Economics Analysis

Locking in the benefits COVID offered to a troubled world

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While the COVID pandemic took its toll on the world's population, it changed our lives positively in some ways (Image by freedesignfile)

Among the positives to emerge from the global pandemic is an enhanced appreciation of quality of life, as Alan Austin reports.

THEY SAY a near-death experience focuses the mind on what’s really important. They also say few people on their deathbeds wish they had spent more time at the office.

The COVID pandemic was a near-death experience for much of world. Within two years of the first infection, 5.5 million people were dead. The toll is now 6.9 million. Around 700 million have been infected worldwide.

Clearly, the destruction COVID wrought has been horrific. Those lives are lost forever. But some outcomes of the global response to the pandemic we should welcome and retain.

Work-life balance

One discovery through the pandemic was that large sectors of the workforce can work effectively from home — far more than was thought possible before. Many workplaces continue to take advantage of this.

Countless organisations have now replaced costly travel for conferences with the convenience of face-to-face meetings online.

Globally, there is a greater focus on the well-being of workers other than just wages and conditions. And also on the health of the planet.

This has accelerated the acceptance of alternative measures of progress to the traditional growth in gross domestic product (GDP) and the budget deficit.

Are you safe out walking?

The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has generated an intriguing index that scores all 38 developed OECD members on 24 criteria measuring overall life quality.

The Better Life Index tracks conventional employment rates, household income and household wealth but excludes GDP growth. It takes in predictable indicators such as housing expenditure, air pollution, water quality, life expectancy and homicide rates. Then it adds some that are definitely alternative, such as voter turnout, quality of community support, life satisfaction and feeling safe when walking.

On life satisfaction, Finland leads with a score of 7.9, followed by Iceland with 7.6, and then three countries with 7.5 — Denmark, Netherlands and Switzerland. Australia ranks 13th with 7.1. The USA ranks 16th and the United Kingdom 19th.

On the quality of community support, Iceland leads at 98%, with four countries tied at 96% — the Czech Republic, Finland, Ireland and Norway. The USA ranks 18th with 94%. Australia ranks equal 19th at 93%, along with Canada, Spain and the United Kingdom. Unsurprisingly, Australia with its enforced compulsory voting tops the table on voter turnout.

Disturbingly, Australia ranks a dismal 30th on feeling safe when walking. The highest rankings in that sub-category, in order, are Norway, Slovenia, Finland, Luxembourg and Austria.

On housing expenditure, Australia ranks 25th, which will not surprise regular IA readers. Countries leading in shelter are Slovakia, New Zealand, the Czech Republic, Denmark and the United Kingdom. The USA ranks 29th.

Australia leads on global aid, sort of

Australia ranks an impressive equal fourth on the Commitment to Development Index. This is somewhat surprising after nearly nine years of the Coalition Government which showed little regard for the well-being of the world’s poor.

Published by the Centre for Global Development, this index ranks 40 strong economies on their dedication to improving the lot of the five billion-plus people in dire poverty.

Sweden ranks first with an impressive score of 100. Then comes France with 78 and Norway with 75. Sharing fourth place with Australia with 74 are the United Kingdom, Netherlands and Germany.

Well down the list are New Zealand at 15th, the United States at 22nd and China at 36th.

A breakdown of the components of that score is instructive. The ‘development finance’ sub-index reflects what most people think of as overseas aid. On this, Australia ranks a miserable 25th out of the 40 countries. Top-ranked on this sub-index are Luxembourg, Norway and Sweden.

China surges in human development

The Human Development Index published by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) remains invaluable, giving 191 nations a score and ranking based on health, education, income and living conditions.

The latest report shows impressive advances by China (up 19 places to 79th) and the Dominican Republic (up 16 places to 80th). Other winners include Ireland, Thailand and Ethiopia all up six, Sri Lanka up nine, Bangladesh up 11 and Egypt up 13 places.

Germany, as we noted last week, appears currently to be struggling with multiple issues and has declined five places, as have Slovakia and Afghanistan. Mexico has slipped eight places, Ecuador 14 and Venezuela an appalling 41 places down to rank 120th.

Can we have a happy planet, too?

The Happy Planet Index (HPI) published by the New Economics Foundation is not to be confused with the World Happiness Index, which reflects the happiness of people. The HPI monitors the happiness of the planet by evaluating environmental footprints as well as life expectancy and personal well-being for 152 countries. 

Costa Rica tops the world in the latest assessment. The others in the top ten are Vanuatu, Colombia, Switzerland, Ecuador, Panama, Jamaica, Guatemala, Honduras and Uruguay.

It is extremely gratifying to report that eight of the top ten are Latin American nations. These are usually near the tail of most rankings, whether economic, health, democracy or human rights. Not on this one. Impressive.

New Zealand ranks 11th, the United Kingdom 14th, Australia an appalling 88th and the United States a dreadful 122nd. Both Australia and the USA scored poorly on ecological footprint.

Other alternative indices and reports are published from time to time, which we shall analyse in due course — provided, of course, our work-life balance regime permits.

Alan Austin is an Independent Australia columnist and freelance journalist. You can follow him on Twitter @alanaustin001.

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