You can tell a lot about a nation’s culture or the state of its society from what it values. Utilizing years of data from the OECD Better Life Index, which surveys 60,000 people across the world, U.K.-based global moving company Movehub has put together a colorful infographic showing what people around the world care about the most. Here it is courtesy of Business Insider. Continue reading
One of history’s deadliest conflicts in proportional terms is the little known War of the Triple Alliance, also known as the Paraguayan War, fought from 1864 to 1870 between Paraguay and an alliance of Argentina, the Empire of Brazil, and Uruguay.
Resulting in over 400,000 deaths in total, it is Latin America’s deadliest war, though it caused the most suffering for Paraguay: in addition to losing a large chunk of its most resource-rich territory, the country may have lost 60 to 90 percent of its total population, including 70-90 percent of males. Continue reading
If you are a lover of languages like me, then you will enjoy the following insightful graphs and charts courtesy of The Washington Post’s WordViews column.
According to 2015 Safe Cities Index compiled by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), Tokyo, Japan is the world’s safest city, scoring high in all factors, from low crime to pedestrian-safe urban planning.
According to The Guardian:
The EIU looked at a wide range of factors when putting together the index. It examined digital security, and considered the number of cyber attacks and how they were tackled. It looked at the obvious area of personal safety, but also infrastructure security – sanitation, roads, and management of natural disasters. In the health security category, it looked at quality of healthcare (for instance, how many hospital beds and doctors there were per 1,000 people), but also at issues such as pollution. As the report puts it, “Living in a safe and healthy urban environment can make a real and measurable difference to city inhabitants”. In the index’s top 25 cities, average life expectancy is 81; in the bottom half, it is 75.
As the article cautions, however, a sense of safety is highly variable depending on one’s lifestyle and priorities.
Before you start packing your bags, however, the conclusions aren’t simple: Tokyo also happens to be considered the world’s riskiest city, in part because of the huge number of people who would be harmed in an inevitable future earthquake. Nor does the report actually say which city is safest for you. From an individual’s point of view, as opposed to the municipal officials responsible for the smooth running of a city, isn’t personal safety more important than the threat of cyber crime? In that case, maybe you should look at Singapore instead. And what if health security is your priority, but you’ll take your chances on the streets? Move to Zurich: first for health, 13th for personal safety.
Other studies have revealed other issues that might be of personal importance. Amsterdam, for instance, is – perhaps unsurprisingly – a good place to be a on a bike. In 2011 and 2013, the Dutch city was ranked safest for cyclists by urban planning consultancy the Copenhagenize Design Company, using criteria such as bicycle facilities, drivers’ attitudes, and political will to promote cycling. The sheer proliferation of cyclists helps – cycling in the city, notes the report, is “about as mainstream as you can get” – as does cycling infrastructure and a 30kph speed limit.
Here are the safest cities by region:
Here is a detailed breakdown by the EIU:
- Tokyo tops the overall ranking. The world’s most populous city is also the safest in the Index. The Japanese capital performs most strongly in the digital security category, three points ahead of Singapore in second place. Meanwhile, Jakarta is at the bottom of the list of 50 cities in the Index. The Indonesian capital only rises out of the bottom five places in the health security category (44).
- Safety is closely linked to wealth and economic development. Unsurprisingly, a division emerges in the Index between cities in developed markets, which tend to fall into the top half of the overall list, and cities in developing markets, which appear in the bottom half. Significant gaps in safety exist along these lines within regions. Rich Asian cities (Tokyo, Singapore and Osaka) occupy the top three positions in the Index, while poorer neighbours (Ho Chi Minh City and Jakarta) fill two of the bottom three positions.
- However, wealth and ample resources are no guarantee of urban safety. Four of the five Middle Eastern cities in the Index are considered high-income, but only one makes it into the top half of the Index: at 25 Abu Dhabi is 21 places above Riyadh at number 46. Similar divides between cities of comparable economic status exist elsewhere. Seoul is 23 positions below Tokyo in the overall ranking (and 46 places separate the two on digital security).
