Is human development different from economic development?

Last Updated: 24 Mar 2023
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Can the concepts of human and economic development be separatedThis study assesses the value of each development type independently and then together. The evidence presented illustrate the fact the human and economic development share elements, yet are different aspects of civilization. This essay will be of value to any researcher studying this development.


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Can the process of economic and human development be separatedThis essay will assess to what degree to the two concepts can be differentiated. Beginning with an overview of human development and economic development will create a defining point from which to begin. Following this section with an overview of literature that illustrates the position and process behind each of these concepts will enable a demonstration of impact. The combination of the first sections of the paper will enable a reasonable assessment of the nature of both systems.

In the end, this essay will have considered past definitions, modern practice and future potential of both human and economic development with the stated goal of determining the degree of difference that is present between them.

Human Development versus Economic Development

Human Development

Sen (1999) defines human development as an expansion of capacity that has the potential to improve human lives. This theory illustrates the benefits that can be created by measuring capabilities of the population. Development is the capacity to overcome issues in life that might include ill health, illiteracy or political or civil freedoms (Sen 1999). Concerned with the dual aspects of people and development this approach consistently utilizes key human components as signal posts for progress and increased accuracy of public policy. Alkire (2005:32) contends that human capabilities are what people can actually do and be in life. Utilizing a pattern of comparison, this vision touches on the capacity to compare cultures and determine the best overall means of fostering and enhancing these basic human capabilities.

Economic Development

Economic development is the not the concept of the quantity or use of utility but as a measure of the potential expansion of valuable capacities (Alkire 2005). Others describe economic development as the potential for continued business centred expansion (Sen 1999) illustrates that governments have utilized the denial of basic human need and rights as a means to spur rapid economic development. This approach directly ties the perception of the population to the ability for the economy to function and grow. Economic development is tied to a multi-tiered influences that include underlying security concerns (Sen 1999). A fundamental approach taken illustrates that the economic development of any given region is founded on the process available and the opportunities for the population to accomplish the intended goals.

Human Development and Economic Development

With the increase in technology and development potential there has been an increase in the need to promote both economic and human development (Fukuda Parr 2011). Modern instrument including the Sen (1999) based Human Development Reports tie the state and capacity of the population to the effectiveness of any development options. Further Fukuda Parr (2011) contend that the alteration or state of politics has a direct impact on the manner in which a population influences the overall state of development.

Nussbaum (2011) ties the concept of basic human rights to the capabilities of a population. This argument illustrates that the basic ideals of social justice and human rights are embodied within a government, which in turn provides development opportunities for the population. Further, the concept of capabilities is directly complementary to the notion of human rights and the need to make each citizen equal under the law (Nussbaum 2011). It is the instrument of human rights that has the capability to drive a nation into the next era of development.

Sen (1999) argues that a determination of population capabilities will lead to the manner in which to implement positive change. This approach emphasizes that the condition and opportunities available to the population will have a direct impact on the overall economic development. The lack of opportunity or resources creates a form of deprivation which is detrimental to the associated development process (Sen 1999). Using famine as a teaching tool, this approach clearly outlines the potential available by highlighting the positive aspects of the civilian population. With the absence of freedom and action and the lack of nourishment, the capacity for the farmers to develop was curtailed, thereby impacting the entire region (Sen 1999). This concept uses the creation or absence of the means to accomplish a task as a measurement of true capability. Simply because the United States citizen has the right to vote, lacking the means to get there or read the literature, will still fail to vote (Sen 1999). This is based on the person’s capabilities, which can then in turn be interpreted in a policy form in order to enhance the operation of the governing body.

The Human Development Index, or HDI, was created in order to ascertain the population position of development when compared to other nations (Sen 1999). This gauge was created in order to gauge how development issues impacted a national policy picture. This concept sought to move away from the revenue centered concept to a people and skill oriented system based on capabilities (Sen 1999). With several different elements that differentiated social opportunity the system created an accurate illustration of the possibilities. The HDI system is based on the three separate elements including life expectancy, or the rate of recorded health of the local population , the element of education has the potential to impact development at every level, and finally the basic standard of living (Sen 1999). In each case the perception of positive or negative development is based on the foundation of civilian capability.

Robeyns (2006) cites the capabilities system as gaining in use over the course of the past generation due to the perception of realistic components. The core of this argument revolves around a person’s ability to function, such as their state of being. This argument directly links the capacity of the human development with the overall economic development (Robeyns 2006). This argument contends that the development of any economy is based on the capabilities of their workforce. Ranis (2011), however, argued that the scope of the created capabilities paradigm is short and lacking in fundamental depth. This argument contends that there are substantially more than three areas that must be considered in order to accurately gauge the interplay between economic and human development (Ranis 2011). Utilizing this approach to human development incorporates over 31 separate categories that must be assessed in order to determine the rate of development.

Alkire (2002) illustrates the any attempt to gauge either human development or economic development is intimately intertwined. From a philosophical perspective, the separation of one from the other would make the ability to illustrate an accurate culture picture incomplete. The aspect of human development touches on every element of economic development (Alkire 2002). Every element from the amount of money spent to the products consumed as well as the associated capability to sustain this consumption is critical to any economic development. The Sen (1999) capability approach defines poverty as the lack of capabilities or freedoms that have value or give the citizens cause to value. A bleak economic outlook can cause a substantial impact to associated human development, in that services including health care, education and food and water may be restricted or denied (Alkire 2007). This form of economic impact can serve to create a cycle of destruction that will stifle any form of development.


Can the process of economic and human development be separatedThis essay has assessed what degree to the two concepts can be differentiated and produced several interesting concepts. The presented evidence clearly illustrates that both economic and human development is closely related and share many elements. Economic development is dependent on the capabilities of the population and human development is based on the presence of resources and opportunity that the economy creates.

Economic development is deeply and fundamentally impacted by a populations education and related social structures in order to thrive. This is continued indication of the close companionship that exists between both concepts. Further, lacking a solid economy, the population’s opportunity to achieve a better foundation is weakened, adding to any perceived economic difficulty. The lack of these basic elements can lead to long term poverty which can in turn lead to long term economic failure. On a philosophical note, the ability to assist those that need help through policy or programs only enhances the social infrastructure, which will in turn build a better economy.

In the end, while the concepts of human and economic development are separate concerns, their shared elements make this a critical issue to address for each one. It will be the recognition of this fact on a global scale that will lead to the human development opportunities of the next era.


  1. Alkire, S. 2005. Valuing freedoms. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  2. Alkire, S. 2002. Dimensions of human development. World development, 30 (2), pp. 181–205.
  3. Alkire, S. 2007. Choosing dimensions: The capability approach and multidimensional poverty.Chronic Poverty Research Centre Working Paper, (88).
  4. Fukuda-Parr, S. 2003. The human development paradigm: operationalizing Sen.’s ideas on capabilities. Feminist Economics, 9 (2-3), pp. 301–317.
  5. Nussbaum, M. C. 2011. Capabilities, entitlements, rights: supplementation and critique. Journal of Human Development and Capabilities, 12 (1), pp. 23–37.
  6. Ranis, G., Stewart, F. and Samman, E. 2006. Human development: beyond the human development index. Journal of Human Development, 7 (3), pp. 323–358.
  7. Robeyns, I. 2006. The capability approach in practice*. Journal of Political Philosophy, 14 (3), pp. 351–376.
    Sen, A. 1999. Development as freedom. New York: Knopf.

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Is human development different from economic development?. (2018, Oct 18). Retrieved from

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