for resources where the players perceive it as a zero sum game. Conflict could be both inter-specie and intra-species. Shrinking forests and loss of bio-diversity is reflection of inter-specie conflict, a conflict in which human beings are crowding out other species from the Earth. We are all familiar with intra-specie conflict between two individuals, within families, groups, religions, countries etc.  It assumes various forms such as crime, riots, acts of terror and wars between countries.

The primary driver to conflict is desire to control resources or access to resources and services. Take India for example, the rich can afford a quality of life which is similar to or better than their counterparts in west. Cost of human labour is cheaper and hence can afford drivers, maids etc. The quality of medical services, schools are same as western countries, albeit at a cheaper cost. They can afford 24*7 electricity supply and can eat authentic Italian, French or Japanese cuisines. Compare this with quality of life of poor. They have to rely on government infra-structure for transport, health facilities etc. The government facilities are inadequate both in numbers and quality of services provided. It’s a constant struggle to get resources. I remember my own visit to Safdurjung Hospital in Delhi when my father in law had met with an accident and was taken there. The doctors did not have tourniquet and I had to hold arm of the patient on the next bed while the doctor administered IV injection. The conflict is not about quantity of wealth but in differences in life styles or services and an aspiration to live that lifestyle.

At the society level, most of the crime is reflection of aspirations to live the lifestyle or frustrations of not being able to live the lifestyle or struggling to live. At the level of countries it leads to wars. For example, US would not hesitate to fight to in Kuwait to safeguard its interests in oil as the availability of oil affords it to maintain its lifestyle. And somewhere in between are naxalites in India, or protestors in Hongkong or Thailand who want more control in Governance, indirectly more control on allocation of resources. No wonder countries with poor governance see higher crime rates and/or conflict.

Level of conflict in a society can be a good indicator of development in the society. HDI does not include environment and only captures economic growth without capturing cost to environment. The other factors being health and education. Life Expectancy or Average age in a country is also a good reflection of conflict. People with poor access to health facilities, or countries with high level of conflict or man-made or natural disasters which result in shortening of life. For example, life expectancy increased from 44 years in 2001 to 63 years in Afghanistan.

Since it may be tedious to measure conflict, some of these surrogates may help to determine level of development of a country. These surrogates could be the factors that may lead to conflict over resources.For example, a society with very skewed distribution of resources would lead to growing frustration or stress and may result in crimes or a revolution as described by Karl Marx. So a surrogate could be wealth distribution within the society or income distribution within the society. There could be multiple indicators to capture these inequalities. For example, Gini’s Index, ratio of wealth owned by top 10% in the society and bottom most 10% in the society. Intra-specie conflict would be reflected in bio-diversity. Since forests are home to or part of eco-systems that sustains a wide variety of species, that can be taken as an indicator

  1. Forest cover in a country – more forest cover would mean more land and more eco-systems for other species to survive
  2. Corruption- Corruption and nepotism compromise merit and thus deny the rightful claim. Most often than not, people with resources are able to bend the system to enrich themselves or benefit themselves at the cost of worthyTransparency International already has an index for corruption in countries and ranks them on basis of level of corruption. More the corruption, higher is the cost of goods and services and higher is distortion in access to services. The rich will be able to afford better quality goods and services or would be able to jump queues.
  3. Distribution of wealth or assets in the society. Percentage of wealth held by top 10% of the population. Distribution of income levels in the economy.

Interestingly some of the the countries which are ranked high in HDI also show low levels of conflict.



And the key differentiators between countries with high HDI/ High Happiness and high HDI and low happiness are

1. Quality of governance

2. Higher taxes on the rich

3. Welfare state, where government ensures quality education and health to most citizens besides safety and security.

Add to it personal freedom and the list is complete.

Sets the agenda for Indian Government or Mr. Narendra Modi as well.