Societal Infrastructures and Development (SID) Indicators

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Societal Infrastructures and Development (SID) Indicators

Vienna. Graben. Viena by J.A. Alcaide / BY CC
Vienna. Graben. Viena by J.A. Alcaide / BY CC

The Societal Infrastructures and Development Project (SID) examines one of the most sobering problems of contemporary life: How can we enhance the well-being of people throughout the world? Despite the high standard of living currently enjoyed by many, billions of others live in abject poverty. Those who enjoy an adequate standard of living must struggle with the challenges involved in sustaining their lifestyles in a highly competitive, globalized setting. Also, hundreds of millions live in nations that systematically deny them basic human rights. Many more live in nations whose practices jeopardize the quality of air, water and soil that are needed to sustain future generations. The lives of millions of others are routinely destabilized by civil strife, terrorist activities and/or international conflict.

Addressing the challenges of global development in a sustainable manner is a daunting challenge requiring informed efforts by a range of actors. The role of research universities is defined by their comparative advantage as producers of knowledge. They can provide a knowledge base that will assist practitioners by providing them with analytic tools and insights that will be useful in directing and evaluating their efforts.

Because of the importance of global development, and cognizant of the contributions that universities can play in this area, the Cline Center initiated the SID project in 2004. SID was conceived as a long-term, institutionalized program of research and public engagement that focuses on 175 countries in the post WW II era. It is the Center's signature initiative, one that has benefited from an investment of over $3M between 2004 and 2010. Its development has been a product of a score of faculty from a variety of disciplines and over 300 students.


Research Areas

In the summer of 2006 the Center initiated the Agricultural Production Project. Center personnel working on this project have successfully gathered and organized post-World War II crop and livestock production and price data for the 177 nations in the SID project. These data were obtained from the following sources: United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, International Historical Statistics - 1881-1988 by B.R. Mitchell, United States Department of Energy's Energy Information Administration, Global Financial Data, and from the United States Geological Survey.

The most significant logistical challenge in this project was the digitization of large amounts of printed data from the International Historical Statistics books. These materials were scanned and then digitized using an optical character recognition (OCR) program. The output of the OCR program was then checked against the original entries to detect and correct errors in the OCR process. The data was then reformatted into a country-year format. Also challenging was the identification of discontinuities in the original data. In some of the natural resource time series, the data entries jumped or dipped due to changes in data collection methodology. These discrepancies were logged for future reference.

The last major challenge had to do with the agricultural and livestock prices. The price data obtained from the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization is expressed in local currencies. To make the prices comparable across nations and over time, historical exchange rates for each country were obtained to convert price data into a single currency unit, the United States dollar.

With respect to natural resources not all countries are created equal. Some have plentiful endowments, while others struggle with exceptionally meager endowments. The differences often affect the standard of living of its citizens. Moreover, conflicts over natural resources have led to innumerable international wars. In addition, rich endowments of natural resources have frequently led to internal battles that have had enduring consequences for a state's governance. Even where natural resource endowments have not led to external or internal conflicts, exogenous influences (technological innovations, resource depletion, shifts in international demand) had affected their impact on a society's well-being. Thus, it is important to incorporate data on natural resources into cross-national assessments of institutional effects on societal welfare. Consequently, in the summer of 2006, the Cline Center initiated the Natural Resources Project. It was supervised by Peter F. Nardulli and implemented by Joseph Bajjalieh, who gathered and organized production and price data for most marketable natural resources.

Price stability is a major concern for governments of developed and developing countries alike. Unchecked inflation is among the most dangerous threats to steady, long-term economic growth. Governments that proactively manage inflation rates soften the economic swings resulting from business cycles; this allows both consumers and investors to form more accurate and steady expectations of the future. This stable environment is increasingly valuable for all nations. But it is particularly important for developing states, where evidence of instability can result in the withdrawal of foreign investment funds that are vital to their economic development.

A long recognized threat to price stability is manipulation of the economy by politicians responding to electoral threats or the concerns of key supporters. Price stability is often in direct conflict with politicians' incentives to use monetary policy for objectives such as financing budget deficits, establishing low interest rates or attaining high employment. The use of monetary policy to pursue these other objectives typically achieves short-term benefits and political support, but often at the cost of stable, long-term economic growth. As a consensus has emerged that monetary policy is a more effective way of managing long-term economic growth than fiscal policy, the cost of allowing politicians to use monetary policy as a political tool has increased. In addition, the growth of the currency trading industry, and the speed at which transactions are carried out, make the slow process through which politicians devise economic policy ineffective. Consequently, central banks have emerged as key players in the conduct of monetary policy.

The effectiveness of the central banks as economic policymakers depends in large degree on their independence from the government. A bank that is vulnerable to the whims of politicians will be affected by the same pressures that influence politicians. Thus, the independence of central bank has emerged as an increasing important concern to both policymakers and academics over the past several decades. Despite this, studies of central bank have been deficient, both in the countries included (mostly developed countries) and the time frame covered (most data series stop in the late 1980s). These deficiencies led the Cline Center to initiate the Central Bank Independence project, which was managed by Peter F. Nardulli and given intellectual coherence by William Bernhard and Christopher A. Hartwell, of the World Bank. It was ably implemented by Andrew Oswiak who assembled and coded central bank laws for over 150 countries. While efforts are on-going to augment the archive of central bank laws, a preliminary version of a white paper has been prepared by Hartwell and Nardulli; efforts to construct a satisfactory scale of CBI have not yet been completed.

