Table Of Content
- About the author
- About the book
- This eBook can be cited
- List of Tables
- List of Figures
- CHAPTER 1 Which Countries Are Successful?
- CHAPTER 2 The Economics of a Better Place
- CHAPTER 3 The Sociology of a Better Place
- CHAPTER 4 Politics and Better Place
- Famous Last Words
- APPENDIX A The Better Place Index 2018
- Series index
Appendix AThe Better Place Index 2018
This short book was written during the Covid-19 lockdown of 2020. The aim was to bring together objective and neutral data and evidence on when countries are successful or not. The short book combines sociology, economics and political science and makes use of statistics to develop the Better Place Index: a measure of success. The book is a snapshot of how things were at a particular period in time. Nothing is static. It is possible that other countries would be winners in the future. Readers who are interested in the methodology and more detailed statistics of each country can look at website, which provides all the information. It can be found at: <https://www.thebetterplaceindex.report/infographics>
The work on the book was made possible through a generous grant from Guerrand-Hermès Foundation for Peace, and I would like to thank Dr Scherto R. Gill for facilitating this. The author is also grateful to Mr Mason Waters, my research assistant whose expertise in statistics was invaluable. Chief Simon Pentanu deserves praise for inspiring this study. Further, I want to thank my colleagues Michael Hardy OBE, Richard Dickson, and the Chancellor of my University Margaret Casely-Hayford CBE for support and spirited conversations. I am also grateful to Jens Kromann Kristensen of the World Bank for help and advice. Lastly, I am indebted to Mr Anthony Mason from Peter Lang for facilitating the publication of this short book. The usual caveat applies.
Statisticians, now over to you, count, measure and compare!
Jean-Jacques Rousseau 1
The aim of this book is to answer two simple questions: which countries do well and why?
Of course, it is much easier to ask than to answer. First of all, what do we mean by ‘well’, and how do we answer the ‘why’? To deal with the last first, we need a working definition of ‘doing well’ and we need a benchmark or a yardstick to measure it. We will develop one in this book. We call it the ‘Better Place Index’ – or BPI for short. It provides a single figure for when countries have low levels of crime and pollution and high levels of health, education and economic prosperity.
However, such a measure only makes constructive sense if it is used to make the world a better place. For this to happen, we need to know when and why some countries do well, and when and why others perform miserably. This is the stuff of many dinner conversations, bar-room chats and learned discourses. Geezers and geniuses have theories about what makes a world a better place. Some blame foreigners for their misery; others give immigrants the credit for having created better societies. Some think it is the welfare state that made their lives better – others think that the ‘nanny state’ is the root of all evil. The aim here is to be completely open to the ‘facts’, and unprejudiced as to why a country is likely to come out on top. Previously, we could but use selected examples. Now, in the age of Big Data, we can make more scientific judgements based on statistical evidence.
At the time of writing, we have not made the index, we don’t know if the winner will be Canada or Cuba, Denmark or the Democratic Republic of Congo, or some other place. Nor do we know if it is a country with high ←1 | 2→or low taxation, with many or few emigrants, or if it is a democracy or a state run by a single man (there are very few women dictators!).
So, once we have outlined the index, we look at different factors: accidents of history, and geography, social, economic, political and legal reasons. And we use statistics and facts to prove which factors are conducive for creating a better place.
At the end of the book, we will be able to say not only which countries are ‘the better places’ (the ones that have success) but also why and when they are likely to achieve this. The conclusions will not be to everyone’s liking; we don’t like when our pet theories are proven wrong. But to make the world a better place we need to have an open mind. So here we go ….
1In the French original, ‘Calculateurs, c’est maintenant votre affaire; comptez, mesurez, comparez, Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1964) Rousseau, J. J. (1964). ‘Du contrat social’ Oeuvres completes. Paris: Pleiade/Gallimard, p. 420.
In 2016, the author of this book was in Bougainville, formally a part of Papua New Guinea. The country was preparing for a vote on independence, and yours truly was there to outline the various options. The Speaker of the Parliament, Chief Simon Pentanu, a soft-spoken giant with a regal demeanour, listened politely, but asked searching and difficult questions. One of them was roughly as follows, ‘How exactly do we create a better place?’
My response, using the rather bland jargon of the international consultant, was ‘through governance’ structures’.
The Chief, still polite, but with a slight overbearing look, responded,
Sure enough, but sometimes, I’d wish you guys would be more specific. I have to come up with practical ideas and ways to make this a better place. So, I need facts and solid evidence. But, first of all, we need to know what we do well, and then to understand why. That is what I want to know.
At the time, I was not able to provide this ‘evidence’ and these ‘facts’. I promised to go back and look at it. The following pages is, in a sense, an answer to Chief Simon1, but one that is also of use to everyone else trying to create a successful society. We do this by developing a brand-new ranking; the Better Place Index – or BPI for short.
First the ‘doing well’ bit. How do we measure success? Today, and for the past seventy years or so, societies have been measured almost solely on economic growth. Generally, politicians, statisticians and others engaged in this have relied on one simple measure for success, namely Gross Domestic Product (the value of all goods and services in a country) at Purchasing ←3 | 4→power parity. The latter is a measure of the relative prices in the different countries. For example, the prize of A Bloody Mary in New York is higher than the price of the same drink in Mexico City, but below what it costs in Geneva. Once we take this into account, we get a sense of how well things are going economically.
