17 vs 72

17 vs 72

Turkey, over the past 13 years or so, has been ruled by a party that bears the name “justice and development.” The “justice” part is probably a bad joke. The “development” part is incomplete.  

As in most non-Western cultures, in Turkey, too, size does matter. It is not surprising that Turkey’s leaders do not hide their desire for a much bigger population, or often boast that Turkey’s economy is the 17th biggest in the world. The discrepancy between the numbers 17 and 72, in fact, unveil a story of failure, not success.  

Turkey’s Human Development Index (HDI) value for 2014 positioned the country at 72 out of 188 countries and territories in the world, a regress of three places from 69th in 2013. Turkey would have been a much better place to live in had it boasted the 72nd biggest economy in the world and the 17th best HDI.    

The Justice and Development Party loves to boast the world’s biggest airports, a successful national carrier, bigger (double-lane) roads, the shiniest shopping malls, the poshest residence buildings, big bridges and tunnels, fancy cars, high smartphone ownership and over 175 universities across the country. Not bad things at all. That is, no doubt, physical development.  

In reality, however, the shiniest, poshest, fanciest and other finer things of life can be afforded by a lucky minority, as Turkey also boasts one of the world’s most unfair income distribution scales. With less than $10,000 in per capita income, it is still an emerging economy – like it was two decades ago.
Big bridges and tunnels have not been built in Turkey only; and easier access to smartphones and the Internet is not an exclusively Turkish success story. Turkish universities, judging from credible international scientific reviews, often look like a compound of buildings around a library and a mosque.  

But Turks apparently adore “Gulf-like” development. They tend to care more about glittering shopping malls, bigger roads, taller bridges and underwater tunnels than about the fact that Turkey’s “human development” is below the European Union and OECD averages. Or about the fact that their country’s HDI drops by nearly 16 percent when the value is discounted for inequality.  
They do not seem to care, either, that Turkey ranks 71st out of 155 countries (not 188) in gender-based inequalities (that come in three dimensions – reproductive health, empowerment and economic activity). They are happy with “physical” development and child marriages that, according to a recent study, account for a third of all marriages in the country. 

They are happy to have a parliament where women hold only 14.4 percent of seats, or that as low as 39 percent of adult women possess at least a secondary level of education compared to 60 percent of their male counterparts. They are happy to have a government-controlled judicial system that puts journalists in jail on charges of terrorism, or any other charge that comes in handy. 

The United Nations Development Programme defines “human development” as “the richness of human life, rather than simply the richness of economies.” This is very “un-Turkish.”  

In the Crescent and Star, the poor miner who has never been able to afford a flight is happy because we are building one of the world’s biggest airports; or the farmer who has never owned a car is proud of our double-lane roads. Some years ago, your columnist even came across a waiter who felt safer because the 100 percent Turkish fighter jet “our government has built, God bless them” was better than any American-made warplane.  

It remains a mystery, though, why the happy and proud Turk would wish to live and work in a Western, non-Muslim country that is not good enough to be among the world’s top 20 economies. Human development, perhaps?