Press Release

Ahead of the US Foreign Policy Debate, Index Shows US Falls Short in Backing for Global Prosperity

October 15, 2012


Washington, D. C. (October 15, 2012) - The United States has a long way to go in improving policies that support shared global prosperity, according to a Center for Global Development (CGD) index released a week before the US presidential debate on foreign policy.

Still the world’s largest economy, with GDP more than twice that of number two China, the United States nonetheless falls in the bottom half of the Center’s 2012 Commitment to Development Index (CDI), ranking 19th out of 27 high-income countries, with especially low marks for aid, environment, and security policies.

Media contact:
Catherine An
Media Relations Associate
(202) 416-4040

The United States scores above average on only two of the seven index components – trade and migration – and is outperformed by all the major industrialized countries except Italy and Japan.

“We Americans like to think of ourselves as generous and willing to help poor people in developing countries. The numbers show we often fall short of this image of ourselves,” says David Roodman, CGD senior fellow and chief architect of the Index.

“When it comes to development, the United States has clear room for policy improvements across the board,” he added.

This year’s CDI, the tenth annual edition, shows that most wealthy nations, including the United States, have improved only slightly over the past decade and could do far better.

In this year’s Index, the top five are Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Luxembourg, and Austria.  

The CDI scores wealthy governments on helping poor countries via seven linkages: aid, trade, investment, migration, environment, security, and technology. It averages the seven components for an overall score.

The US role in global poverty reduction was part of the national conversation during the 2008 presidential elections, when both then-Senator Barack Obama and Senator John McCain pledged to improve US foreign assistance and other policies that support development. 

In contrast, during this election there has been almost no discussion of the US role in making the world a fairer, safer place, as the national debate has focused mostly on domestic issues, especially the state of the American economy.

Development has been raised during the campaign just once, late last month, when Republican candidate Mitt Romney told an audience at the Clinton Global Initiative in New York City that he favored a new approach to foreign assistance that would be a “bold break from the past.”

Sarah Jane Staats, director of CGD’s Rethinking US Foreign Assistance Program, said that the approach Romney outlined in his talk was similar to the efforts of President Obama and his predecessor George W. Bush. President Obama did not address the US role in tackling global poverty at the New York event, focusing instead on the fight against human trafficking and “modern slavery.”

This year, of the seven large high-income countries that comprise the G-7, only the UK ranks among the Index’s top 10 countries, with an overall score of 5.7. Canada ranks 11th, with an overall score of 5.4, and would have fared better except that it received poor marks on the environment component for low gas taxes, high per capita greenhouse gas emissions, and the recent decision to withdraw from the Kyoto Protocol, the only international agreement on climate.

The United States, with an overall score of 4.8, is also pulled down on the environment component and thus its overall score by low gas prices, high greenhouse gas emissions, and failure to sign the climate treaty.

The 2012 edition of the CDI includes changes in methodology, including new indicators for the security component and the addition of five countries: Luxembourg, Poland, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, and Hungary.

Luxembourg performed well with high marks in aid and migration; the Visegrad countries (Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia) joined the perpetually-low ranking South Korea and Japan at the bottom of the Index. Despite their low status on the Index, all four Visegrad countries earned top marks in the environment component due to high gas taxes and low per capita greenhouse gas emissions.

Scandinavian countries continued to do well on the CDI. Denmark, with an overall score of 7.0, took Sweden’s top spot, breaking the country’s two-year streak at the top of the Index. Norway came in second with a score of 6.6 and Sweden came in third at 6.4. However, this year marked a decline in overall score since 2003 for both Denmark and Sweden – by 0.2 and 0.3 points respectively.

“What we see are slight improvements, but overall industrialized countries, and the largest, richest nations in particular, fall well short of their potential,” says Roodman.


The Center for Global Development: CGD works to reduce global poverty and inequality through rigorous research and active engagement with the policy community to make the world a more prosperous, just, and safe place for all people. As a nimble, independent, nonpartisan, and nonprofit think tank, focused on improving the policies and practices of the rich and powerful, the Center combines world-class scholarly research with policy analysis and innovative outreach and communications to turn ideas into action.



CGD Experts

Related Content