However, most of us know that there is more to life than economics. Money, I am not going to lie, is, of course, very important. But there are other things that are perhaps equally vital for a good life. This is not just a view shared by hermits and hippies. Even Joseph Stiglitz, the former Chief Economist in the World Bank who – being a bit of an over achiever – also won the Nobel Prize in economics, came to the same conclusion – ‘income itself does not provide a full summary of the anxiety facing individuals’2. Success is not just about economics. It is no use to be filthy rich if you are chocking in a polluted city, or – to be blunt – if the homicide rate is so high that you risk being shot.
So, we need a measure that takes into account all ‘the anxiety’ that Mr Stiglitz mentioned. This book outlines this in the form of the Better Place Index (or BPI), which takes into account, the environment, crime, health, education and, yes, economic well-being as well.
I already hear murmurs, and objections, What about religion? What about human flourishing? What about enjoyment of life? Well, of course, these are important things. But we need to sort out the basics before we get there. The American psychologist Abraham Maslow famously wrote a paper about what he called the hierarchy of needs. His basic idea was that you must satisfy your basics before you move on to consider the higher ones:
If all the needs are unsatisfied, and the organism is then dominated by the physiological needs, all other needs may become simply non-existent or be pushed into the background. It is then fair to characterize the whole organism by saying simply that it is hungry, for consciousness is almost completely pre-empted by hunger. All capacities are put into the service of hunger-satisfaction, and the organization of these capacities is almost entirely determined by the one purpose of satisfying hunger3.
In this book, and the index developed in it, we deal with basic needs, because satisfying them is a prerequisite for doing things that gives meaning to life and makes it worth living. For as Maslow also wrote, ‘the urge to write poetry, the desire to acquire an automobile, the interest in American history, the desire for a new pair of shoes are, in the extreme case, forgotten or become of secondary importance. For the man who is extremely and dangerously hungry, no other interests exist but food’4.
But just measuring and ranking countries in the order they meet basic needs is not much use. Yes, of course, some will take comfort in being top of the list, and others may gleefully revel in Schadenfreude; pleasure derived from another country’s misfortune. But this is really not that helpful.
But it might be asked, hasn’t this been done already? After all, we live in an age of Big Data, and surely a list, and, indeed, a ranking of ‘better places’ must have been made, right? Well, not really, in fact. Not ones we can use anyway.
A quick look at the most widely cited indices will prove this point. The most commonly used is the Human Development Index compiled by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP)5. The problem with this index is that it uses other indices to create their own index, which is akin to creating averages out of yet other averages. Besides, this index is based on incomplete datasets for inequality.
Another index is OECDs Better Life Index. This is better in many ways, as it includes official data and surveys to measure well-being, the environment, material living condition and community engagement. But it only measures these for industrial countries, so it is far from complete6.
The thinktank the Legatum Institute is another one. Their index, the so-called Prosperity Index, benchmarks 149 countries across categories such as personal safety, health and the environment7. In many ways, it is valuable, but it is based on many other indices, which makes it less than transparent. Further, the problem is that it includes values like freedom and democracy ←5 | 6→in the index. That is fair enough if you like democracy, but it means that you cannot use the index to test if democracy is good for prosperity. The index is, therefore, a bit biased, and, frankly, a bit circular.
The same is true for The Worldwide Governance Indicators, by the World Bank. This ranks countries with respect to six aspects of good governance: ‘Voice and Accountability, Political Stability and Violence, Government Effectiveness, Rule of Law, Regulatory Quality, and Control of Corruption’8. But once again, these are not outputs all can agree on. They are factors that might be conducive to good governance9. So, to put it differently, we need a simple measure that allows us to rank countries using only factors that everyone can accept.
It is important to state at the outset that the BPI is not a measure of the ‘best’ society, just a better one, ‘if men [and women] were angles, no government would be necessary’10, wrote James Madison, one of America’s Founding Fathers. But they are not. As the American statesman knew, we are dealing with human beings. This is not utopia, still less, heaven on earth. It is just a measure of which countries are ‘better’ – or worse – than others. And this, in turn, is just a measure to help us find out how we can make countries into ‘better places’.
In Search of the Common Good?
To write about a ‘better place’ is nothing new. Since the dawn of civilisation, philosophers, writers and even some bookish rulers have come up with ideas of what is ‘a good society’. For Saint Thomas Aquinas – a corpulent cleric whose reported size was only matched by his formidable ←6 | 7→intellect – the aim of law making was ‘the ordering of the common good’ – the bonum commune11.
But what is that exactly? To begin with there are two types of answers. Some are ‘utopians’, they write books about the ideal world, as they see it, no matter how far-fetched this society might be. On the other hand, there are ‘Realists’, people who come up with what they consider to be practical blueprints for ‘better’ societies. The philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who inspired the French Revolution, wrote about ‘men as they are and laws as they should be’12. He was a realist, whereas the ancient Greek philosopher Plato was a utopian. A former wrestler from a well-to-do family, he wrote a book called the Republic, which outlined the best imaginable world – as it happens ruled by philosopher-kings, suspiciously like the author himself.