- U.S. cities perform most strongly in the digital security category, while Europe struggles. New York is the only U.S. city to make it into the top ten of the overall index (at 10). However, it is third for digital security, with three of the four other US cities in the Index (Los Angeles, San Francisco and Chicago) joining it in the top ten. Meanwhile, European cities perform relatively poorly. London, at 16, is the highest-ranking European entry in the digital security index; Rome is the lowest, at 35.
- Leaders in digital security must not overlook real-world risks. Los Angeles falls from 6th place in digital security to 23rd for personal safety. San Francisco suffers a similar drop, falling from 8th to 21st. For these cities—both home to high-tech industries—a focus on technology and cyber security does not seem to be matched by success in combating physical crime. Urban safety initiatives need to straddle the digital and physical realms as the divide between them blurs.
- Technology is now on the frontline of urban safety, alongside people. Data are being used to tackle crime, monitor infrastructure and limit the spread of disease. As some cities pursue smarter methods of preventing—rather than simply reacting to—these diverse security threats, a lack of data in emerging markets could exacerbate the urban safety divide between rich and poor. Nonetheless, investment in traditional safety methods, such as bolstering police visibility, continues to deliver positive results from Spain to South Africa.
- Collaboration on safety is critical in a complex urban environment. Now that a growing number of essential systems are interconnected, city experts stress the need to bring together representatives from government, business and the community before threats to safety and security strike. Some cities have appointed an official to co-ordinate this citywide resilience. With the evolution of online threats transcending geographical boundaries, such co-ordination will increasingly be called for between cities.
- Being statistically safe is not the same as feeling safe. Out of the 50 cities, only Zurich and Mexico City get the same rank in the overall index as they do in the indicator that measures the perception of safety among their citizens. Urban citizens in the U.S., for instance, tend to feel less safe than they should, based on their city’s position in the Index. The challenge for city leaders is to translate progress on safety into changing public perceptions. But cities also aspire to be attractive places to live in. So smart solutions, such as intelligent lighting, should be pursued over ubiquitous cameras or gated communities.
Aside from Tokyo, the next five biggest cities in the world do not fare well in terms of safety.
Granted, some analysts are skeptical of the very idea of ranking cities based on safety. As The Guardian reports:
But is it really possible, or even desirable, to rank cities according to their safety? “We are quite wary of doing that”, says Dr Michele Acuto, principal investigator for UCL’s City Leadership Initiative, which is working with the UN on how to improve urban safety. “Rankings pit cities against each other. If you say London is safer than Manchester, it’s a blunt generalisation. You can say London has a lower crime rate than Manchester – that would be correct – but making judgements on safety is perception-based”.
How do you make a city safer? Nobody wants to live in a police state. “You have to reduce crime, but it’s also things like improving safety of transport. If you make a city more sustainable, with more bike lanes, for instance, you can redesign it so that it’s also safer for pedestrians”. The wealth gap also has an important effect on a city’s safety: “There is no safer-city agenda that can proceed without a social-equality agenda”, says Acuto.
And if there’s one factor you might want to consider as a sign of how safe your city is likely to be in future, look to the immigration rate. Studies in the U.S. have shown that, far from what the anti-immigration lobby would have us believe, a city with more immigrants has lower crime rates. A study by Robert J Sampson, professor of social sciences at Harvard University, found that first-generation immigrants were 45% less likely – and second-generation immigrants 22% less likely – to commit violence than third-generation Americans. As Sampson has summed it up: “If you want to be safe, move to an immigrant city.”
Whatever you think about the results, or indeed about ranking cities by safety in the first place, this research is very insightful in a world where a large and rapidly growing proportion of human life is centered.
For thousands of years, cities have been at the center of human experience, social organization, and innovation. Even though the vast majority of humanity throughout history has, until very recently, lived in rural areas, it was the cities from where rulers governed, goods and services were traded, and ideas were born and disseminated.
Given that precedent, it is no surprise that today’s cities — bigger and more sophisticated than ever — have begun to rival whole nations, including the very ones in which they are located, as centers of culture, economic activity, scientific research, and political influence.
