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The Most Miserable Countries in the World

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miserable countries index

The Most Miserable Countries in the World

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:

  1. Inflation
  2. Lending rate
  3. Unemployment rate
  4. GDP per capita growth

Here are the Misery Index scores for all 95 countries:

RankCountryContributing FactorMisery Index Score
#1🇻🇪 VenezuelaInflation1,746,439.1
#2🇦🇷 ArgentinaInflation105.6
#3🇮🇷 IranInflation75.7
#4🇧🇷 BrazilLending Rates53.6
#5🇹🇷 TurkeyUnemployment53.3
#6🇳🇬 NigeriaUnemployment43.0
#7🇿🇦 South AfricaUnemployment42.0
#8🇧🇦 Bosnia and HerzegovinaUnemployment38.2
#9🇪🇬 EgyptLending Rates36.8
#10🇺🇦 UkraineLending Rates34.3
#11NicaraguaUnemployment31.3
#12JordanUnemployment30.9
#13UruguayLending Rates27.1
#14HondurasUnemployment26.8
#15MacedoniaUnemployment26.4
#16ArmeniaUnemployment25.1
#17JamaicaLending Rates24.9
#18Saudi ArabiaUnemployment23.5
#19ColombiaLending Rates23.2
#20ParaguayLending Rates22.9
#21GreeceUnemployment22.5
#22AlgeriaUnemployment21.9
#23Costa RicaLending Rates21.7
#24PeruLending Rates21.2
#25AzerbaijanLending Rates21.0
#26Dominican RepublicLending Rates & Unemployment20.3
#27KazakhstanLending Rates20.1
#28BarbadosUnemployment19.7
#29Papua New GuineaLending Rates19.2
#30GeorgiaUnemployment18.8
#31MauritiusLending Rates17.9
#32SerbiaUnemployment17.4
#33GuatemalaLending Rates17.2
#34PakistanLending Rates16.7
#35Sri LankaLending Rates16.0
#36SpainUnemployment15.9
#37RussiaLending Rates15.7
#38MexicoLending Rates15.4
#39IndonesiaLending Rates15.2
#40Trinidad & TobagoLending Rates14.7
#41New ZealandLending Rates14.4
#42ItalyUnemployment13.7
#43MaliUnemployment13.6
#44IndiaLending Rates13.2
#45BangladeshLending Rates12.6
#46AlbaniaLending Rates12.2
#47EcuadorUnemployment12.2
#48El SalvadorUnemployment12.0
#49PhilipinesLending Rates11.8
#50CyprusUnemployment11.7
#51CroatiaUnemployment10.9
#52BoliviaLending Rates10.8
#53CanadaUnemployment10.8
#54PanamaLending Rates10.7
#55FranceUnemployment10.7
#56AustraliaUnemployment10.6
#57KuwaitLending Rates10.5
#58ChileUnemployment10.3
#59EstoniaUnemployment10.3
#60RomaniaLending Rates10.3
#61IcelandLending Rates9.7
#62United KingdomLending Rates9.6
#63BelgiumUnemployment9.3
#64NorwayUnemployment9.3
#65SwedenUnemployment8.8
#66MoldovaLending Rates8.8
#67VietnamLending Rates8.7
#68United StatesLending Rates8.7
#69BulgariaUnemployment8.6
#70FinlandUnemployment8.3
#71Hong KongLending Rates8.3
#72PortugalUnemployment8.2
#73LithuaniaUnemployment7.3
#74SloveniaUnemployment7.2
#75LatviaUnemployment7.0
#76IsraelUnemployment6.8
#77DenmarkUnemployment6.8
#78South KoreaUnemployment6.5
#79PolandUnemployment6.5
#80QatarLending Rates5.8
#81SlovakiaUnemployment5.7
#82GermanyUnemployment5.6
#83MaltaUnemployment5.3
#84SingaporeLending Rates5.2
#85IrelandUnemployment5.1
#86MalaysiaLending Rates5.1
#87Czech RepublicLending Rates5.0
#88NetherlandsUnemployment4.7
#89TaiwanUnemployment4.4
#90SwitzerlandLending Rates4.2
#91ChinaLending Rates4.2
#92AustriaUnemployment3.9
#93JapanUnemployment3.3
#94HungaryUnemployment2.6
#95ThailandLending Rates1.7

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.