When he later tried to put his ideas into practice as a political advisor in Syracuse, in present-day Italy, it was a complete disaster. Plato cut his losses and left dejected and despondent, ‘principally through a feeling of shame with regard to myself, lest I might someday appear to myself wholly and solely a mere man of words’13. Once back in Athens, he wrote another book The Laws, which was more realistic – but also very tedious with drearily detailed practical recommendations on all sorts of minor administrative details, such as the regulation of the beggars in the marketplace and funeral procedures14.
Yet, utopians have continued to write books. And some think that it is useful to have dreams as guiding lights. A writer recently suggested that utopias of the past have come true and that it is only by dreaming ‘big’ that we can get to the promised land15.
Possibly so, but there are also things we wish did not come true. In the renaissance, that is 500 years ago, when Sir (later Saint) Thomas More ←7 | 8→coined the term ‘Utopia’ (it literally means ‘no place’), he was not the only one to come up with an idea of paradise on earth.
In Thomas More’s case utopia was rather tame, and certainly had some features, which some people today, would find appealing. For example, Sir Thomas wanted to ban fox hunting but legalise euthanasia – the latter is rather surprising given that he was later canonised as a Catholic saint16. But be that as it may, the fact of the matter is that his conclusions were rather liberal – not far from the average reader of The Guardian in the United Kingdom or The Washington Post in the USA. For example, Sir Thomas More also wanted higher salaries to workmen, ‘coachmen, carpenters and farmhands, who never stop working’, whereas he wanted the opposite for ‘goldsmiths and money lenders, who either do no work at all, or do work that’s not really essential’17.
So, the problem with this utopia was – and is – that it is politically biased. Such thinking might provide inspiration, but it is almost inevitably prejudiced and represents one particular point of view. But inspiration is not a good thing in all cases. Sir Thomas was relatively modest – though even his ideas, as we just saw, are not shared by everyone today.
There were other utopias, which were more radical. A few years after More, an Italian Friar Tommaso Campanella wrote about the City of the Sun, where the wearing of high heels was punishable by death18. In the protestant world, the utopias were no less draconian. A less known Lutheran clergyman wrote about Wolfaria, a utopian society where there would be drowning of drunkards, public execution for adulterers, and beheading for anyone who taught any other prayers than the Lord’s Prayer19. Utopias like this might be good for inspiring the Taliban, but they are unlikely to be cherished by everyone, and seem to be earlier versions of the dystopian societies described by novelist Margaret Atwood in the Handmaid’s Tale20 – or in ←8 | 9→the real life experiences described in The Gulag Archipelago, by the former political prisoner Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, who lived through the system described by the Soviet leaders as ‘actually existing socialism’.
So, the utopian approach is not necessarily much good when we are trying to find out what is ‘a better place’. We need to find something – or rather some things – that everyone can agree on; both those who watch Fox News and the ones whose main source of information is CNN; the ones who read the New York Times, as well as those who rely on the Daily Telegraph.
Is such agreement possible? Some think not. Joseph A. Schumpeter, a celebrated Austrian economist and briefly a finance minister for his country, once famously, claimed that there is ‘no such thing as a uniquely determined common good that all people would … be made to agree on by the force of rational argument’21. The same economist claimed to be ‘the greatest economist in the world, the greatest horseman in Austria, and the greatest lover in all of Vienna’22. Nice line. Schumpeter was, by all accounts a humorous and entertaining chap. But that does not mean that his opinion should be accepted unquestionably; ‘a witticism is not a rational proof’23. In fact, it seems rather uninspired and uncreative to say that we cannot agree on the common good, maybe in some abstract and philosophical sense. Of course, we do not all agree on whether equality s a bad thing, on whether the public sector should be large or small, or on immigration. But, as will be argued below, these are not really ‘ends’, rather they are ‘means’ to achieve them. The level of taxation, to take but one, is not a goal in itself, but a way to achieving higher welfare. For example, some people (those on the left) believe that higher taxes (within reason) will make society better.←9 | 10→
Those on the right believe that lower taxes (again within reason) are a means to creating a better society, and that higher taxes can lead to lower productivity, fewer incentives, and, consequently, lower welfare even for the poor.
We disagree on the means. That is what politics is about. But can we agree on common goals? And, if so, what are those objectives exactly? One way of answering that question is to use what we might call the ‘anti-test’. This is a way to measure the things that it would be absurd to be against. For example, for all intents and purposes, everyone, regardless of religious beliefs or political persuasion, agrees that infant mortality is a bad thing; they are also against homicide and a polluted environment. And, at the risk of getting ahead of ourselves, these things can be measured, which brings us one step closer to identifying the ‘better places’, the ones that have ‘success’. Let’s look a little closer at the contenders for inclusion in a Better Place Index.
Nearly everybody in America is concerned about the large number of people who are murdered. The goal of a low homicide rate is a thing that unites all Americans – and folks in other countries too, we might add. The difference is not over the goal, rather what divides opinion is getting there. Film-maker Michael Moore – him of Bowling for Columbine fame24 – believes that restrictions on the sale of handguns would solve the problem. The National Rifle Association (NRA) believes the opposite, and some even claim that more guns will lead to lower levels of crime25. But they share the goal; to lower the murder rate. So, we can add this to the list.