Writing in Quartz, Parag Khanna discusses the emergence and future of “megacities” — metropolises numbering tens of millions of citizens and accounting for anywhere from a third to even half of a nation’s economic output. Spanning every continent, but most especially Asia and Africa, these massive urban conurbations will reshape our species’ development in every sphere, from economy to culture.
For a larger version of the above map, click here.
As can plainly be seen, the developing world — once largely rural — will lead the way in the formation of megacities, albeit not by design; most megacities have formed organically, driven by heady economic growth and the influx of migrants from rural areas and smaller cities. The process has often been as rapid and haphazard as the political, social, and economic forces of the cities’ nations.
Within many emerging markets such as Brazil, Turkey, Russia, and Indonesia, the leading commercial hub or financial center accounts for at least one-third or more of national GDP. In the U.K., London accounts for almost half Britain’s GDP. And in America, the Boston-New York-Washington corridor and greater Los Angeles together combine for about one-third of America’s GDP.
By 2025, there will be at least 40 such megacities. The population of the greater Mexico City region is larger than that of Australia, as is that of Chongqing, a collection of connected urban enclaves in China spanning an area the size of Austria. Cities that were once hundreds of kilometers apart have now effectively fused into massive urban archipelagos, the largest of which is Japan’s Taiheiyo Belt that encompasses two-thirds of Japan’s population in the Tokyo-Nagoya-Osaka megalopolis.
China’s Pearl River delta, Greater São Paulo, and Mumbai-Pune are also becoming more integrated through infrastructure. At least a dozen such megacity corridors have emerged already. China is in the process of reorganizing itself around two dozen giant megacity clusters of up to 100 million citizens each. And yet by 2030, the second-largest city in the world behind Tokyo is expected not to be in China, but Manila in the Philippines.
For its part, the United States, which is the world’s third most populous nation, and which is expected to grow steadily over the next century, is seeing the rise of several megacities thus far: the Northeast Megalopolis, which runs from Washington, D.C. through New York City to Boston; the Southern California Megaregion, which runs from San Francisco to San Jose; and the Texas Triangle, which includes Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston, Austin, and San Antonio. Though not as large as their counterparts in the developing world, they will be formidable economic and cultural centers in their own right, and are already economically larger than some medium-sized countries.
Khanna goes on to note that the sheer size and influence of these megacities, in conjunction with the rapid pace of globalization, will make them as much a part of the world as of the nations in which they are located.
Great and connected cities, Saskia Sassen argues, belong as much to global networks as to the country of their political geography. Today the world’s top 20 richest cities have forged a super-circuit driven by capital, talent, and services: they are home to more than 75% of the largest companies, which in turn invest in expanding across those cities and adding more to expand the intercity network. Indeed, global cities have forged a league of their own, in many ways as denationalized as Formula One racing teams, drawing talent from around the world and amassing capital to spend on themselves while they compete on the same circuit.
Megacities will also redefine the relationship between the developed and developing worlds, and as well as between themselves and the rest of their countries. They will be polities of tremendous influence to reckon with in their own right.
The rise of emerging market megacities as magnets for regional wealth and talent has been the most significant contributor to shifting the world’s focal point of economic activity. McKinsey Global Institute research suggests that from now until 2025, one-third of world growth will come from the key Western capitals and emerging market megacities, one-third from the heavily populous middle-weight cities of emerging markets, and one-third from small cities and rural areas in developing countries.
There are far more functional cities in the world today than there are viable states. Indeed, cities are often the islands of governance and order in far weaker states where they extract whatever rents they can from the surrounding country while also being indifferent to it. This is how Lagos views Nigeria, Karachi views Pakistan, and Mumbai views India: the less interference from the capital, the better.
Needless to say, megacities will pose as many challenges as they do opportunities: urban planning, social organization, resource management, law and order, and infrastructure will need to be subject to considerable investment and re-imagining. Political challenges will no doubt emerge between certain megacities and their smaller peers, as well as their national governments.
