Finland Rated World’s Happiest Country

What better way to kick off the International Day of Happiness than with the latest results of World Happiness Report, conducted annually by the United Nations. This year’s top spot went to Finland, which climbed five places to unseat longtime placeholder Norway (which is still an enviable second). Continue reading


Germany: The World’s Most Liked Country

According to the latest Nation Brands Index (NBI) published last December, Germany has the best “brand image” of 50 surveyed countries, unseating the previous titleholder, the United States. As reported in DW:

The Nation Brands Index (NBI) survey, carried out by German-based market research firm GfK and the British political consultant Simon Anholt, measured public opinion around the world on “the power and quality of each country’s ‘brand image.'”

Germany moved up to first place after coming in second in 2016. The US dropped from top to sixth, with France, Britain, Canada and Japan taking spots two to five.

The study calculated the final NBI score by researching how well people viewed a country across six categories: its people, governance, exports, tourism, investment and immigration, and culture and heritage.

The land of sausages, Merkel and “Made in Germany” was in the top five in all but one category. Only in “tourism” did Germany fall outside the top five, coming in 10th.

German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel welcomed the results, saying: “Germany’s image no longer rests on our economic strength. People think we’re capable of much in the world.”

Germany’s overall score improved partly because of better perceptions among Egyptians, Russians, Chinese and Italians. This suggests the country has widespread appeal for its various achievements in areas like governance, economic growth, and quality of life — all the things most governments would want to emulate.

Coming in behind Germany is France, which has also seen its star rise precipitously, climbing three places since last year. This is due mostly to better performance in “governance” and “investment / immigration”, which in turn reflects the high-profile effort of its new president to make the country more economically competitive and attractive. (Perhaps unsurprisingly, France remained No. 1 in culture.)

The United Kingdom remained steady at third place, dispelling fears that Brexit would cause a significant dint to its image. Its firm position reflects the continued potency of its culture, heritage, and diplomatic influence.

Canada and Japan both tied at fourth place, each performing well in governance, culture, and immigration / investment. (Notice a pattern here?) The U.S. dropped to sixth place, a respectable yet greatly diminished position. The reasons aren’t difficult to glean:

Foreigners’ views of the US worsened considerably compared to 2016, particularly in the category “governance,” where it slipped from spot 19 to spot 23.

The “Trump effect” explains the fall, according to Anholt.

“The loss of the US’s image in the governance category is indicative of the Trump effect, which was triggered by President Trump’s policies and his ‘America First’ message,” he said.

Americans themselves nevertheless viewed their country more positively than in 2016.

What are your thoughts about these results?

What Exactly is National Identity?

We take the ideas of citizenship, nationality, and countries for granted, but the vast majority of our history, none of these concepts ever existed.

Indeed, if one thinks about it, the sense of being part of a nation or country is a little strange and counterintuitive: you and all these other strangers within an artificial border have some sort of baseline commitment to one another based on a shared identity. But where does this identity come from?

The New York Times has a great five-minute video explaining the origin of national identity, its pros and cons, and where its future lies in an increasingly globalized world. It is well worth checking out below!

Africa’s Greatest Success Story

Few people have ever heard of the island nation of Mauritius, located 1,200 miles off the coast of Africa. Perhaps its sole claim to fame, if any, is that it was the only habitat of the extinct dodo. But as op-ed in the Daily Maverick reveals, this tiny country of just 1.3 million is a regional heavyweight in social, economic, and political development:

Mauritius’ average score in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business indicators is 77.54, ranking it 25th worldwide, compared to the sub-Saharan average of 50.43, or the score of its Indian Ocean neighbour Madagascar in 162nd position at 47.67. The next highest sub-Saharan African country, Rwanda, is in 41st slot. Kenya is at 80, South Africa 81st, and Botswana 82nd.

On the Ibrahim Index of African Governance, defined as the provision of the political, social and economic public goods, Mauritius again tops the African rankings, scoring 81.4 in 2017. Seychelles is second with 73.4, with Botswana completing the top three with a score of 72.7.

Mauritius’ GDP per capita is $9,630, well above the sub-Saharan African average ($1,464), that of Madagascar ($401), and South Africa and Botswana ($5,284 and $6,924). Only in this key regard does it rank below Seychelles where, with a population of just 95,000, it’s over $15,000. The average life expectancy of Mauritians in 1960 was 58; now it’s 74, whereas sub-Saharan Africa has gone from 40 to 59 over the same period.