The same, is true for long life expectancy. Yes, of course, there are some who argue that we have a longing for death. Sigmund Freud, to name but one talked about a ‘death drive’26 – or a Thanatos as subsequent psychoanalysts ←10 | 11→have called it27. And the German Romantic poet Novalis wrote Sehnsucht nach dem Tode – it would translate something like, ‘longing for death’,
But Novalis is the odd one out; a kind of poet-version of rock stars with a death wish like Any Winehouse, Kurt Cobain, or Jim Morrison. For 99 percent of the population, a long life is a good measure of a good society.
What else do we need to add? An obvious candidate for inclusion, as noted, is low infant mortality. For who could possibly disagree with that goal? Surely, there is nothing more heart-breaking than children dying young, a life so promising cut short before it has properly begun. For this reason, we should have a low level of infant mortality as part of the index. In the United States, 55,000 children die before reaching their fifth birthday29. That is very sad. But on this we have seen improvements. Until 1,800 roughly one third – 33 percent – of all children died before the same age. But not all countries are this fortunate. In Ghana, which is not among the poorest countries in Africa, about six million children die before reaching this age30, or 34 out of every 1,000 children. In America the figure is six for every one-thousand live births. To improve this number, is likewise a no-brainer.←11 | 12→
So too is increased wealth. Yes, it is true that GDP per Capita is a crude measure, and indeed one that sometimes creates perverse incentives. In a prescient, some might even say prophetic, speech Robert Kennedy (JFK’s brother who was running for the Presidency in 1968) voiced this concern in a speech at The University of Kansas three months before he was assassinated:
Gross National Product counts air pollution and cigarette advertising, and ambulances to clear our highways of carnage. It counts special locks for our doors and the jails for the people who break them. It counts the destruction of the redwood and the loss of our natural wonder in chaotic sprawl. It counts napalm and counts nuclear warheads and armored cars for the police to fight the riots in our cities. It counts Whitman's rifle and Speck's knife, and the television programs which glorify violence in order to sell toys to our children. Yet the gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country, it measures everything in short, except that which makes life worthwhile.
These words have not ceased to ring true. But, despite this, economic growth is still a valid goal. We might agree with the tenor of Kennedy’s speech. Some might even agree with the sentiment, famously stated by the eighteenth-century writer Jean-Jacques Rousseau, that ‘you must make money contemptible’31. At some abstract philosophical level, some might want to return to the state of nature and be a ‘noble savage’, as the same philosopher dreamed about. But as a practical political goal? No, not really! Just try to do the anti-test. ‘Let’s reduce average income!’ This is not a rallying cry that would win many votes. The only one who has pursued this as a deliberate policy was the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia in the 1970s.
But Robert Kennedy still had a point that GDP is not the only measure. That is not controversial. This, in fact, is the reason for writing this book ←12 | 13→and for devising The Better Place Index. But to have a measure of a good society, a way of assessing economic wealth is necessary, and GDP (for all its short comings) is the only one we have at the moment. If a better one comes along, then, of course, we might use that. But for the time being, there is no alternative to GDP. So, we add that to the list too.
So far, then we have a low murder rate and a low infant mortality, as well as long life expectancy and a high GDP per Capita.
What else is there? Well, most people would also add education. And this is where it gets tricky. For here we are not comparing like with like. Some would say that reading and writing, say at the age of ten is a good measure. But reading Chinese – with thousands of signs – is more complex than reading English, Greek or Arabic. Moreover, we simply do not have global league tables of literacy rates. So, what can we do?
Other international indices, such as the United Nations’ Development Programme’s Human Development Index simply measures the years of schooling. This, certainly, is not an ideal way of gauging the quality of education. No less a writer than Thomas Hobbes, perhaps the greatest philosopher ever to write in the English language, was dismissive of this kind of quality-control. ‘For’, he wrote in his masterpiece Leviathan, ‘it is possible [that] long study may increase and confirm erroneous sentences; and where men build on false grounds, the more they build the greater the ruin32’.
Certainly, Hobbes had a point. But, once again, we have to consider the alternative. Many years of study may equate with more years of indoctrination. Still, the anti-test again comes in handy. All other things being equal, most people would want many years of schooling as opposed to few. So, Hobbes’ caveat notwithstanding, we can add years of education to the list. But, like GDP, it is not an ideal way of assessing the quality of education.
Statistics and Big Data are useful, but the problem is often that many important things do not lend themselves to quantitative analysis. That is just a fact of life. But, nonetheless, figures, data and numbers provide an invaluable starting point.
So far so good. So, what else should we include? The environment is an obvious candidate. After all, many people talk about the climate ←13 | 14→catastrophe. But this is where it becomes difficult. For many people – so-called climate deniers – question whether rises in global temperature are man-made, or just a result of the natural fluctuations which have always occurred. Should low CO2 emissions be part of the Better Place Index?
