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The Better Life Index

The OECD notes that “There is more to life than the cold numbers of GDP and economic statistics” and have compiled an index that “allows you to compare well-being across countries, based on 11 topics the OECD has identified as essential, in the areas of material living conditions and quality of life.”

Go here and you can see the comparison of the OECD countries plus Russia and Brazil compared with all 11 variables equally weighed, or you can manipulate the comparisons to see which countries do better in specific areas.

The folks at the Economist also played with the index and came up with their own comparison:

The Economist has grouped these 11 sectors into four broader categories. America excels most in money and jobs, Switzerland in health and education. This year the OECD has adjusted the index for equality to give an estimate for the top and bottom 20% of each country’s population. America scores particularly poorly on this account, with the bottom 20% having an index score some 25% below that of the top 20%.

 

For those interested in such things, another index that attempts to go beyond just raw economic variables is the UNDP’s  Human Development Index, which ranks the entire world.

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About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is Professor and Chair of Political Science at Troy University. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. He is the author of Voting Amid Violence: Electoral Democracy in Colombia and is currently working on a comparative study of the US to 29 other democracies. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging at PoliBlog since 2003. Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. I’d say Norway, Sweden, and Canada all deserve to be above us on that list, because it’s not just about medians. We should do better.

    Insert “we are not Norwegians/Swedes/Canadians!” here.

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  2. @john personna:

    I’d say Norway, Sweden, and Canada all deserve to be above us on that list, because it’s not just about medians

    Which is kinda the whole point of this exercise. The problem with “the cold numbers of GDP and economic statistics” is that the stubbornly refuse to give us the results we want, so let’s make up some fuzzy “well-being” index to make sure we get the right outcomes.

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  3. @Stormy Dragon:

    Wait a second.

    These numbers are in alternative to simply GDP.

    Are you arguing GDP is a true measure of a nation’s happiness?

    (Obviously not. There is a tremendous amount of research. GDP matters greatly to poor countries, but rich countries have a more complex situation. They start to reach declining returns on happiness from simply more GDP. Money, it turns out, isn’t everything.)

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  4. The Happiest Countries in the World

    Go ahead, read it. I dare you.

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  5. @john personna:

    Are you arguing GDP is a true measure of a nation’s happiness?

    No, I’m suggesting the idea of being able to precisely measure happiness is flawed.

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  6. @Stormy Dragon:

    Subjective well-being is the best measure of happiness we’ve got. It is, like a certain class of other things, “the worst except for all the others,” but to reject it is to rely on those others.

    To the extent that efforts like the “better life index” can decode inputs to that, they are certainly useful.

    Certainly in this country subjective well-being is under-utilized, and GDP is over emphasized.

    There probably is an agenda in that.

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  7. @john personna:

    Subjective well-being is the best measure of happiness we’ve got.

    My problem isn’t that it’s subjective, it’s that it’s arbitrary. It’s one thing to say “increased education makes people happier”. It’s another to suggest a specific ratio between, say, more education spending and higher pay, particularly when they haven’t done any sort of econometric study to determine what the ratio should be and are just winging it based on their personal preferences.

    There probably is an agenda in that.

    There’s an agenda both ways. The problem with subjective indexes like this is that their outcome is entirely up to the arbitrary weighting factors chosen (indeed, the OECD actually encourages you to play around with them). Since they are entirely arbitrary, they can be manipulated to show whatever rankings you want to push a particular policy agenda.

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  8. Rob in CT says:

    You’re both right. Ahhh!

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  9. al-Ameda says:

    Based on the current conservatives’ assessment of America’s relative well being, I would have guessed that America would be tied with Greece at #27.

    Americans are definitely not happy, we’re angry, and despite that,
    we believe that we’re Number One.

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