Some people believe that happiness comes from within. In the world of economics, however, happiness may be more linked to quantitative factors such as inflation, lending rates, employment levels, and growth in gross domestic product (GDP).
This week’s chart uses data from Steve Hanke of the Cato Institute, and it visualizes the 2019 Misery Index rankings, across 95 countries that report this data on a consistent basis.
The index uses four key economic variables to rank and score countries:
- Lending rate
- Unemployment rate
- GDP per capita growth
Here are the Misery Index scores for all 95 countries:
To calculate each Misery Index score, a simple formula is used: GDP per capita growth is subtracted from the sum of unemployment, inflation, and bank lending rates.
Which of these factors are driving scores in some of the more “miserable” countries? Which countries rank low on the list, and why?
The Highest Misery Index Scores
Two Latin American countries, Venezuela and Argentina, rank near the top of Hanke’s index.
1. Vexation in Venezuela
Venezuela holds the title of the most “miserable” country in the world for the fourth consecutive year in a row. According to the United Nations, four million Venezuelans have left the country since its economic crisis began in 2014.
Turmoil in Venezuela has been further fueled by skyrocketing hyperinflation. Citizens struggle to afford basic items such as food, toiletries, and medicine. The Cafe Con Leche Index was created specifically to monitor the rapidly changing inflation rates in Venezuela.
Not only does Venezuela have the highest score in the Misery Index, but its score has also seen a dramatic increase over the past year as the crisis has accelerated.
2. Argentina’s History of Volatility
Argentina is the second most “miserable” country, which comes as no surprise given the country’s history of economic crises.
The 2018 Argentine monetary crisis caused a severe devaluation of the peso. The downfall forced the President, Mauricio Macri, to request a loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
To put things in perspective, this is the 22nd lending arrangement between Argentina and the IMF. Only six countries have had more commitments to the international organization, including Haiti (27) and Colombia (25).
The Lowest Misery Index Scores
The two countries with the lowest scores in the index have one thing in common: extremely low rates of unemployment.
1. Why Thailand is the Land of Smiles
Thailand takes the prize as the least “miserable” country in the world on the index. The country’s unemployment rate has been remarkably low for years, ranging between 0.4% and 1.2% since 2011. This is the result of the country’s unique structural factors. The “informal” sectors—such as street vendors or taxi drivers—absorb people who become unemployed in the “formal” sector.
Public infrastructure investments by the Thai government continue to attract both private domestic and foreign investments, bolstering the country’s GDP alongside tourism and exports.
2. Hungary’s Prime Minister Sets the Score
Hungary is the second least “miserable” country in the world according to the index.
In 2010, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán implemented a workfare program which diverted menial tasks to thousands of job seekers. Over the same period that the program ran, the national unemployment rate fell from 11.4% to 3.8%.
Orbán won a controversial fourth term in 2018, possibly in part due to promises to protect the country’s sovereignty against the European Union. Despite accusations of populism and even authoritarian tendencies, the Prime Minister still commands a strong following in Hungary.