There’s nothing new or surprising about Venezuela scoring big on the world misery index. As we’ve seen in recent days on this site, that unfortunate country is having a terrible time of it now that the chavista chickens have come home to roost. Even so, its position in the newly released index for 2015 is something to write home about – though hardly, of course, with pride.
The index – which is compiled yearly by Steve H. Hanke, a professor at Johns Hopkins University, based on data from the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), and published by the libertarian, pro-free-market Cato Institute in Washington – is calculated by adding the inflation rate, unemployment rate, and lending rate, and then subtracting percent growth in GDP per capita. The result is a useful snapshot of relative quality of life around the world.
In 2013, Venezuela occupied the #2 spot on the list. Its score of 81.8 placed it between the #1 country, Syria, with a score of 147.4, and #3, Sudan, with a score of 62.8.
In 2014, Venezuela jumped to first place, with a score or 106.03. It was followed by Argentina, with a score of 68, and Syria, at 63.90. Countries like Belarus and Sudan had scores down in the 30s, while Bangladesh and Azerbaijan were in the 20s. According to Hanke, countries that have misery scores over 20 are “ripe for reform.” Which presumably made Venezuela ultra-super-duper ripe – as ripe, you might say, as a black banana.
Venezuela remains in the top spot on the 2015 index. But that’s not the headline. The headline is that its score is now a colossal 214.9 – more than twice last year’s. The #2 country this time around, Ukraine, scored an 82.7 – only ten points lower, and its score would be almost exactly a third of Venezuela’s. Filling out the top ten: Brazil, Argentina, South Africa, Russia, Iran, the Palestinian territories, Jamaica, and Serbia.
At the lower (i.e., good) end of the index, most of the countries of Europe did splendidly, with Hungary, Germany, and the Netherlands, all tied at 5.2, performing best. Most of East Asia also did an impressive job, with China (2.3) and Japan (3.0) having the lowest misery scores. The least miserable countries in the Americas were Panama (6.5), the U.S. (8.0), and El Salvador (9.0), while the most enviable scores in the Middle East and Africa were those for Qatar (4.5) and Israel (6.8).
Regular readers of this website don’t need to be told why Venezuela racked up such an extraordinarily high score on this latest misery index. We’ve discussed the arrogance and economic ignorance of the late Hugo Chávez, whose flagrantly socialist policies sent the nation’s quality of life sliding downhill, and the fatuous stubbornness with which his chosen successor, the former bus driver Nicolás Maduro, has clung to those policies, ensuring his countrymen’s descent into what can fairly be described as a financial tailspin.
If there’s any problem with Cato’s misery index, it’s that it doesn’t measure non-economic misery. And, as we’ve seen, there’s plenty of that in Venezuela, too. This is, after all, the country that in recent times has made headlines with such alarming social, cultural, and political phenomena the Bolivarian Circles (an “underground armed militia” masquerading as a harmless civil-society movement), the commune movement (a patently Stalin-inspired campaign of confiscating private farms that has been presented to the world as a benign and “authentically democratic” network of community projects), and the “cooperating patriots” (an “army of informers” who close down members of the democratic opposition by anonymously accusing them of crimes). So let’s not sell Venezuela short, folks: it’s #1 in more ways than one!