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Chart of the Week

Ranked: Which Economies Are the Most Competitive?

The world’s top countries excel in many fields—but there can only be one #1. How have the most competitive economies shifted in the past decade?

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Ranked: Which Economies Are the Most Competitive?

What makes a country successful from an economic perspective? Many think of this in terms of GDP per capita—but in a rapidly changing world, our definitions of progress have evolved to encompass much more.

This animated Chart of the Week visualizes 10 years of global competitiveness, according to the World Economic Forum, and tracks how rankings have changed in this time.

How Do You Measure Competition?

The WEF’s annual Global Competitiveness Report defines the concept of ‘competitiveness’ as an economy’s productivity—and the institutions, policies, and factors which shape this.

This year’s edition unpacks the national competitiveness of 141 countries, using the newly-introduced Global Competitiveness Index (GCI) 4.0 which looks at four key metrics:

  1. Enabling Environment
    Includes: Institutions, Infrastructure, ICT Adoption*, Macroeconomic Activity
    *Refers to information and communications technology
  2. Human Capital
    Includes: Health, Skills
  3. Markets
    Includes: Product Market, Labor Market, Financial System, Market Size
  4. Innovation Ecosystem
    Includes: Business Dynamics, Innovation Capability
  5. Each country’s overall competitiveness score is an average of these 12 main pillars of productivity. With that out of the way, let’s dive into the countries which emerge triumphant.

    The Most Competitive: Movers and Shakers

    The world’s top countries excel in many fields—but there can only be one #1. In 2019, Singapore wins the coveted “most competitive economy” title, with a 84.8 score on the GCI.

    The nation’s developed infrastructure, health, labor market, and financial system have all propelled it forward—swapping with the U.S. (83.7) for the top spot. However, more can be done, as the report notes Singapore still lacks press freedom and demonstrates a low commitment to sustainability.

    How have the current scores of the most competitive economies improved or fallen behind, compared to 2018?

    RankEconomy2019 Score2018 Score2018-2019 Change
    #1🇸🇬 Singapore84.883.5+1.3
    #2🇺🇸 United States83.785.6-2
    #3🇭🇰 Hong Kong83.182.3+0.9
    #4🇳🇱 Netherlands82.482.40
    #5🇨🇭 Switzerland82.382.6-0.3
    #6🇯🇵 Japan82.382.5-0.2
    #7🇩🇪 Germany81.882.8-1
    #8🇸🇪 Sweden81.281.7-0.4
    #9🇬🇧 United Kingdom81.282-0.8
    #10🇩🇰 Denmark81.280.6+0.6

    Finland (80.2) and Canada (79.6) are notable exits from this top 10 list over the years. Meanwhile, Denmark (81.2) disappeared from the rankings for five years, but managed to climb back up in 2018.

    Regional Competitiveness: Highs and Lows

    Another perspective on the most competitive economies is to look at how countries fare within regions, and how these regions compete among each other.

    Middle East and North Africa (MENA) has the widest gap in competitiveness scores—Israel (76.7) scores over double that of poorest-performing Yemen (35.5). Interestingly, the MENA region showed the most progress, growing its median score by 2.77% between 2018-2019.

    The narrowest gap is actually in South Asia, with just a single-digit difference between India (61.4) and Nepal (51.6). However, the region also grew the slowest, with only 0.08% increase in median score over a year.

    RegionBest Performer2019 ScoreWorst Performer2019 ScoreRegional
    Gap
    Europe and North America🇺🇸 United States83.7🇧🇦 Bosnia & Herzegovina54.729
    Latin America and the Caribbean🇨🇱 Chile70.5🇭🇹 Haiti36.334.2
    East Asia and Pacific🇸🇬 Singapore84.8🇱🇦 Laos50.134.7
    South Asia🇮🇳 India61.4🇳🇵 Nepal51.69.8
    Eurasia🇷🇺 Russia66.7🇹🇯 Tajikistan52.414.3
    Middle East and North Africa🇮🇱 Israel76.7🇾🇪 Yemen35.541.2
    Sub-Saharan Africa🇲🇺 Mauritius64.3🇹🇩 Chad35.129.2

    Across all regions, the WEF found that East Asia’s 73.9 median score was the highest. Europe and North America were not far behind with a 70.9 median score. This is consistent with the fact that the most competitive economies have all come from these regions in the past decade.