Once again, notwithstanding the disagreement over the effects of climate change, even politicians who have opposed measures to cut greenhouse gasses, for example, US President Donald Trump – not a politician who is known for his enthusiastic pursuit of ‘green’ policies – sent his followers (and many beside them) the following Tweet:
‘Which country has the largest carbon emission reduction? AMERICA! 91% of the world’s population are exposed to air pollution above the World Health Organization’s suggested level. NONE ARE IN THE U.S.A.!’33
In the interest of accuracy, the forty-fifth president of the United States was not entirely correct. In fact, the US only cut its emissions 12 percent34. France cut them by 20 percent, Britain by 29, and Denmark by 34 percent between 2000 and 201635. This disinformation aside, the point here is that Trump also cared about this issue. To include CO2 emissions per 100,000 inhabitants is not a sign of ideological bias. There is broad agreement about the goal. The difference is over policy and how to solve what is regarded (almost) by everyone as a problem.
So, we have a list of the issues that everybody – or practically all – believes to be important. Such near universal goals constitute what the American political philosopher John Rawls called an ‘overlapping consensus’, or things people can agree on despite ‘considerable differences in [their] conceptions of justice’36.
But how do we measure these? The reader will not be surprised to learn that statisticians have developed complex and mathematically difficult ←14 | 15→tools. These are certainly useful for highly specialised journals for experts, but they are not necessary to get the basic picture across.
What we are doing in this book is to ‘democratise knowledge’. What we seek is to present an understandable number that ordinary people can use when they want to hold their leaders to account.
For the sake of developing this index, we hold that the following are positives that no one would disagree with37:
- – Low CO2 emissions (measures by tonnes per 100,000 people);
- – Many years of education;
- – Low homicide rate per 100,000;
- – Low Infant mortality rate per 100,000;
- – Long life expectancy;
- – High GDP per Capita in Purchasing Power Parities.
These figures can be compared individually, as on a dashboard, but we believe they cannot be viewed in isolation. Politicians cannot be held to account for one figure, but for a full range of policies.
It is not enough to just lower crime, if health deteriorates and the economy is stagnant. So, we have developed a measure that measures them all together and give them all equal weight38.
The calculations can be found in Appendix A at the end of this book. If you turn to this you will see that Switzerland comes out on top, followed by Luxembourg, Norway, Ireland and Sweden. With Germany in tenth Place and the UK in twelfth spot.←15 | 16→
‘In Switzerland, they had brotherly love, they had five hundred years of democracy and peace – and what did that produce? The Cuckoo Clock.’ Thus, said Harry Lime (Orson Wells’ character) said in the film The Third Man39. In fact, this clock wasn’t even a Swiss creation. It was invented in the German state of Baden-Württemberg around 1740.
But what Switzerland has – apart from cheese, secret bank accounts, muesli, and army knives – is good government. The long-established Alpine republic is consistently the highest placed country on the Better Place Index. Other countries are doing well, too, of course, for example, the Scandinavian countries, Ireland, Luxembourg and Singapore. And other countries do abysmally year after year, for example, South Africa and El Salvador. It is tempting to start to look for patterns, but we will wait with that.
Let’s first get an overview. We can basically divide the countries into categories. There is Switzerland, Luxembourg, Norway and Ireland, which are the only countries above 1.10. Behind these we have a few countries between 0.90 and 1.09, which includes Britain and Germany, in respectively, ninth and tenth place.
But we have to go rather far down before we find the United States in twenty-sixth place with a score of 0.71, just behind Slovenia, Cyprus and Canada.
Why is America so low relatively speaking? Mainly due to the high levels of crime, ‘according to the United Nations Demographic Yearbook, the Japanese homicide rate per annum was six victims per million persons. Most of Western Europe had similar or slightly higher rates … The UN estimate for the United States was a whopping 98’40. The updated figures we used for this book find the same trend. In the USA 4.96 are killed per 100,000 every year, in Slovenia it is only 0.48 and in both Canada and in Cyprus it is 1.26. But America also scores lowly because infant mortality is relatively high. In Sweden only two out of every infant die at birth. In the USA the figure is six. Much lower, of course, than Afghanistan (48 ←16 | 17→out of 100,000) and Angola (52 out of 100,000), but twice as high as in comparable countries like Austria and Australia.
Of course, it is not all doom and gloom for the USA. America is still in top thirty, mainly because it is a rich country. The thing is that USA would be higher up if we solely measure by GDP. But if we take all the other important factors into account, then things are not so rosy. America, the most powerful country in the world, is not among one of the top ten places to live.
America is still ahead the former communist countries in Eastern Europe, the likes of Slovakia and Croatia in the thirty-second and thirty-fifth place, and just ahead of Cuba in thirty-sixth place all of them with BPIs in the high 50s.
In fact, Cuba does well, mainly because it has long life expectancy, just below seventy-nine years, low infant mortality four out of every thousand live births (two points lower than the USA). The Communist led island nation also has roughly the same murder rate as the USA (just below five per hundred thousand). Of course, the Cubans aren’t rich, compared to Americans, Brits and Australians. But with a GDP per Capita of $8,821, they are slightly richer than their neighbours in the Dominican Republic ($8,050), not far behind Brazil at just over $9,000 per year, and certainly considerably ahead of Ecuador at $6,000. Moreover, the Cubans have a low carbon footprint at three metric tons per person. So, it stands to reason that they are doing surprisingly well on the Better Place Index.
