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Today in Mushy Statistics: The World Prosperity Rankings Are Out

• October 30, 2012 • 9:33 AM

The creepily-named Legatum Institute (“legatum” means this) has released its annual ranking of world prosperity, and the US isn’t in the top ten. We’re twelfth. Out of 142.

Which is not bad. But it’s not good, either. This is the first time in the report’s six years that the US has dropped so low on the organization’s tally.

An interactive map is here, and worth a look. It is easy to spend a lot of time digging around in the group’s conclusions, via scoring in the following categories: economy, “entrepreneurship and opportunity,” governance, education, health, safety and security, freedom and social capitol (that’s how decently a given country’s people tend to treat each other, it appears)

What’s the Legatum Institute and why should anyone care what it thinks? It’s a London-based think tank that is more or less non-partisan, staffed by ex-diplomats and senior journalists, other flavors of embassy cocktail-circuit muckety-mucks, and the number-crunchers who work for them. That is, these are not the people who run the world, like Kissinger and Associates or one of those other revolving-door shops. But the Legatum crew probably know the people who run the world, at friend-of-a-friend distance. So it’s interesting to see what they think that world looks like.

Unsurprisingly, Scandinavia and environs turns out to be the best place on Earth to live, prosperity wise. Norway, Denmark and Sweden are the top three most prosperous places in Legatum’s study. Australia and New Zealand hold down fourth and fifth respectively, and then it’s back to the other pole with Canada, at sixth. From there you’re into various banking paradises and Holland.

More surprisingly, the study appears not to have controlled for some conceivably obvious civil rights measures of “prosperity.” In 52nd place, Saudi Arabia brushes up against the world’s most prosperous upper third. Women aren’t expected to have the vote in Saudi Arabia until 2015, soonest. How that sort of thing is weighted in the study is somewhat unclear.

Spain is ranked very high, 23rd, on the prosperity list. One in four Spaniards is unemployed and half its young people are jobless. Somehow, it outranks South Korea, at 27th, though the Korean statistical picture is dramatically brighter than the Iberian one’s. Probably depends on how one happens to rank fidua against dakjuk.

Still, there’s something to the exercise. We see the US getting called on the carpet for its citizens’ fragile sense of personal safety—and rewarded for some bottom-line aspects of its health system, which is an administrative wreck, but still has some of the best doctors and hospitals in the world.

Mexico came in sixty-first, India one hundred and first, and Syria (113) came in ahead of Nigeria (123), Liberia (130) and Iraq (131), a calculation that is either admirably indifferent to the news cycle, or daft. China (55) ranked among the best in “economy” and among the worst in “freedom.” Averaging those divergent China numbers does seem to get to a truth. Perhaps not a whole truth, though.

 

Marc Herman
Marc Herman is a writer in Barcelona. He is the author of The Shores of Tripoli.

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