I have been leafing through the Global Youth Development Index 2016 published recently by the Commonwealth Secretariat, London. It deals with the all-round wellbeing of people aged 15 to 29 in 183 countries inside and outside the Commonwealth. It measures the general condition of that national cohort using five criteria: Civic participation, Education, Employment and opportunity, Health and wellbeing, Political participation. It awards marks in each category, totals the marks and provides global rankings. Ireland is found to be in the Very High group, at number 15.
For those of us who wish Ireland well or rather the best, that is encouraging. People between 15 and 29 are the critically important part of a population. To have them in a Very High category of all round wellbeing suggests that a good methodology, mutatis mutandis, is being used for the younger cohort and bodes well for the older one. But this Youth Development Index does more than compliment and encourage us. By placing Germany and Denmark in first and second place respectively in its world ranking, it supplies us with concrete indications of how we can do better still.
Irish people who want to better the quality of Irish society go about this in two ways. They call for more equality, justice or fairness – values that it is useful to remind us of, but abstractions. Others call for the remedy of particular ills that have arisen such as homelessness, too many people on hospital trolleys or the threat of being taxed for the supply of domestic water; just demands all of them but made because the problems in question are topical. They are not parts of a coherent scheme for overall social betterment.
That is what the Youth Development Index enables us to begin working on -by presenting Germany and Denmark as the two best instances in the world of countries that afford life-enhancing conditions for 15-29-year-olds. Those two countries are near at hand so investigation of the social philosophy and institutional arrangements that have won them top marks would be easy. Equipped with that knowledge, it would be possible for us to apply it intelligently to that central 15-29-year-old tranche of our population. And the lessons learned might also be relevant to the younger and older components of the nation.
Pursuing this course of action would mean using a method of national social improvement that has a certain history. It is the method that pursues that goal by adopting for the social improvement of one’s own nation something that has functioned to the benefit of another people. That is what many nations did when, one after another, they adopted parliamentary democracy, first from Great Britain then from the United States, or adopted the welfare state invented in Germany in the 1850s.
While it is true that various methods are used for measuring the wellbeing of nations, it seems to me that the method used by the Youth Development Index is particularly useful. Some methods measure the amount of money available to the nation, say its GNP, or the proportion of citizens who vote in national elections. The method used by the Youth Development is more telling.
It measures the use made of social philosophy, institutional savvy, and available money to produce beneficial effects in key aspects of the lives of those persons who constitute the central, tell-tale cohort of the nation – those key aspects being Civic participation, Education, Employment and opportunity, Health and wellbeing, Political participation.
More to the point for useful assessment of national wellbeing it would be difficult to be. The Irish researchers in Germany and Denmark would be concerned, firstly, with absorbing the social philosophies inspiring the two sets of practical arrangements that enabled those countries to come first in the world in the Index; secondly, with proposing—insofar as the national budget would allow—the corresponding institutional adjustments needed in Ireland.
Of course, it is not the case that Ireland has not previously sought to improve its way of doing things by importing methods and institutional arrangements from abroad. However, its method of doing this has normally been simply to copy English practice, not because that practice is of outstanding excellence internationally, but simply because England is near at hand and there is a post-colonial habit of following its lead. What I am proposing is a rationally grounded importation of well-attested excellence.