Tag Archives: development

What Makes For the World’s Happiest Country?

The Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN), an initiative of the United Nations intended to influence government policy, released its third annual World Happiness Report yesterday. The report named Switzerland the world’s happiest country based on a composite index that includes economic wealth, social well-being, public health, political stability, and other factors.

According to the report, the world’s happiest countries in 2015 are: Switzerland, Iceland, Denmark, Norway, and Canada. The worlds least happy countries in 2015 are: Togo, Burundi, Syria, Benin, and Rwanda. The United States ranked 15th overall, one place ahead of Brazil and one place behind Mexico.

What do you think? What does the SDSN’s report on happiness suggest about development? What factors do you think are most important in determining a country’s overall level of happiness? What are the limits of this approach to understanding public policy? And what lessons, if any, should government decision makers take from the report?

Migration and Social Mobility in China

A new photography exhibit seeks to highlight to challenges faced by China’s migrants. Millions of China’s citizens have migrated from rural homesteads to urban centers over the past two decades as China had rapidly developed. Indeed, according to one estimate, up to one-third of Beijing’s twenty million citizens are migrants.

Under China’s hukou system, citizens of China are classified as either rural or urban residents. The system historically defined a wide range of asocial benefits. In more recent years, the hukou system has been reformed, but it still limits the ability of rural citizens to purchase property in urban areas. This system, according to its critics, has limited the upward social mobility of millions of Chinese.

What do you think? What are the advantages and disadvantage of China’s hukou system? Would you suggest reforming the system? Why? How?

Gender and Religious Freedom

It’s long been noted by development experts that the single fastest and most powerful development tool is protecting gender equality, particularly by empowering women and girls through education and health care. But such goals often run afoul of cultural and religious preferences and beliefs, as the experience of women in countries like Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Sudan attest.

The most recent example is that of Meriam Ibrahim, a Sudanese woman who had faced the death penalty for marrying Daniel Wani, a US citizen and non-Muslim. The case had drawn worldwide attention, particularity from conservative American politicians, who viewed Ibrahim’s case as an example of Islamic attacks on Christians. Ibrahim’s death sentence was overturned on Monday and she was freed from jail. But yesterday she was again detained by Sudanese officials who contend that she attempted to leave the country using illegal documents—emergency travel documents issued by the South Sudanese government.

Thailand’s Military Coup

General Prayuth Chan-ocha addresses Thailand to announce the military seizure of power.

General Prayuth Chan-ocha addresses Thailand to announce the military seizure of power. Watch the subtitled video

After months of political unrest, the Thai military yesterday seized control of the country in a military coup and imposed martial law across the country. Prime Minister Yingluck Sinawatra has been detained by the military,  and six senior military officials have been appointed to run the government. Unlike the 2006 military coup against Yingluck’s brother (and Prime Minister of Thailand from 2001-2006), Thaksin Shinawatra, the Thai military is not promising a quick return to civilian rule. Instead, statements by General Prayuth Chan-ocha suggest that the military may seek to retain power for a considerable amount of time.

Thailand has been rocked by political instability since Prime Minister Yingluck Sinawatra assumed office in 2011. The simple version is that Thai politics have been sharply divided between rural peasants, who constitute a majority of the Thai population and support the populist Sinawatra political regime, often referred to as “Red Shirts,” and the smaller but influential urban middle and upper classes, often dubbed “Yellow Shirts.” While the Yellow Shirts have been well organized and vocal in their opposition to Yingluck’s caretaker government, they lacked the votes to affect political change through the ballot box.

But on Tuesday, the Thai Constitutional Court ruled that Prime Minister Yingluck had acted illegally when she transferred her national security head, and ordered her and several key ministers to step down. This sparked the military’s decision to move into the political vacuum.

So what’s next for Thailand? With a per capital GDP of about $5,400, Thailand boasts Southeast Asia’s second largest economy, and the country was recognized for its successful economic development. But the 1997 Thai baht crisis (and sharp declines in the value of the baht again in 2013) undermined much of the progress, and inequality in Thailand remains very high. The coup will no doubt undermine tourism in the country, which accounts for more than 10 percent of all economic activity in the country. Political unrest—whether the result of the military coup or of a protracted political standoff between Red Shirts and Yellow Shirts that results in violence—will certainly not benefit the Thai economy.

What do you think? How will the political standoff in Thailand be resolved? Will the military hand power back to a civilian regime? When? And how will the regime—military or civilian—be able to bridge the ongoing political and economic divisions at the heart of Thailand’s current crisis?

Happy World Happiness Day!

The United Nations has recognized March 20 as the International Day of Happiness! What are you doing to celebrate it?

The United Nations’ recognition is intended to highlight the importance of fundamental freedoms. While measuring happiness can be problematic, the overall findings of the World Happiness Report suggest that levels of economic development—that is, of satisfying basic material needs—is important.  Thus it’s perhaps not surprising, the happiness index ranks the Scandinavian states as the happiest in the world.

So happy International Day of Happiness! What are you doing to celebrate?

The Economic Challenge of Climate Change

Bill Gates and the World Economic Forum

Bill Gates and the World Economic Forum

Government ministers and corporate executives descended on Davos, Switzerland, to meet at the World Economic Forum last week. While the world faces numerous challenges, ranging from the threat of an internet meltdown to the situation in the Middle East, the topic of climate change quickly took center stage. Delegates agreed that climate change posed a major threat to the global economy, with Coca-Cola’s Chief Environmental Officer, Jeff Seabright, noting that “Increased droughts, more unpredictable variability, 100-year floods every two years—we see those events as threats.” Seabright also noted that access to water, sugar cane, sugar beets, citrus juice and other key ingredients was also threatened by climate change.

But while the World Economic Forum is noting the importance of addressing climate change, individual governments appear unwilling to make significant strides towards real action. A report in the New York Times last week noted that the European Union is moving to ease climate rules in an effort to alleviate some of the economic pain associated with the global downturn. The United States has refused to sign most international climate change accords, usually citing the threat to the national economy as the reason. Economic growth and a clean environment as thus often cast as rivals in a tradeoff—to get more of one, you have to accept less of the other.

But is this accurate? Are environment and economy in constant competition? Al Gore, Bill Gates, and others are hoping not. In a conversation on climate change and development at this week’s World Economic Forum, Gates raised the connection between climate change and development, noting that, “As the poorest are being lifted up, as they’re getting lights and refrigerators, we are going to use more energy. There’s not a scenario here where we use less energy. We have to make the energy we use not emit any greenhouse gases, particularly CO2.” But Gore and others are hoping that “clean development” can create jobs and reduce carbon emissions around the world, removing the tension between economy and environment. If they’re right, the future looks a lot brighter. If not, there are some real challenges ahead.

Birth Rates and Development Myths

Hans Rosling’s group GapMinder has produced some powerful video representations of development trends over the years. Indeed, his 2007 TED talk has been described as the “best slideshow ever.” More recently, Rosling’s River of Myths has been making the rounds in social media. The video challenges many of the outdated assumptions about development, child mortality, and population growth that dominate our consideration of development. It’s well worth a watch.