If we move further down the list, we have countries with a BPI in the 40s. These include Sri Lanka and Estonia, before we come to the countries in the 30s, like Lebanon and Costa Rica. And in the 20s, we have the likes of Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan (both with BPI: 0.25), Thailand (0.23) and, finally, China (0.22).
In the teens you have Algeria, Paraguay and Turkey. An aspiring member of the EU, the latter country is, in fact, not that successful. Perhaps surprisingly, its GDP per Capita is relatively low at $ 9,370; it has a relatively high infant mortality at 9.1 deaths per 1,000 live births, so there is certainly room for improvement, but so far that has not been the case. There was a more or less consistent fall in the BPI-score for Turkey until 2016, when it rose temporally only to be reversed again in 2018.
←17 | 18→What is perhaps equally interesting is that the countries on the Arab peninsula, the likes of Kuwait in 106th place and Saudi Arabia immediately below, are so low down on the index. This is unexpected, especially given their riches and low levels of crime. They both have a BPI-score of -0.09. But again, this is where the other factors come in. The two Arabic countries have an exceptionally high carbon footprint. Above all, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait score badly because of massive CO2 emissions; 19 metric tons for the former and 26 metric tons for the latter. By contrast the similar figure for Germany in only 8 metric tons – although this country is the third largest exporter of goods behind China and USA. So, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait might be as rich as Spain, but their life expectancy (in both cases just below 75 years) is much lower than in the Southern European country on the Iberian Peninsula; the average life expectancy for a Spaniard is 83 years old.
In other words, there are countries which we perceive as successful on the global stage, but which are not – places that are international powers but whose citizens suffer from crime, low incomes and pollution, to name but three factors.
There has been much talk about the BRIC economies, an acronym for Brazil, Russia, India and China. These countries were much hyped when Economist Jim O’Neill, then the chairman of Goldman Sachs Asset Management, introduced the shorthand at the beginning of the Millennium41. They have even been referred to as the ‘Big Four’.
But in terms of BPI, these countries are far from ‘big’ when it comes to being safe, rich and healthy. The four nations may be powerful militarily and, in some cases, even feared by their neighbours. But the people who live in them are not getting the benefit of this. Admittedly China and Russia (BPI: 0.13) are in Top 100 – though very far down– coming in at, respectively seventy-fifth and eighty-eighth place. India in 116th place has a negative score of – 0.14 and Brazil, two places below, scores only -0.15.
Of course, some people would argue that the actual number is only part of the story. What matters is if there is an improvement, or the opposite42. China, Russia, India and perhaps to a lesser degree Brazil did not have a favourable starting position, so they have a lot of catching up to do. Hence, it is better to look at the improvements. If, indeed, the countries did make improvements Brazil dropped by a relatively modest -0.02, Russia (despite a rapid increase after 2016) dropped by -0.6 overall in the period, and India saw a consistent drop of -0.11 over in the years since 2010. Prime Minister Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), in power since 2013, have claimed that they were making India great again. Measured by BPI, they have not. Our figure has dropped while the Hindu-Nationalist party has been in power.
←18 | 19→The same might not be said for China. Overall, this massive country had a net BPI increase of 0.16 over the period, but, as the Figure 1.3 shows, the performance is not that rosy on closer inspection. For all the talk about a more powerful China under the rule of Xi Jinping, there has been a consistent trop in the BPI-growth rate for the People’s Republic since he came to power in 2012.
By contrast economies like Britain, France Germany, Japan, the USA – and smaller economies like Italy and Canada – (in short, the G7-countries) had a much more favourable starting position.
These nations had developed industries centuries earlier and – so some would argue – were able to exploit poorer parts of the world in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century when all but one of them had colonies in Asia and Africa.
So how have they fared recently? Overall, the G7 countries have done well, there has been a modest average growth overall, though only of 0.01. America has done best with a consistent growth averaging nearly 0.04. This is graphically represented in the Figure 1.4.
←20 | 21→The other G7 countries have had modest ups and downs. With an overall improvement of 0.02 Britain has an average growth similar to that of France and Germany (both 0.03), but her performance has been fluctuating, just like that of Japan. But in both cases the trend has been slightly upward bound as graph shows (Figure 1.5).
It is tempting to attribute political and economic factors to these changes. For example, France improved after the election of Emmanuel Macron, America’s average dropped slightly from 0.4 to 0.3 after Trump became president. Some will look for confirmation that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s so-called Abenomics (it stands for increased money supply combined with increased government spending), has improved the country’s standing. And some in the United Kingdom will notice that Britain immediately dropped into negative territory after the Brexit referendum in 2016. Others, perhaps of a different persuasion, will notice that the UK bounced back in 2018.
But these analyses are superficial, and in any case, premature. Social science is much too complex to draw simplistic conclusion. We need to look into each of the factors – and we will do so in the subsequent chapters. But before we do so, it is necessary to look at the countries that fare poorly.