Khanna concludes that these issues, along with the sheer potential and influence of megacities, should change the way we map the world — metropolitan areas should be given as much attention as the 200 or so countries that make up the world. It is an interesting argument, and one that I think bears some consideration. I look forward to exploring the topic further in Khanna’s new book Connectography.
What are your thoughts?
According to a 2015 report by Pew, the United States had one of the lowest voter turnout rates in the developed world OECD, with only 53.6 percent of voting-age people taking part in national elections in 2012. Only Japan, Chile, and Switzerland ranked lower.
Three of the countries with the highest voter turnout — Belgium (No. 1), Turkey (No. 2) and Australia (No. 5) make voting mandatory, as do mid-ranking nations like Greece (No. 12), Mexico (No. 18), Luxembourg (No. 26), and France (for Senate elections only; No. 13).
If you are wondering why countries with compulsory voting nonetheless have a gap between voting turnout and voting registration, there are various explanations, such as the law not being enforced (as in Greece) or absent voters being allowed to offer a justifiable excuse and/or pay a fine (Australia).
As for why the U.S. fares so poorly despite being one of the world’s foremost republics, there is no shortage of explanations. Many allege that it comes down to how difficult it is to actually vote — the registration process is relatively more complex than in other democracies, and national votes take place on a single non-holiday weekday. Others say it has to do with growing disaffection with, and subsequent apathy towards, politics. Still others assert that voter turnout is not really all that low to begin with.
All that said, do you think voting should be mandatory? Is it a civic obligation like jury duty and taxes, or is it best left to individual to decide, even if it means less civic engagement in the aggregate. What are your thoughts?
Source: The Washington Post
While the fate and power of most nations is judged usually by military and economic factors, demographics — the size, make up, and growth rate of the population — are of equally vital consideration. A country’s population is its greatest resource — especially when it is well invested in — and military and economic might are best achieved with larger, younger, and more well-educated people.
The United Nations Population Division, a leading source of demographic data from around the world, has released projections of what the world’s population will look like by 2100. Much of the developing world, centered on Sub Saharan Africa, is poised to become one of the leading economic, political, and cultural centers of the world, with young and fast growing populations supporting vibrant economies while the developed world copes with rapidly aging and shrinking populations.
Of course, these are just estimates, and a lot can change in nine decades; moreover, it is not a given the governments and elites of these nations will make the most of their demographic dividend. But the following rundown and analysis, courtesy of The Washington Post, shows what dramatic changes are may be in store for the world order in the coming century.
1. Africa booms, Asia plateaus, and Europe shrinks
It is a good thing Africa is such a large continent, because it total population is expected to more than quadruple within the century. That means “four times the workforce, four times the resource burden, four times as many voters”, to say nothing of the subsequent global clout; long after Asia and Europe peak — the former in fifty years, the latter as we speak — Africa will keep gaining more people for generations. Meanwhile, North and South America will continue to grow at a slow yet sustainable rate.
2. Nigeria Rises
While Africa takes center stage in the world, it is Nigeria in particular that will lead the way. Already the most populous country on the continent by a significant margin, and fifth most in the world, the country will be home to nearly a billion people by the end of the century — all living within an area roughly the size of Texas. This is an incredible, if disconcerting, rate of growth in a country rife with corruption, instability, sectarian conflict, and abject poverty — yet also with tremendous potential, resource wealth, and entrepreneurial spirit. If the government plays it hands right, Nigeria could be the next China — a major player in the global economy with a large and talented workforce, and thus a probable world power.
Speaking of China, the nation of 1.5 billion is in the midst of a demographic crisis, as its population stagnates and ages rapidly, undercutting economic growth while placing a financial burden on the government and its people. And while it will “continue to be an enormous, important and most likely very successful country”, its demographics will place considerable challenges on its aspirations and potential.
As for the other contender for new superpower status, India’s country will continue to grow at a healthy rate until around 2065, by which point it would have long surpassed China as the world’s most populous country. Its population will still be fairly young, and it, too, will have great potential to be a major cultural, economic, and military power, provided it makes the necessary investment in infrastructure, healthcare, and education.