Indeed, Mauritius’ economy has enjoyed average annual growth of 5 percent since its independence from the U.K. in 1968. This is a rare distinction both regionally and globally, and speaks to the country’s stable and effective governance despite its humble and unpromising beginnings. Continue reading

Democracy in Retreat?

Democracy Index 2017

The above map shows the state of democracy in the world as of 2017, according to the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index. The results are based on 60 indicators that span five categories: electoral process and pluralism; civil liberties; the functioning of government; political participation; and political culture. Each country is classified as one of four types of regime: Continue reading

A Different Kind of Antidepression

In the early days of the 21st century, a South African psychiatrist named Derek Summerfeld went to Cambodia, at a time when antidepressants were first being introduced there. He began to explain the concept to the doctors he met. They listened patiently and then told him they didn’t need these new antidepressants, because they already had antidepressants that work. He assumed they were talking about some kind of herbal remedy.

He asked them to explain, and they told him about a rice farmer they knew whose left leg was blown off by a landmine. He was fitted with a new limb, but he felt constantly anxious about the future, and was filled with despair. The doctors sat with him, and talked through his troubles. They realised that even with his new artificial limb, his old job—working in the rice paddies—was leaving him constantly stressed and in physical pain, and that was making him want to just stop living. So they had an idea. They believed that if he became a dairy farmer, he could live differently. So they bought him a cow. In the months and years that followed, his life changed. His depression—which had been profound—went away. “You see, doctor,” they told him, the cow was an “antidepressant”.

To them, finding an antidepressant didn’t mean finding a way to change your brain chemistry. It meant finding a way to solve the problem that was causing the depression in the first place. We can do the same. Some of these solutions are things we can do as individuals, in our private lives. Some require bigger social shifts, which we can only achieve together, as citizens. But all of them require us to change our understanding of what depression and anxiety really are.

This is radical, but it is not, I discovered, a maverick position. In its official statement for World Health Day in 2017, the United Nations reviewed the best evidence and concluded that “the dominant biomedical narrative of depression” is based on “biased and selective use of research outcomes” that “must be abandoned”. We need to move from “focusing on ‘chemical imbalances”, they said, to focusing more on “power imbalances”.

— Johann Hari, in an edited extract from his book, Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression – and the Unexpected Solutions, courtesy of the Guardian.

(Please note that this is not intended to disparage or cast doubt on other treatments such as therapies or medications; rather it is meant to present an alternative, if not complementary, approach to helping those who struggle with depression in all its forms and degrees. Given that this malady affects diverse people for diverse reasons, it is sensible to consider every possible approach or treatment paradigm to address it.)

The Countries With the Most Positive Global Influence

According to a recent poll by Ipsos MORI, a market research groupCanada is seen as having the most positive impact in the world, followed by Australia, Germany, France, and the United Kingdom.  The study involved around 18,000 respondents from 25 nations, including those subject to the poll.



Only 40% of respondents think the U.S. has a positive global influence, down by 24 points since last year’s survey (which had asked which country would have a positive influence in the next decade).

Note that this less than emerging powers China and India (at 49% and 53% respectively) and not that far ahead of Russia (35%).

Respondents from almost every country that was polled had a worse view of U.S. influence than the previous year; Argentina, Belgium, Spain, and South Korea saw some of the biggest drops, by over 30 percentage points. Only New Zealand and Serbia were unchanged in their (already) fairly low opinion.

India, Brazil, Poland, and South Africa retained highest approval rating for the U.S., being the only countries (besides the U.S. itself) where more than half of respondents had a favorable view (even if it was less than last year).

Interestingly, China saw the lowest dip from 2016, at just 3%, with close to half its respondents holding a good view of American influence.

The poll also included international organizations, which are playing an increasingly visible and decisive role in our globalized era.


Continue reading

Map: Internet Prices Around the World

What do Moldova, Tunisia, Russia, Iran, and  Kazakhstan have in common? Apparently, these disparate (and not particularly prosperous) countries have some of the cheapest broadband Internet in the world, with an average package cost of less than $20 a month.