Educational attainment is both a driver of developmental processes and a key indicator of human development. Yet cross-national data on educational attainment for the post WWII era is spotty, despite significant efforts by the UN and several highly respected academic teams to compile it. Compounding the data availability problems in this area is the uneven distribution of missing information across regions of the world: the highest rates of missing data are in Africa and the post-Soviet states. This situation is lamentable because the uneven distribution of data has the potential to seriously skew efforts to understand the developmental role of education.

To address this situation the Cline Center initiated the Educational Attainment Project, which was directed by Peter F. Nardulli and ably implemented by Buddy Peyton, Joseph Bajjalieh and Yaa Opare. Members of this research team began with the most completed and highly regarded cross-national dataset on educational attainment. To extend this data archive they scoured national reports and websites, identified new sources of educational attainment data, extended established data estimation techniques, and developed new estimation procedures. The result is a new archive of educational attainment data that extends from 1950 (or independence) until 2005; it includes all 175 SID countries but nine (Albania, Bhutan, Bosnia-Herzegovina, East Timor, Myanmar, North Korea, Oman, Solomon Islands and Suriname). This project is complete and a white paper details the procedures used and evaluates their validity.


In addition to data compiled by the Comparative Constitutions Project and other existing data sources, developing refined cross-national measures of national political institutions required data on election results, regime change, and the composition of governments. Without such data it is impossible to gauge the role elections play in the strategic calculations of political leaders, or their role in reshaping governments. Because an organized and comprehensive dataset on such matters did not exist, the Center supported the on-going efforts of Professor Jose Antonio Cheibub, the Boeschenstein Professor of Political Economy and Public Policy and Professor Tasos Kalandrakis of Rochester University. Their efforts were integrated into the Comparative Political Regimes and Elections Project, which was supervised by Professor Cheibub after his arrival at Illinois.

Under Cheibub's direction this project used recent advances in information technology to collect, organize, and cross-validate data on a wide range of matters dealing with regime formation and elections: political parties (formation, evolution and ideological location), national elections (timing, results and seat allocation), governments (composition, portfolio allocation and duration), government formation (formateur selection, formation attempts, duration), regime and leadership transition (coups, democratization, succession). A team of graduate students used an array of data collection strategies to assemble the data necessary to construct this data archive, which is complete. A white paper prepared by Cheibub is available describing the dataset

Constructing cross-national measures of the extent to which a law-based order has been institutionalized requires a multi-faceted approach. The Comparative Constitutions Project and the SPEED project provide important sources of data for this undertaking. Constitutional data can provide important insights into the role of law in a nation's institutional design. Event data is useful for gauging the role of law as a constraint on the behavior of both citizens and government officials. But another indicator of the extent to which a nation has institutionalized a law-based social order is the state of its legal infrastructure: its system of legal education, bodies of legal publications, network of professional legal associations, etc.

A legal infrastructure is a necessary accoutrement of a legal order. To be effective in realizing the ideals and principles of the rule of law a nation must have the capacity to do things such as educate aspiring lawyers, regulate legal decision-makers (judges, lawyers, paraprofessionals, etc.), provide for on-going professional education, and conduct intellectual dialogues on legal matters. Data on legal infrastructures are invaluable for capturing the role of law in a society because, like constitutional and event data, they are unobtrusive measures. They cannot be manipulated by nations desirous of appearing to embrace currently fashionable notions of the rule of law; creating a legal infrastructure requires decades of effort on the part of diffuse actors.

Because of the importance of legal infrastructures to the SID project, the Cline Center to initiated the Legal Infrastructures Project, which was conceived and supervised by Peter F. Nardulli. This was a multi-year effort that compiled historical data on legal periodicals (1773 -) and legal education programs (1100 -). This project was completed in 2009. The manner in which these data were collected and integrated is reported in a white paper describing SID efforts to construct a cross-national gauge of a country's commitment to a law-based order.

[Click here for more information and data about this project]

Most quantitative studies of societal development employ utilize some measure of economic growth or wealth as a dependent variable. While this was a useful and natural starting point, it is important for both intellectual and policy reasons to enlarge the range of welfare indicators analyzed. Among the most important to include are measures of environmental quality. The tradeoffs between rapid economic growth and environmental quality have received a great deal of commentary. Moreover, there is a need for serious study as to how tradeoffs between economic growth and environmental quality are managed by different institutional design. Correspondingly, the Center initiated the Environmental Quality Project, which was supervised by Peter F. Nardulli and implemented by Grzegorz Wojslaw and Joseph Bajjalieh.

An encompassing review of the literature on environmental quality led to a focus on seven dimensions of environmental quality: air quality, water quality, soil quality, deforestation rates, waste management, protected land, and national participation in international treaties. The primary objective of this project was to identify the most reputable sources of data on these dimensions of environmental quality for the countries included in the SID project. Data collection for this project is completed, though updates will be added.

Free trade - the absence of governmental barriers to international trade - has been an integral part of conceptions of free enterprise since the early 19th century. The reason for its centrality is that free trade is essential to securing the comparative advantages that, like specialization and the division of labor, are at the heart of the efficiencies attributed to free enterprise economies. The importance of a free trade component to the SID project is enhanced by the enormous domestic political pressures that globalization has produced on governments. Pressures from both domestic producers and workers have led various governments to adopt myriad policies that restrict or enhance their international trade. Moreover, for political reasons, these policies have varied across both trading partners and economic sectors.

A measure of a nation's commitment to free trade, to be useful, must reflect these subtleties. Unfortunately, the most readily available sources of data on international trade contain only limited information on tariff rates for selected countries in a single year. This led the Center to support the Free Trade Project, which was conceived and supervised by Todd Allee. In contrast to existing efforts to archive international trade data, the Free Trade Project includes information on tariffs and non-tariff barriers, captures trade-restricting as well as trade-enhancing policies, and reflects societal and governmental attitudes toward trade, not just trade policies.