Indonesia, presently the world’s fourth largest country by population, will continue to grow moderately, though like Nigeria, it punches below its weight despite its size, and faces similar constraints to its population growth in the form of environmental degradation, corruption, and poor infrastructure.
Finally, the United States will remain an outlier in the developed world by continuing to grow at a steady and sustainable pace, with room to spare. While its challenges are obviously not as vast as those of its developing world counterparts, mounting inequality, political dysfunction, and infrastructural deficiencies will need to be addressed to take advantage of its unique balance of wealth and population vitality.
3. The world economy pivots to Africa
Given the aforementioned population explosion, Africa may continue down the path of Asia, which also came to political and economic prominence amid and because of its young and growing population; indeed, Africa will be almost as big as Asia by the end of a century, catching up with unprecedented speed:
Between 1950 and 2050, Asia’s population will have grown by a factor of 3.7, almost quadrupling in just a hundred years. Africa’s population, over its own century of growth from 2000 to 2100, will grow by a factor of 5.18 – significantly faster than Asia
Pause for a moment to consider Asia’s boom over the last 50 years – the rise of first Japan, then South Korea, now China and maybe next India – and the degree to which it’s already changed the world and will continue to change it. Africa is expected to grow even more than Asia.
Of course, Asia’s progress had as much to do with good governance and prudence resource management than it did with demographic. If African nations can harness their population boom and make the necessary public investment, then the largest and most prominent among them — Nigeria, South Africa, Kenya, Tanzania, Ethiopia, to name but a few — can be the next Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan. Otherwise…
If they don’t improve, exploding population growth could only worsen resource competition – and we’re talking here about basics like food, water and electricity – which in turn makes political instability and conflict more likely. The fact that there will be a “youth bulge” of young people makes that instability and conflict more likely.
It’s a big, entirely foreseeable danger. Whether Africa is able to prepare for its coming population boom may well be one of the most important long-term challenges the world faces right now.
4. Not just more people, but more longer-lived people
As a testament to their socioeconomic progress, the average lifespan in both Africa and Asia on both continents is and will continue to grow. By 2100, Africans will be living 50 percent longer, equal to the North American average today, albeit it still lower than the rest of the world will be by the point. Within the century, the average European and North American will be 87.6 and 89 respectively, an amazing achievement that will nonetheless strain social security systems and economies if not properly prepared for. (Cue automation and guaranteed basic income?)
5. Immigration may save the West
Barring an unanticipated baby boom, most of Europe and the West world will face dramatic population decline, as is already occurring in places like Germany, Italy, Poland, Spain, and Ukraine (each among the more populous states in the continent). Unless they can incentivize higher birth rates or offer better economic prospects for raising a family, opening their borders to more new citizens will be the only and most immediate way to reverse course; indeed, generous immigration policies are what have kept the U.S., Canada, Australia, and New Zealand steadily growing into the future, despite falling fertility rates.
Of course, the high levels of immigration needed to offset the rapid population decline would come with its own risks, namely cultural clashes, the challenge of assimilation, and mounting, potentially violent nativist resentment. In an ideal world, perhaps the surplus of young people in the developing world could be channeled to the shrinking nations of the rich world, who could use more laborers and caregivers. This has already begun to happen to a certain degree, and over time it would mitigate imbalance of the world’s demographics, wherein growth and youth will be concentrated in poorer regions.
The see the rest of the Post’s analysis beyond this broad overview, click here. Otherwise, as usual, please share your thoughts and comments.
Nigeria is one of Africa’s leading powers — an significant achievement in a continent of 54 nations and over 1 billion people, almost 16 percent of whom are Nigerian nationals. With Africa’s largest economy as of 2014, and now the 20th largest one in the world, it has been classified as an emerging global power for its impressive speed of development.
