Abstract

Countries are increasingly being ranked by some new “mashup index of development,” defined as a composite index for which existing theory and practice provides little or no guidance for its design. Thus the index has an unusually large number of moving parts, which the producer is essentially free to set. The parsimony of these indices is often appealing—collapsing multiple dimensions into just one, yielding seemingly unambiguous country rankings, and possibly reducing concerns about measurement errors in the component series. But the meaning, interpretation, and robustness of these indices and their implied country rankings are often unclear. If they are to be properly understood and used, more attention needs to be given to their conceptual foundations, the tradeoffs they embody, the contextual factors relevant to country performance, and the sensitivity of the implied rankings to the changing of the data and weights. In short, clearer warning signs are needed for users. But even then, nagging doubts remain about the value-added of mashup indices, and their policy relevance, relative to the “dashboard” alternative of monitoring the components separately. Future progress in devising useful new composite indices of development will require that theory catches up with measurement practice.

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