How Credible are Global Ranking Indices?


By Dr R Neerunjun Gopee

How seriously should we, lay people, take the country rankings that are published periodically? For example, the Mo Ibrahim Index which applies to the African region has a number of times placed Mauritius at No. 1 for the parameters that it considers. That obviously elates politicians, in particular the government of the day which takes the credit for that apparent achievement. However, for most people who go about their daily lives oblivious of such rankings, the social, economic, political, and institutional realities often seem to be in contradiction to these glorifying labels. Great to be numero uno, but how does this impact the overall living conditions and environment?

Conversely, does a drop in ranking truly reflect the ground reality? This is a question that is currently of interest in India which is shortly to have its general election, and which is being ‘watched’ with as much interest by the rest of the world – as was the recent Russian general election, and so too will be the coming US general election due in November.

A clue is provided in an April 2019 publication by Dr Essam Disi Director – Strategy & Policy at Mohammed Bin Rashid Est. for SME Development (DUBAI SME). He wrote: ‘A lot of these rankings are based on solid methodologies and supported by reputable organizations. In some cases, the parameters of the rankings are based on hard data or facts, such as, number of steps to register a business or cost of a certain transaction. On the other hand, in many other cases the parameters are based on surveys circulated among a small number of “Experts” to rate and provide their feedback. However, what happens if these “Experts” were biased? or if it was in their interest to push their country’s ranking up the list?’ (italics added)

Extending this line of thinking in the opposite direction, what if ‘Experts’ assessing another country were biased against it, in which case that country’s ranking would likely drop, isn’t it? Or, even if they were neutral, there are methodological limitations that can come in the way of assigning proper ranking. This is spelt out in an Ipsos survey of trustworthiness of different professions carried out in May-June 2023. I should be happy because doctors are ranked highest!

But the point I am making is about methodology, and this is what the Ipsos site comments: ‘These are the findings of a 31-country survey conducted by Ipsos on its Global Advisor online platform and, in India, on its IndiaBus platform between 26 May and 9 June 2023. The results are comprised of an international sample of 22,816 adults…’

As far as India is concerned the sample ‘represents a large subset of its urban population…’ (italics added). The concluding remark is that ‘The Global Country Average reflects the average result for all the countries and markets in which the survey was conducted. It has not been adjusted to the population size of each country or market and is not intended to suggest a total result.’ Since a large segment of India’s population is rural, it is clear therefore that the result of this survey does not give a true picture of the Indian situation in regard to trustworthiness of professions.

Such considerations are a matter of concern for Indian analysts, among whom is Sanjeev Sanyal, Member of the Economic Advisory Council to the Prime Minister, whose views are frequently sought given his key position. He has said, for example, that ‘It is important to have clear benchmarks to measure socioeconomic progress. However, a blanket application of global standards in India does not always present the true picture.’

Speaking at the launch of the Sovereign Risk Assessment Framework by CareEdge Ratings last year, he said that ‘India should be confident enough to deconstruct the rest of the world on its own terms as a rising economic power, creating global norms and benchmarks in various fields,’ and ‘should no longer be bound by benchmarks that are decided by third parties, and in which the country has no role in framing.’ 

Further, ‘For the very first time, an Indian rating agency (NB: CareEdge Ratings) will assign sovereign ratings to the rest of the world… This is an important thing for us as a rising economic power to get used to doing. All this while, we allowed other people to deconstruct us; it’s time we get confident enough to deconstruct the rest of the world on our terms,’ adding that the country also needs to come up with global norms in various other fields like medical benchmarks and Environmental, Social & Governance (ESG) standards.’

Anyone who has been involved in designing and conducting surveys, for example, knows that leading questions can be framed to suit the agenda of a survey. This is especially the case when the ‘soft’ social sciences are concerned, as opposed to the ‘hard’ physical sciences when more tangible variables, such as temperature, humidity, etc., are being measured. And reports and experts too can reflect bias. This is the reason that of late some UN reports are no longer looked up to as they used to be earlier.

A more comprehensive and detailed analysis on this theme is to be found in an article by the Chief Editor of MyIndMakers, Ramaharitha Pusarla, in its Current Affairs section on Apr 01, 2024, titled ‘The Pretense is Shed; Puppet Masters of Vested Interests Coming out of the Woods.’

She points out how ‘India has been a playground for foreign players… external agencies forged connections with influential media, academic, social and political organisations of democratic India.’ Moreover, vested interests in cahoots with external agencies have rolled out concerted attempts to vitiate India, its polity, and its democracy with international media under its fold. Resultantly, India began to suddenly slip in all rankings ranging from Poverty Index through Happiness Index to even Democratic Index (italics added), …notwithstanding the stable and steady development enabling environment.

The unabashed bias became so glaring that the common man began to mock the Western aptitude of giving a better rank to Palestine and Afghanistan, the seedbeds of terrorism as much happier places to live than India. According to the World Happiness Report, India is at 126th position among the 146 countries below its neighbours – Nepal, Bangladesh, and China. The Varieties of Democracy (V-Dem) reports placed India among the top ten autocracies deeming it an “electoral autocracy”. The sudden fall of India in all these indices from 2013 is glaring.

‘The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) which relies on the annual reports of US-based think tanks like Freedom House, Pew Research, Human Rights Watch, and Reporters Sans Frontieres termed India a “Flawed Democracy”.’

With reason, she queries the sudden interest of the US, Germany and lo and behold – even the UN! – in the arrest of the sitting Chief Minister of New Delhi in a mega liquor scam. He has now been jailed in Tihar jail where two of his other Cabinet ministers have been imprisoned for the same matter since several months, having been repeatedly refused bail. It’s the same judiciary whose rulings have been cited on a number of occasions by our own political class to support some stand or the other they took.

She points out how ‘India is now going full guns blazing against the Western hypocrisy reminding them of the cardinal rules of diplomacy and vociferously questioning the Western precedent of judging countries as their imperial moral compass.’ She condemns this ‘brazen interference of the West in the internal affairs of a sovereign country’ which is ‘uncalled for and reeks of unjustifiable moral constabulary.’

When it comes to rankings coming from external agencies, therefore, one has to take them with not a pinch but a kalchul of salt! And that too gros disel!

Mauritius Times ePaper Friday 5 April 2024

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