Where's The Best Place To Live? Prosperity Index Offers A Few Surprises
By Breffni O'Rourke, RFE/RL
Cabo San Lucas, Mexico
Believe it or not, this is not the best place in the world to live.
You may be surprised at which country ranks at the top of the list.
What's your idea of the best place in which to
Many people would probably answer that palm trees and a gleaming beach would be
a good start to their idea of earthly paradise. But in real life, the country
which scores best on a whole range of economic and quality-of-life issues is a
good deal colder.
That's what the 2009 Prosperity Index
issued by the British-based think tank the Legatum Institute finds.
|THE TOP 10
9. United States
10. New Zealand
The Legatum Prosperity Index is now in its third
year. Its inspiration stems from a speech that onetime U.S. Attorney General
Robert Kennedy gave in 1968. He said that the economic indicator most used to
measure a country's progress, namely gross domestic product, or GDP, measures
everything "except that which makes life worthwhile."
With this idea as their guiding light, the academics
at the Legatum Institute set out to measure human well-being in an infinitely
more complex way. They chose nine headings that seemed to sum up the most
important ingredients for happiness.
These include, of course, a country's economic fundamentals, but also personal
freedom, health, education, and a safe and supportive society. In addition,
there are broad issues, like quality of governance and of domestic institutions,
and whether there is space for entrepreneurship and innovation.
William Inboden of the Legatum Institute explains that the list is meant to
broaden the thinking of both public and private individuals on the subject of
what constitutes progress.
"Certainly it's targeted at government officials, because a number of factors
involved in it relate to government policy, such as respect for human rights,
respect for economic freedom and trade freedom and the like," he says. "But also
we try to aim this at business leaders, the media, and interested citizens."
One interesting fact shown by the research is that only in the poorest countries
does money have an effect on the satisfaction in life. Surprisingly, once a
nation rises out of extreme poverty, increases in income play a decreasing role
It also shows that many factors leading to prosperity are interdependent. For
instance, where economic policies favor small business and innovation, these in
turn help to build a broad base of economic stability.
Sound governance is also a key ingredient to prosperity, the report says.
Individuals, not governments, are the builders of wealth and happiness. Yet
governance is indispensable. Countries in which sound governance leads to
satisfied citizens are also most likely to have the best economic fundamentals
and the most entrepreneurial societies.
"Our working theory of prosperity is that it's the responsibility of governments
to have wise policies, but also it's for the citizens to take control of their
lives and seize the opportunities when they can," Inboden says.
Under the heading "History Is Not Destiny," the survey points out encouragingly
that the highly ranked nations include not only those with a long history of
productive economies. There are also those which a couple of decades ago were
afflicted with poverty, oppression, and unhappiness.
For instance, Ireland, an economic disaster zone a generation ago, today
occupies 11th place in the list of 104 nations.
Similarly, in one generation, Singapore, Taiwan, and South Korea have risen from
nowhere to be star economies.
Back in Europe, nations such as Croatia, Estonia,
the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Slovakia have emerged from communism and now
score comparatively well in the prosperity index.
|THE BOTTOM 10
101. Central African Republic
Croatia, for instance, occupies 35th place out of 104. Despite involvement in a
crippling war in the 1990s, it manages today to achieve an "average" rating
across the various headings with no weak points and even a "strong" performance
in personal freedoms.
Fellow Balkan state Macedonia comes in at No. 59, with weaknesses in its
economic fundamentals and personal freedoms.
relegated to a position -- No. 95 -- near the end of the index, with failings in
most categories, comprising economic fundamentals, democratic institutions,
security and safety, governance, personal freedoms, and social trust. It
achieves an average rating only in entrepreneurship, education, and health.
Uzbekistan does little better, occupying 92nd place, having the same number of
faults as Iran, with a slightly differently spread. Failures are in education,
democratic institutions, entrepreneurship, governance, personal freedoms, and
Kazakhstan, the largest of the Central Asian states, comes in somewhat better at
No. 76, with similar failings, but lightened by an "average" score in
entrepreneurship and innovation, and in economic fundamentals.
Russia is in 69th place, with one "strong" category, namely education, and five
weaknesses, comprising domestic institutions, safety and security, governance,
personal freedoms, and social trust.
In Eastern Europe, Ukraine is in 61st place, with weaknesses only in governance
and social trust.
Belarus is further down, in 85th place, with its score evenly divided into
"average" and "weak," the latter being the usual ones of governance, personal
freedoms and social trust, plus entrepreneurship and domestic institutions.
Moldova lies between Russia and Belarus, in 78th place, with all the expected
Copyright (c) 2009 RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036. www.rferl.org
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