I have a question concerning how to think about or how it is that people/governments approach improving society at a large scale. I've attached a diagram showing my thinking:

My little model of how the world works

As you can see there is a major problem in the model in that societal conditions determine the actions of society. Had this not been the case it seems trivial that society and/or the government would attempt to maximize HDI (Human Development Index) w.r.t societal description weights through action weights given any arbitrary society. The issue is that the action weights are influenced by society which makes sense in the real world.

In my head I can't really figure out how to solve this problem or how to determine meaningful action weights since societies consist of massive amounts of variables and can be highly unique.

Concretely, the question would be: given this model what would be the objective of an "actionable group” in order to maximize HDI?

  • 1
    In your last sentence, you have an opening quotation at "actionable" that isn't closed. Would you mind clarifying where that should be closed? Commented Aug 22, 2018 at 17:43
  • I challenge the assumption that "it seems trivial that society and/or the government would attempt to maximize HDI". It is a very utilitarian view that anything that increases GDP (for example) is necessarily "good". What if it were shown that fascism is good for GDP? Also, even those who think a higher GDP is an unconditional good may not agree that the government has a duty or a right to take actions that it thinks will increase GDP. They may point to the fact that governments are sometimes corrupt, often incompetent, and that civil society or free markets may be more appropriate actors.
    – user15103
    Commented Aug 23, 2018 at 3:30
  • @Joe In the context of this model I’m thinking of HDI as a theoretical and subjective-by-design measure of the most general form of well being. The best way to think of the transition from broad social descriptors to HDI is through a general utility function (I just used weights which reflect a linear model because it is easier to comprehend). By definition of the function you would not run into the issues you are talking about if your “utility function” is well defined, but remember it is still meant to be subjective. Commented Aug 23, 2018 at 3:44
  • I added the "political-theory" tag, since you are asking about a theory rather than reality. As such, you might be interested How do I ask a great political theory question? on Meta. Commented Aug 23, 2018 at 17:55
  • Ah, thanks @indigochild, I’m new to posting on StackExchange =) Commented Aug 24, 2018 at 21:41

1 Answer 1


You can't have an objective solution to a subjective measure. HDI is an extremely subjective measure. Most actions taken would increase some measures and decrease others, but the measures themselves aren't directly comparable between themselves. Take bans on smoking in restaurants for example, the obvious benefit would be an increase in health, but there are decreases in freedom for both owners of restaurants and smokers, there is also an arguable increase to freedom of non-smokers. Deciding which factors are more important is essentially the entire point of politics, there isn't a clean solution to how many health or justice points a certain policy is worth or how many freedom points cancel a negative justice point.

  • Hi Ryathal, I may have not posed the question in the right way in that the main focus is more theoretical as @indigochild pointed out. Also, I believe you are thinking in the same way as @Joe; in the model you are assumed to have a subjective index, such as HDI, which should be maximized. The main question is how do you maximize this variable where there is a circular dependency between societal descriptors and actionable variables. Or is the model improperly specified? Commented Aug 24, 2018 at 21:51

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