By contrast, citizens of the West African nation of Burkina Faso top the list with the most expensive Internet, paying an an average of $924 for a monthly broadband package. Folks living in Namibia, Papua New Guinea, and Haiti far slightly better, but still need to shell out a few hundred dollars for the typical broadband package.

Americans are in the middle range, paying around $66 for the average broadband service; our neighbors to the north and south pay about $54 and $26, respectively.

These results are from a joint study by two British consultancies, which analyzed over 3,500 broadband packages worldwide from August 18 to October 12 of 2017. You can read the results here, which have been helpfully visualized by HowMuch.Net.


See here for a more detailed visual breakdown by region and price.

The results show an interesting and often unexpected mix of cheapest and most expensive. Who would have thought that the likes of, say, Iran and the former Soviet Union would offer world-beating Internet access? Or that some African countries outperform far wealthier and more digitally connected nations?

Iran offers the world’s cheapest broadband, with an average cost of USD 5.37 per month. Burkina Faso is the most expensive, with an average package price of USD 954.54.

Six of the top ten cheapest countries in the world are found in the former USSR (Commonwealth of Independent States or CIS), including the Russian Federation itself.

Within Western Europe Italy is the cheapest with an average package price of USD 28.89 per month, followed by Germany (USD 34.07), Denmark (USD 35.90) and France (USD 36.34). The UK came in 8th cheapest out of 28, with an average package price of USD 40.52 per month.

In the Near East region, war-ravaged Syria came in cheapest with an average monthly price of USD 12.15 per month (and ranked fifth overall), with Saudi Arabia (USD 84.03), Bahrain (USD 104.93), Oman (USD 147.87), Qatar (USD 149.41) and the United Arab Emirates (USD 155.17) providing the most expensive connectivity in the region.

Iran is the cheapest in Asia (as well as cheapest globally) with an average package price of USD 5.37 per month, followed by Nepal (USD 18.85) and Sri Lanka (USD 20.17), all three countries also ranked in the top 20 of the cheapest in the world. The Maldives (USD 86.08), Laos (USD 231.76) and Brunei (UD 267.33) provide the most expensive package price per month.

Mexico is the cheapest country in Central America with an average broadband package cost per month of USD 26.64, Panama being the most expensive with an average package price of USD 112.77 per month.

In North America, Canada offers the cheapest broadband on average (USD 54.92), coming in 21 positions ahead of the United States globally (USD 66.17). Bermuda provides the most expensive packages in the region with an average price of USD 126.80 per month.

Saint-Martin offers the cheapest broadband in the Caribbean, with an average package price of USD 20.72 per month, with the British Virgin Islands (USD 146.05), Antigua and Barbuda (USD 153.78), Cayman Islands (USD 175.27) and Haiti (224.19) at the most expensive end both regionally and globally.

Sub-Saharan Africa fared worst overall with almost all countries in the bottom half of the table. Burkina Faso will charge residential users a staggering USD 954.54 per month for their ADSL. Meanwhile Namibia (USD 432.86), Zimbabwe (USD 170.00) and Mali (USD 163.96) were among the 10 most expensive countries.

All 13 countries in Oceania were found in the most expensive half of the global table. Generally, larger landmasses such as Australia and New Zealand were cheaper than smaller islands in the region. Fiji, however, was actually the cheapest in Oceania with an average cost of USD 57.44. Vanuatu (USD 154.07), Cook Islands (USD 173.57) and Papua New Guinea (USD 597.20) are the most expensive in the region, the latter second-most expensive in the world.

I would be very curious to know what accounts for these results. Is it government policy? Geographic location or size? An abundance of competing ISPs? Perhaps a combination of all three? Or maybe it depends on the specific country?

What are your thoughts?


Living Longer and More Prosperously

Never before have so many humans enjoyed longer and healthier lives. Across the world, even in some of the poorest countries, deaths from most infectious diseases are declining precipitously, while every region is seeing increased longevity. The data are resoundingly clear:

25508081_10159789044430472_6163396239419175882_n Continue reading

Human Rights Day And Our Movement Across the Moral Arc

Today is Human Rights Day, which commemorates the adoption in 1948 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the first document of its kind to enshrine a global standard of moral principles and norms for all humanity. It is predicated on the simple but important notion set forth in Article One: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” Continue reading