如此評判並沒有標準準則。最具相關性的現有量化資料，或許就是人均 GDP；人均 GDP 有其缺陷，但也唯有使用這種明確的數字，我們才有辦法使用同一套標準來衡量每一個社會。然而，冷硬的數字會將因人而異的「高生活水準」與經濟現實脫勾；大致來說，它們假定每個地區的每個人都朝著相同物質目標前行，而且只要提高收入就能滿足這些目標。因此，提高收入就等於提高生活水準。
看看這個有趣的事實吧：1988 年、也就是筆者出生那年，坦尚尼亞和中國的人均 GDP 約略處於同一個水準，分別為 220 美元及 280 美元。如今，中國的人均 GDP 已超過 8,000 美元，坦尚尼亞仍舊低於 1,000 美元。單從數字來看，中國成功地在短時間內提升了民眾的生活水準，必定有值得坦尚尼亞（以及其他低收入國家）借鏡之處。但許多人認為，中國根本不值得非洲人學習或欽佩；這樣的看法在發展產業之中尤其多。
與量化數據相較，這種「不同文化擁有不同幸福」的說法，大幅減少了經濟發展的重要性。畢竟，如果 A 文化花費 1 美元與 B 文化花費 3 美元所獲得的快樂程度相同，A 文化的人均 GDP 只要到達 1,000 美元，就能和人均 GDP 到達 3,000 美元的 B 文化擁有同等幸福。可惜的是，筆者實在太常見到，有人用這種說法來合理化非洲的經濟發展不足，認為那並不是什麼大問題。
【以下為作者 Xiaochen Su 撰寫的原文】
Developmental "Double Standards" and Africa's Cultural Image Problem
As the NGO industry expands, the broad all-inclusive term "development" has become more and more vague over time. Anything that remotely suggest provision of additional resources for betterment of people's lives have now fallen under the category of "development." The methodologies f implementation and assessments have only become more and more varied as a wider and wider spectrum of ideas and personnel have involved themselves in the industry. Thankfully, the central goal of an NGO is still clear: the job is to ultimately make people's living standards higher.
Of course, to define "higher living standards" is also problematic to an extent. The basic rules are obvious. A well-fed, well-dressed person is certainly better off than someone going to bed hungry and cold at night. But beyond the basic human necessities, judgments become fuzzier. Is a person automatically deemed better off if certain material "wants" are fulfilled (e.g. good smartphones, large houses, chances to travel)? And to take a step further, how does one compare not individuals, but entire societies, where members in each display different living standards and sources of "wants."
There is no standard criteria for comparison. Probably the closest quantitative data on hand, as flawed as it definitely is, would be GDP per capita. Only hard numbers like this can remotely have a chance for apple-to-apple side-by-side measurements. But cold, hard numbers bring its own issues, by detaching different levels of demands for "high living standards" from economic realities, mostly by assuming that everyone everywhere work toward the same material goal, all of which can be fulfilled by more income. Thus, more income easily equates with higher living standards.
For instance, here is an interesting fact: in 1988, the year the author was born, the GDP per capita of Tanzania and China was roughly the same ($220 vs $280). Now the figure for China has topped $8,000 while Tanzania's remain below $1,000. From the numbers, China does offer something for Tanzania (and rest of low-income countries in the world) something to learn in terms of giving citizens higher living standards in a short period of time. But plenty, especially in the development industry, deny that the Chinese example is even worthy of emulation or admiration by Africans.
The logic behind the dismissal is often speculatively qualitative. The notion of "individual happiness" as a proxy for high standard of living is often raised. Sure, some aspects of "rich unhappy societies" can be validated in the form of detrimental side effects of development (ranging from the everyday like pollution to long working hours to structural like loss of cultural heritage and sacrifices of political freedoms). But the emphasis on how different cultures need different levels of materialism to be equally happy somehow becomes just as valid and important.
The "happiness by culture" argument, then, greatly reduce the need to focus on economic development that's shown in quantitative figures. After all, if Culture A allows the same amount of "happiness" to be attained for $1 while it takes $3 to achieve the same level of "happiness" in Culture B, then Culture A only needs to hit $1,000 GDP per capita to be equally well-off as Culture B at $3,000. And unfortunately, the author has too often seen this line of argument being used in an African context, justifying how Africa's lack of economic progress is, in fact, not a big deal.
Yet, perhaps what is even more disturbing than arguing for Africa's lack of need to grow faster economically is the assumption that African cultures are "intrinsically happier." To put in different words, this basically says Africans have greater tolerance for material poverty, and they can essentially make do with many things that people in other parts of (more developed) world see as necessities. Noble thoughts maybe in the context of anti-materialistic crusades of the Western "haves" but straight-up racist when thrown upon the "have-nots" lacking same opportunities.
Indeed, the choice of many foreign development personnel to see Africa as a land where people do not have much because they do not seem to need as much is the main reason not more efforts are placed to give the locals as much as people in other parts of the world strive for. In their effort to frame Africans as a happy people not tainted by evil materialistic desires, they seem to completely forget that in this age of globalization, Africans, even in the most remote of geographies, also know about the convenient functionalities of cutting-edge technologies. To assume that they do not and need not, then, is to project an almost subhuman image upon a people that can learn to have just as much, if not more, "wants" as non-Africans.