It is probably not surprising that Zimbabwe is in 124th place with a BPI of -0.26. For example, on the day when this sentence is being written, a headline on the BBC website, read, ‘Zimbabwe – once again on the brink of collapse’43. Things have certainly not been rosy for the impoverished and misruled African country. But it is probably unexpected that Jamaica ←21 | 22→(-0.28) is below Zimbabwe in 127th place. More commonly associated with Rum, Reggae and Red Stripe Beer than a low quality of life, Jamaica scores badly on the index, perhaps above all because the supposedly chilled island nation has a murder rate that is almost off the scales. Forty-four individuals per 100,000 people are murdered every year. This is second only to El Salvador at 52 per 100,000.
Why does Zimbabwe do better? For starters the African country is cleaner – 0.8 metric tons per head compared to Jamaica’s 2.50. Zimbabwe is not a safe place, with a homicide rate of 6.67 (roughly like that of the USA), but this is far below the murder rate on the Caribbean Island. What is doubly tragic is that Jamaica used to be a peaceful place. When the country gained its independence in 1962, the murder rate was just below four in every one-hundred thousand inhabitants, just above that of present-day Switzerland. No wonder former Jamaican Prime Minister P. J. Patterson described, the murder epidemic, as ‘a national challenge of unprecedented proportions’44.
Other countries that are sometimes perceived as ‘strong’ also fare poorly. If Nigeria ‘can get its socioeconomic act together, it may also be the continent’s first superpower’, wrote the American magazine Newsweek at the time when this index was being compiled45. Well, so far, the largest West-African country has spectacularly failed in this endeavour. It is currently in 169th place. Why is this so? It is not surprising, really, when we look at the figures; infant mortality is heart wrenchingly high in Nigeria (75.7 deaths per 1,000 live births), the homicide rate of 9.5 per 100,000 rate is almost twice that of the United States, and the average Nigerian lives for only just under fifty-three years. Add to this that its GDP per Capita is a mere $2,000 – and it matters little that the carbon footprint is a miniscule 0.55 metric tons per year for every individual. Nigeria is not doing well.
Without analysing each and every country it is sadly expected that the three of the four worst placed countries are war torn Yemen (-1.22), ←22 | 23→Afghanistan (-1.26) and the Central African Republic (-1.43) – the fourth one is Lesotho. Civil wars kill many people, life expectancy goes down rapidly and the opportunities to produce goods and services are near to none existent. In the well-known phrase of Thomas Hobbes, ‘no arts, no letters, no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear and danger of a violent death; and life of man [and woman] solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and mean’46.
So, and this is the big question, when and why are countries successful? What drives success? A command economy under one-party rule has worked reasonably well in Cuba, but then again, others with the same sort of system have fared poorly, Venezuela for example. Some countries with very interventionist economic policies and high taxes have occasionally been successful, for example, in the case of Sweden. But to cherry-pick example is not a scientific way to answer this question. We must look at the matters systematically. We begin with the economic factors in the next chapter.
1In Papua New Guinea, Chief in an honorary title like ‘Sir’ in the United Kingdom, and not a sign that the holder is the leader of a tribe.
2Joseph Stiglitz et al. (2019) Measuring What Counts. New York: The New Press, p. 8.
3Abraham Maslow (1943) ‘A Theory of Human Motivation’. Psychological Review, 50(4), 370–396, at p. 373.
7<https://li.com/reports/2019-legatum-prosperity-index/> Accessed 16 March 2020.
9It is beyond the scope of this book to provide a deep methodological critique of these measures. Interested readers should are encouraged Piero Stanig (2018) ‘Considerations on the Method of Constructing Governance Indices’, in Helmut K. Anheir, Matthias Haber and Mark A. Keyser (Editors) Governance Indicators: Approaches, Progress, Promise. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 134–153.
10James Madison (2003)  ‘Federalist Paper No. 51’, in Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and James Madison The Federalist Papers. New York: Signet Classics, p. 319.
11Thomas Aquinas (1959) ‘Summa Theologica’, in A. P. D’Entréves (Editor) Selected Political Writings. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, p. 111.
12Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1964) ‘Du Contrat Social’, in Jean-Jacques Rousseau: Œuvres completes. Paris: Gallimard, pp. 951–1041, at pp. 347–524, at 351.
13Plato (1997) ‘Letter VII’, in John Cooper (Editor) Plato: Complete Works. Indianapolis: Hackett, p. 1648.
14Plato (1975) The Laws. Translated with an Introduction by Trevor J. Saunders. London: Penguin, p. 484 and p. 512.
15Rutger Bregman (2018) Utopia for Realists. London: Bloomsbury.
16Thomas More (1965) Utopia. London: Penguin, Fox hunting p. 95 and euthanasia, p. 102.
17More, Utopia, p. 129.
18Tommaso Campanella (2008)  The City of the Sun. Radford, VA: Wilder Publications, p. 23.
19Susan Groag Bell (1967) ‘Johan Eberlin von Günzburg’s “Wolfaria”: The First Protestant Utopia’. Church History, 36 (2), 122–139.
20Margaret Atwood (2006) The Handmaid’s Tale. London: Everyman.
21Joseph A. Schumpters (1946) Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy. London: Unwin, p. 251.
22Joseph Schumpeter quoted in Thomas K. McCraw (2007) Prophet of Innovation: Joseph Schumpeter and Creative Destruction. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, p. 4. In fairness, Schumpeter said that he only became two of the three things. He never said which too, but remarked that there were many good horsemen in Austria.
23Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1964) ‘Considérations sur le gouvernement de Pologne’, in Jean-Jacques Rousseau: Œuvres completes. Paris: Gallimard, pp. 951–1041, at p. 1007.
24Bowling for Columbine was a political documentary, which explored the circumstances that lead to the 1999 Columbine High School massacre. The film was released in 2002.
25J. R. Lott Jr (1999). ‘More Guns, Less Crime: Understanding Crime and Gun’. Southern Economic Journal, 65(4), 978–981.
26Sigmund Freud (1987) ‘Beyond the Pleasure Principle’ in On Metapsychology. Middlesex: Penguin, p. 316.
27Daniel Cho (2006) ‘Thanatos and Civilization: Lacan, Marcuse, and the Death Drive’. Policy Futures in Education, 4(1), 18–30.
28Georg Philipp Friedrich Freiherr von Hardenberg Novalis (1772–1801) Hinunter in der Erde Schoß/Weg aus des Lichtes Reichen/Der Schmerzen Wut und wilder Stoß/Ist froher Abfahrt Zeichen/Wir kommen in dem engen Kahn/ Geschwind am Himmelsufer an (Sehnsucht nach dem Tode, in Hymnen an die Nacht1800).
30UN Inter-agency Group for Child Mortality Estimation (2013). Levels & Trends in Child Mortality – Report 2013. New York.
31Jean-Jacques Rousseau: Political Writings, Madison, WI: The University of Wisconsin Press, p. 225.
32Thomas Hobbes (1973) Leviathan. London: J. M. Dent & Sons, p. 143.
33<https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/1169356703126773762> (Accessed 12 March 2020).
35<https://www.factcheck.org/2019/09/trumps-false-facts-on-the-environment/> (Accessed 12 March 2020).
36John Rawls (1971, 1999) A Theory of Justice (Revised Ed.). Harvard University Press, p. 340.
37CO2 Emissions data based on <http://www.globalcarbonatlas.org/en/CO2-emissions>; Years of education data taken from the Human Development Reports <http://hdr.undp.org/en/data>; Homicide data taken from <http://www.smallarmssurvey.org/tools/interactive-map-charts-on-armed-violence.html>. GDP, Infant Mortality, and Life Expectancy data taken from <https://data.worldbank.org/>
38Statistically this is done using so-called Z-scores. Simply put, this is a way of standardising the scores for each of these factors, a way of using an average, and making the data comparable. The details of how this is calculated may not interest everyone, and we will not go through it here (Those interested in the details can consult the website <www.thebetterplaceindex.com>).
39This is of course paraphrasing Orson Welles, in the film The Third Man, directed by Carol Reed (1949).
40Martin Daly (2017) Killing the Competition: Economic Inequality and Homicide: London: Routledge, p. 21
41Jim O’Neill (30 November 2001) ‘Building Better BRICs’ Global Economics Paper No. 66 Goldman Sachs & Co.
44P. J. Patterson quoted in Washington Post, ‘Murder ‘Madness’ Bedevils Jamaica: Government Struggles to Curb Wave of Slayings and Address Underlying Causes’, 27 July 1999; page A13.
45Sam Hill (2020) ‘Black China: Africa’s First Superpower Is Coming Sooner Than You Think’, Newsweek, 15 January.
46Thomas Hobbes (1973) Leviathan. Dent: London, 65.
It was the best of times for some. It was the worst of times for others. The stock market was booming, and investors were becoming filthy rich. But there was also anxiety. There had been mass immigration, and some of the immigrants belonged to a different religion, which created suspicion, as they tended to live in ghettoes. There was occasional violence, and ‘some of the perpetrators of the heinous acts of terrorism were new immigrants … This fact allowed nativist elements within the United States to create periodic spasms of anti-immigrant hysteria’1. New technologies of instant communication meant that information was spreading quickly – and many, especially those living away from the larger metropolitan areas were feeling left behind. A new movement known as Populists were challenging the wealthy elite. One of their leaders, who was running for the presidency, summed up the grievance of many when he outlined his economic philosophy:
There are two ideas of government. There are those who believe that if you just legislate to make the well-to-do prosperous, that their prosperity will leak through on those below. The Democratic idea has been that if you legislate to make the masses prosperous their prosperity will find its way up and through every class that rests upon it2.
The reader could be forgiven for thinking this was an address delivered in the second decade of the twenty-first century. It wasn’t. In fact, the speaker ←25 | 26→was William Jennings Bryan, a Democrat who – unsuccessfully – ran for election in 1896. The period 1870–1900 was known as the Gilded Age, and it was characterised by immigration by Irish and Italian Catholics to the United States, growing economic inequality, the invention of the telephone and immense riches for the so-called robber barons – the likes of Cornelius Vanderbilt, John D. Rockefeller, and Henry Ford – who benefitted from the expansion of the new communication technologies, the railway and the emerging oil industry.
- XIV, 140
- ISBN (PDF)
- ISBN (ePUB)
- ISBN (MOBI)
- ISBN (Book)
- Publication date
- 2021 (June)
- Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, New York, Wien, 2021. XIV, 140 pp., 41 b/w ill., 1 table.