In the textbook, Dickovick and Eastwood (2019) outline development in a simple definition which is “overall income” (p. 97). However, they note that there are other measures and evaluations of development that are commonly seen. Development can be seen through the lens of narrow indicators of macroeconomic growth to more broader social, cultural, or iconological factors that are difficult to measure. The most common and simplest indicator of development is economic growth, measured through the GDP or GNI. While economic growth is definitely a positive for development allowing for creation of new jobs, growing economy, and funding projects such as infrastructure, it fails to show more nuanced aspects, such as poverty levels, socioeconomic divides based on race or gender. There are also social indicators such as educational attainment levels, healthcare access, infant mortality, life expectancy, and Human Development Index (HDI), which sometimes demonstrate the state of life in a country more than any economic indicator. There are measures studying population happiness and satisfaction. Finally, there are more nuanced indicators such as measures of environmental sustainability in development or cultural development demonstrating growth of cultural traditions and embracing of arts by a population.
The textbook authors covered a large majority of potential development indicators. For economic measurements, I think inflation is a critical indicator. As seen currently, even in wealthy countries with high average GDP per capita, inflation is causing prices to grow significantly and the national currency to be lower in value, greatly lowering purchasing parity of consumers. As a result, households are faced with financial difficulties, the higher the inflation goes, the lesser the ability to purchase even the most basic items such as food, as was seen in Venezuela during its financial crisis. While inflation is a natural occurrence, beyond a certain level it is economically and socially detrimental to development, while low level inflation measurements typically suggest high rates of economic growth.
The distinguishing of causation and correlation between certain factors is difficult without deeply studying the issue. As discussed in one of the earlier chapters, just because two factors are correlated does not indicate that there is causation. As with the example of wealth and development, it can be argued that development is what generates wealth (i.e. jobs creation, public projects, economic stimuli), but at the same time, wealth is needed initially to fund that development. Such broad political science, economy, and sociology aspects can be seen and measured only at the aggregate and population level. The interest focuses on theories pertaining to classes of events or things. Therefore, researchers may be focused on identifying a causal structure, where a disjunctive plurality of causes may produce an effect, since it is increasingly difficult to identify one specific influence on another in such complex entities as a society or country that consist of so many factors.
In distinguishing cause and effect, Dickovick and Eastwood (2019) essentially establish the effect which is known, such as economic growth as an outcome, and study the influencing factors that lead to it, to determine the causes. These can be the type of economy, market or state focused, institutions, culture, and structural factors. Using these theories, one can study the impact on other factors such as liberty or equality. Overall, cause and effect is best determined through careful, unbiased, and longitudinal study of countries, which over history generally provide examples of virtually any combination of possibilities and state behaviors for patterns to emerge allowing political scientists to identify causes and effects on a broader level much clearer.
Dickovick, J. Tyler, and Jonathan Eastwood. 2019. Comparative Politics (3rd ed.). New York, NY.: Oxford University Press Academic US.