    As all these countries race towards the frontier—an ideal state where productivity growth is not constrained—the report notes that competitiveness “does not imply a zero-sum game”. Instead, any and all countries are capable of improving their productivity according to the GCI measures.

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Chart of the Week

Which Companies Are Responsible For the Most Carbon Emissions?

Since 1965, over ⅓ of the world’s cumulative carbon emissions can be traced back to just 20 fossil fuel companies. Who are the biggest contributors?

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20 Companies Responsible For the Most Carbon Emissions?

Since 1965, it’s estimated over 1.35 million metric tons (MtCO₂e) of greenhouse gases have been released into the atmosphere—and over a third can be traced back to just 20 companies.

This week’s chart draws on a dataset from the Climate Accountability Institute, and highlights the companies which have been responsible for the most carbon emissions in the past half-century.

The Sum of their Carbon Emissions

Between 1965-2017, the top 20 companies have contributed 480,169 MtCO₂e in total carbon emissions, or 35% of cumulative global emissions. This whopping amount is mostly from the combustion of their products—each company on this chart deals in fossil fuels.

The largest contributor? Saudi Aramco, the national petroleum and natural gas company of Saudi Arabia. Saudi Aramco actually comes in first on another list as well—it’s the most profitable company, making over $304 million daily.

However, this financial gain came at a significant cost: the state-owned giant’s operations have resulted in 59,262 MtCO₂e in carbon emissions since 1965. To put that into perspective, this total is more than six times China’s emissions in 2017 alone (9,838 MtCO₂e).

Explore the full list of companies by location, who owns them, and their total 1965–2017 emissions count below:

CompanyCountryOwnershipAll Emissions, MtCO₂e
Total Emissions480,169 MtCO₂e
Saudi Aramco🇸🇦 Saudi ArabiaState-owned59,262
Chevron🇺🇸 U.S.Investor-owned43,345
Gazprom🇷🇺 RussiaState-owned43,230
Exxon Mobil🇺🇸 U.S.Investor-owned41,904
National Iranian Oil Co.🇮🇷 IranState-owned35,658
BP🇬🇧 UKInvestor-owned34,015
Royal Dutch Shell🇳🇱 NetherlandsInvestor-owned31,948
Coal India🇮🇳 IndiaState-owned23,124
Pemex🇲🇽 MexicoState-owned22,645
Petroleus de Venezuela🇻🇪 VenezuelaState-owned15,745
PetroChina🇨🇳 ChinaState-owned15,632
Peabody Energy🇺🇸 U.S.Investor-owned15,385
ConocoPhillips🇺🇸 U.S.Investor-owned15,229
Abu Dhabi National Oil Co.🇦🇪 UAEState-owned13,840
Kuwait Petroleum Corp.🇰🇼 KuwaitState-owned13,479
Iraq National Oil Co.🇮🇶 IraqState-owned12,596
Total SA🇫🇷 FranceInvestor-owned12,352
Sonatrach🇩🇿 AlgeriaState-owned12,302
BHP Billiton🇦🇺 AustraliaInvestor-owned9,802
Petrobras🇧🇷 BrazilState-owned8,676

A Greener Business Model?

According to the researchers, all the companies that show up in today’s chart bear some responsibility for knowingly accelerating the climate crisis even after proven scientific evidence.

In fact, U.S.-based Exxon Mobil is currently on trial for misleading investors: the company downplayed the effect of climate change on its profitability, while internal calculations proved to be much larger. It also sowed public doubt on the immense impacts of rising greenhouse gas levels on the planet.

Growing sustainability and environmental concerns threaten the viability of old business models for these corporations, causing many to pivot away from the fossil fuel focus. Take BP for example—originally named British Petroleum, the company embraced “Beyond Petroleum” as its new rallying cry. More recently, it launched a carbon footprint calculator and is committed to keeping its carbon emissions flat into 2025.

However, the Climate Accountability Institute argues that more can still be done, with the researchers calling for these companies to reduce their fossil fuel production in the near future.

Continued pressure on these “Big Oil” companies to peak their carbon emissions, and urgently increase their renewable energy investment, may help curb the climate crisis before it’s too late.

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