After decades of discussion and support among academic circles, as well as a few small-scale but promising experiments, universal basic income is about to get its biggest and possibly most decisive try yet. Writing for Slate, the co-founders of one of the world’s leading nonprofit charities lay out their plan to give this innovative idea its due:
The organization that we founded, GiveDirectly, has decided to try to permanently end extreme poverty across dozens of villages and thousands of people in Kenya by guaranteeing them an ongoing income high enough to meet their basic needs—a universal basic income, or basic income guarantee. We’ve spent much of the last decade delivering cash transfers to the extremely poor through GiveDirectly, but have never structured the transfers exactly this way: universal, long-term, and sufficient to meet basic needs. And that’s the point—nobody has and we think now is the time to try.
We’re planning to provide at least 6,000 Kenyans with a basic income for 10 to 15 years. These recipients are some of the most vulnerable people in the world, living on the U.S. equivalent of less than a dollar. And we’re going to work with leading academic researchers, including Abhijit Banerjee of MIT, to rigorously test the impacts.
By “rigorous” we mean a few things. First, the test must be experimental, so that we generate unbiased and transparent estimates of impact. Second, the guarantee must be a long-term commitment. We already know quite a bit about the beneficial effects of giving people money for a few years; the key question is how the knowledge that your livelihood is secured for more than a decade affects your behavior now. Do you take more risk? Get more schooling? Look for a better job? Third, the guarantee needs to be universal within well-defined communities, since the goal is as much to understand social dynamics as individual behaviors. While various other basic income pilots have been conducted in the past, none so far have met all three of these criteria.
The group estimates that this evaluation will cost roughly $30 million, 90 percent of which will go directly to the poorest households, and the remainder to the staff, office, payment fees needed to deliver it. Because it is being tried in a developing country, the costs to make people’s needs will be lower, thereby making the project more affordable. It will also complement similar experiments being planned in Finland, Canada, and elsewhere.
And even though it will provide some well needed empirical evidence, on the largest scale thus attempted, the authors point out that there is plenty of data already available from prior attempts:
As it turns out, that assumption was wrong. Across many contexts and continents, experimental tests show that the poor don’t stop trying when they are given money, and they don’t get drunk. Instead, they make productive use of the funds, feeding their families, sending their children to school, and investing in businesses and their own futures. Even a short-term infusion of capital has been shown to significantly improve long-term living standards, improve psychological well-being, and even add one year of life.
On the other hand, well-intentioned social programs have often fallen short. A recent World Bank study concludes that “skills training and microfinance have shown little impact on poverty or stability, especially relative to program cost”. Moreover, this paternalistic approach is often for naught: Jesse Cunha, for example, finds no differences in health and nutritional outcomes between providing basic foods and providing an equally sized cash program. Most importantly, though, the poor prefer the freedom, dignity, and flexibility of cash transfers—more than 80 percent of the poor in a study in Bihar, India, were willing to sell their food vouchers for cash, many at a 25 to 75 percent discount.
Whatever the results might be, I am definitely looking forward to seeing what we can learn from this approach. Favored by economists and political scientists across the political spectrum, UBI promises a streamlined, transparent, and affordable way to alleviate poverty, stimulate economic activity, and adapt to a possible future of mass automation and scarce jobs. Or so we will see in due time, hopefully!
Back in February, the United Arab Emirates announced the creation of a “minister of state for happiness” that would “align and drive government policy to create social good and satisfaction”, whatever that means. (The same statement announced the creation of minister for tolerance, perhaps in response to the country’s rapidly growing multicultural population.)
Needless to say, the idea of a “happiness minister” was met with a lot of confusion and amusement, both from within the country and beyond. What does it means to promote happiness on a policy level? What would this entail? And should governments even take it upon themselves to worry about this?
As The Washington Post points out, the U.A.E. is only the latest of several countries to go this route. Both Ecuador and Venezuela announced similar initiatives in 2013 — a state secretary of “good living / well-being” and a “vice ministry of supreme social happiness”, respectively — and the small Himalayan nation of Bhutan pioneering the concept back in 1972 with its “gross national happiness” (GNH) index.
