Zack Gross
Zack Gross

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Measurements Put Canada in Top Ten Countries on Earth

Brandon Sun “Small World” Column,  Monday, April 10 / 17

Zack Gross

Late March-early April is when two major reports are released each year ranking our planet’s countries in terms of Human Development and World Happiness. These reports serve as reminders of what we might hope for the world (peace, prosperity, health) and how close we have come to achieving these goals.

The United Nations Human Development Index (HDI) ranks 188 countries based on life expectancy, years of education and gross national income.  Canada has always been in or around the top ten and, in fact, reached
No.1 a couple of times back in the ‘90s.  The latest HDI ranks Canada 10th, with those achieving higher grades being Norway at No.1, then Australia, Switzerland, Germany, Denmark, Singapore, Netherlands, Ireland and Iceland. 

Other countries we might more easily relate to in the rankings include the US, tied with Canada in tenth, the United Kingdom at 16th, the Russian Federation at 49th, Cuba at 68th and Mexico at 77th.  Toward the bottom of the list you will find Tanzania at 151st, Rwanda at 159th, the Congo at 176th and South Sudan at 181st. 

The UN stated, in launching this year’s HDI that despite the past 25 years of impressive human development, one-third of humanity still lives in poverty.  The theme of the HDI, and that of Canada’s current overseas assistance program, is “leaving no one behind” and what the UN says is that the next really tough challenge is to ensure that the benefits of global progress reach everyone.

The UN points out that many are still excluded from real progress, not just in the “developing world
,” but also in wealthy countries where hundreds of millions of women, children, ethnic minorities and indigenous people live in relative poverty.  Many of these groups as well as rural dwellers, LGBTI and people with disabilities around the world are also excluded or under-represented politically, socially and culturally.

The UN is quick to point out that since 1990, a billion people on the planet have escaped extreme poverty and that women’s issues have become a mainstream global issue with 127 countries now legally protecting women from domestic violence, an infinite improvement from the past. Yet, anyone watching the news sees many signs of progress being rolled back by reactionary populations and ultra-right movements and governments in a time of great migration, destructive conflict and episodic terrorism.  While progress may be being made at a grassroots, under-the-radar level, what we see on the surface is a world in turmoil.

This brings us to that other index, the World Happiness Report for 2017.  The first one came out in April 2012 when the UN held a High Level Meeting on happiness and well-being.  To support this initiative, the Organization for Economic Co-operation & Development (OECD) committed itself “to redefine the growth narrative to put people’s well-being at the centre of government efforts."

Norway,
No.1 in the HDI, is also No.1 in Happiness.  What is being measured is income, healthy life expectancy, good governance, freedom, trust and generosity.  It says that money alone doesn’t equal happiness.  An example in Norway is that it is developing its oil industry slowly and investing its profits with the long-term future in mind, avoiding the boom and bust cycle of many resource-rich countries.

Denmark, Iceland and Switzerland rank next in order and Canada stands at 7th.  Other factors researched include mental and physical health, quality of work or unemployment, and personal relationships.  Thus, a country like China has had unprecedented economic growth but its Happiness Index hasn’t really changed in recent years, because loss of social safety nets and growing unemployment offsets the general economic growth.  In the US, as we might imagine, the happiness situation has been dropping, now ranking 14th!

Happiness Report co-author, Jeffrey Sachs of Columbia University, says that “the sense of community is deteriorating in the US.” He says that over the long-term, there has been a growing sense of mean-spiritedness, corrupt government and rising inequality.  A loss of hope among the poor in America’s heartland has been the result and may explain the recent US national elections.  What has worked in the Nordic countries, says another report author is their sense of community and understanding of the common good.

Canada’s high ranking in these indexes is something we can build on.  There is much yet to do to improve our standing and maybe get back to
No.1.  The plight of indigenous people, the inequality faced by many women, and the deteriorating state of our environment are challenges we need to pursue.


Zack Gross is a former Executive Director of Brandon’s
The Marquis Project.

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