We don’t know how lucky we are

When Fred Dagg coined that phrase, taken from another popular song, in the mid-1970s, he wouldn’t have known The Economist was planning just such an exercise.

In 1988, it ranked 50 countries based on where would be the best place to be born.

It showed New Zealand in 18th place, boosted by its scenic attractions, which weren’t part of the original 11 socio-political and economic criteria.

At the top was the US, followed by France, West Germany, Italy, Canada, Japan, Hong Kong, the UK, Sweden the Netherlands and South Korea.

Australia was two places ahead of New Zealand, equal at 18th with Finland, while all others in the top 20 were European countries.

After New Zealand came Argentina, the USSR, Poland, Denmark, Hungary, the Philippines, Greece, India, Mexico and Brazil.

In the latest survey, New Zealand has surged to seventh place and Australia to second behind Switzerland. Norway, Sweden, Denmark have also risen from their 1988 rankings.

The biggest riser is Singapore, sixth, but ranking only 36th in 1988. Otherto rise are Taiwan, the United Arab Emirates and Israel.

Countries to plunge are mainly the ex-communist states of Europe, while France, Italy, Japan and the UK have all dropped from the top 10 to rank below 20th.

Few countries have declined as much as Russia, from 21st for the USSR to72nd; Argentina, also from 21st to 40th; the Philippines, down from 24th to 63rd; India, down from 27th to 66th; or China, down from 32nd to 49th despite its dramatic economic growth.

Reasons for the changes are partly due to the list’s refinement. The Economist says its quality-of-life index now links the results of subjective life-satisfaction surveys – how happy people say they are – to objective determinants of the quality of life across countries.

“Being rich helps more than anything else, but it is not all that counts—things like crime and trust in public institutions matter too,” its says.

Readers may also reflect on how these changes have occurred and whether socialist claims in New Zealand about “failed policies of the past” have any substance.

Certainly, on this evidence, those are plainly false. The examples of other top countries, and their adherence to pro-business reforms combined with sound social policies, speak for themselves.

Just as instructive are reasons why countries have fallen – Argentina has followed disastrous economic policies in recent years that have pushed its ranking down to equal with communist Cuba.

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