In theory, these ministries work to try to improve the levels of happiness in the countries through a variety of policies. David Smilde, a senior fellow at the Washington Office on Latin America, says that despite its grandiose name, Venezuela’s ministry actually has a “pretty reasonable mandate” – measuring the effectiveness of the government’s various social welfare programs. In Ecuador, Ehlers has implemented or plans to implement a variety of policies that included both labeling foods based on their health values and meditation classes for schoolchildren, the Miami Herald reported last year.
Bhutan’s GNH measure is especially interesting, as it was devised to shift public policy focus away from economic concerns — as signified by the near-universal interest in gross domestic product (GDP) and towards promoting several components of happiness, such as mental and physical health, leisure time, and standard of living.
While there is no minister directly responsible for happiness in the tiny Himalayan nation, the Gross National Happiness Commission is tasked with surveying the levels of happiness in the nation. The information they gather is then used by the government to make decisions.
Butan’s big idea has since proven popular around the world and now a variety of countries all around the world – including Thailand and the United Kingdom – have begun measuring happiness with an aim to using it to devise policy. Dubai actually announced plans for its own Happiness Index in 2014, with Hussain Lootah, director general of the municipality, telling the National newspaper that it would be designed to “create an excellent city that provides the essence of success and comfort of sustainable living.”
Interestingly, despite leading the way in prioritizing social well being as government policy, Bhutan’s performance has been mixed at best: according to the most recent U.N. World Happiness Report, which was inspired by the GNH idea, the country ranks only 79th out of 158, not terrible but not all that great. Bhutan has also dealt with faced issues such as pervasive poverty and discrimination against non-Buddhist minorities.
Believe it or not, the same U.N. report ranked Venezuela a respectable 44th in 2016, a significant drop since 19th in 2012, when the Orwellian-sounding “vice ministry of supreme social happiness” was created. Given the country’s plethora of social, economic, and political problems — ranging from food shortages to high crime — this decline is unsurprising, though still not as damaging as one would think.
For their part, Bhutan ranked 84th, the U.A.E. 28th, and Ecuador 51st. (Wikipedia has a great breakdown of the report’s results and methodology here.) As The Post points out, the top ten countries — all of which were northern European states and small Anglophone nations — had another thing in common besides being wealthy liberal democracies:
None of the top 10 countries rated “happiest” in the U.N. report have a government ministry devoted to happiness – although given the rarity of such ministries, it’d be very surprising if they did. There’s certainly little doubt that government policies can influence levels of happiness, but whether an entire ministry is needed is not so certain. Generally, when it comes to improving levels of happiness, “what matters is how things are done across government as a whole,” says John Helliwell, a co-editor of the World Happiness Report and a senior fellow at the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research. And Carol Graham, a fellow at the Brookings Institution who has studied attempts to measure well-being, says that the creation of ministries for happiness can be a “diversion” and may even “border on the government telling people how to be happy or that they should be happy.”
And while most of the top nations were indeed highly developed, broadly prosperous states, there was a smattering or poorer or middle-income countries, such as Costa Rica (14th place), Puerto Rico (15th), Mexico (21st), Chile (24th), and Panama (25th). It goes to show that, as with individuals, there is no magic bullet when it comes to well-being and life satisfaction.
Granted, it seems to be the general rule that financial wealth, stability, and freedom — both on an individual and societal level — generally correlates with happiness. But values, community life, leisure time, and culture count for a lot, too; people or places that are lacking in some factors, but excel in others, might still end up happier on the whole.
In my view, the best thing governments can do is create the proper conditions within which happiness can thrive — effective rule of law that safeguards personal safety and stability, less intrusion into civil liberties, more public spaces for leisure and community engagement, and so on. In other words, cultivate a physical and social environment that maximizes the individual’s ability to improve their own well being. More proactive measures, such as making healthcare and education more accessible, would certainly help, too, but this could be politically unpalatable in places wary of government intrusion, like the U.S. (which, by the way, ranked a good 13th place in the U.N. happiness report.)
What are your thoughts?