The election fever in India has become such that even some critical reports, such as release of World Happiness report, on 20 March did not even see a mention in the media. The irony becomes even greater since this report could have been used by the opposition to help the first time voters make up their minds about which way India is moving.
The report shows India far behind Pakistan in the global list of happy nations. Pakistan, at 67th position, is not just a neck ahead but twice as good as India, which is at a record low of 140th position. Also, India has slid 7 positions down its own ranking of 2018, when it was at 133rd position.
According to the report, the 5 countries that have registered the most decline in their rankings are Yemen, India, Syria, Botswana and Venezuela. All our neighbours are ahead of us with Pakistan at 67, Bhutan at 95, Bangladesh at 125 and Sri Lanka at 130.
What is the Happiness Report
The report is prepared by independent experts. The editors are eminent people like John F. Helliwell, Vancouver School of Economics at the University of British Columbia, Richard Layard, Wellbeing Programme, Centre for Economic Performance, at the London School of Economics and Political Science and Jeffrey D. Sachs, Sachs Director, SDSN, and Director, Center for Sustainable Development, Columbia University.
The editors have used data from Gallup to reach their conclusions. About Gallup, Chuck Hagel, former US Secretary of State has said, “Gallup is truly an island of independence — it possesses a credibility and trust that hardly any institution has. A reputation for impartial, fair, honest and superb work.”
With such authors and database, there is no reason to doubt the objectivity, accuracy and comprehensiveness of this report.
The report ranks countries on six key variables that support well-being: income, freedom, trust, healthy life expectancy, social support and generosity.
1. GDP per capita – GDP per capita is in terms of Purchasing Power Parity (PPP) adjusted to constant 2011 international dollars, taken from the World Development Indicators (WDI) released by the World Bank on November 14, 2018. GDP data for 2018 are not yet available, so the report extends the GDP time series from 2017 to 2018 using country specific forecasts of real GDP growth from the OECD Economic Outlook No. 104 (Edition November 2018) and the World Bank’s Global Economic Prospects (Last Updated: 06/07/2018), after adjustment for population growth. The equation uses the natural log of GDP per capita, as this form fits the data significantly better than GDP per capita.
2. Social support – Social support is the national average of the binary responses (either 0 or 1) to the Gallup World Poll (GWP) question “If you were in trouble, do you have relatives or friends you can count on to help you whenever you need them, or not?”
3. Healthy life expectancy –The time series of healthy life expectancy at birth are constructed based on data from the World Health Organization (WHO) Global Health Observatory data repository, with data available for 2005, 2010, 2015, and 2016. To match this report’s sample period, interpolation and extrapolation are used.
4. Freedom –Freedom to make life choices is the national average of binary responses to the GWP question “Are you satisfied or dissatisfied with your freedom to choose what you do with your life?”
5. Generosity –Generosity is the residual of regressing the national average of GWP responses to the question “Have you donated money to a charity in the past month?” on GDP per capita.
6. The absence of corruption – Perceptions of corruption are the average of binary answers to two GWP questions: “Is corruption widespread throughout the government or not?” and “Is corruption widespread within businesses or not?” Where data for government corruption are missing, the perception of business corruption is used as the overall corruption-perception measure.
Why does it matter
At the most basic level, good government establishes and maintains an institutional framework that enables people to live better lives. Similarly, good public services are those that improve lives while using fewer scarce resources. Governments set the institutional and policy framework in which individuals, businesses and governments themselves operate. The links between the government and happiness operate in both directions: what governments do affects happiness and in turn the happiness of citizens in most countries determines what kind of governments they support.
Constant slipping of the rank of nation is indicative of the failure of the government as well as its people in supporting a government.
True to our penchant of downgrading the importance of every report that shows the country in poor light, particularly if in comparison to Pakistan, this too has been sidelined. But educated first time voters cannot afford to downplay this report. It clearly shows that we are nowhere as happy as Pakistanis, whom we always project as very regressive and unhappy. A difference of 73 ranking positions is massive. More than merely another statistical report on just these 6 parameters, it means that all we have been telling ourselves about our own development and the lack of it in Pakistan is all wrong. Quite clearly, there are motivated parties leading us down this blind alley.
We need to look at our neighbourhood very critically. Also, we need to look at ourselves after removing all biases. Once we do that, we might find that not only is the King naked, so are we ourselves too.