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:
- Lending rate
- Unemployment rate
- GDP per capita growth
Here are the Misery Index scores for all 95 countries:
|Rank||Country||Contributing Factor||Misery Index Score|
|#4||🇧🇷 Brazil||Lending Rates||53.6|
|#7||🇿🇦 South Africa||Unemployment||42.0|
|#8||🇧🇦 Bosnia and Herzegovina||Unemployment||38.2|
|#9||🇪🇬 Egypt||Lending Rates||36.8|
|#10||🇺🇦 Ukraine||Lending Rates||34.3|
|#23||Costa Rica||Lending Rates||21.7|
|#26||Dominican Republic||Lending Rates & Unemployment||20.3|
|#29||Papua New Guinea||Lending Rates||19.2|
|#35||Sri Lanka||Lending Rates||16.0|
|#40||Trinidad & Tobago||Lending Rates||14.7|
|#41||New Zealand||Lending Rates||14.4|
|#62||United Kingdom||Lending Rates||9.6|
|#68||United States||Lending Rates||8.7|
|#71||Hong Kong||Lending Rates||8.3|
|#87||Czech Republic||Lending Rates||5.0|
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.
How the S&P 500 Performed During Major Market Crashes
How does the COVID-19 market crash compare to previous financial crises? We navigate different contextual factors impacting crashes.
How the S&P 500 Performed During Major Market Crashes
Like spectacular market peaks, market crashes have been a persistent feature of the S&P 500 throughout time.
Still, the forces underpinning each rise and fall are often less clear. Take the COVID-19 crash, for example. Despite lagging economic growth and historic unemployment levels, the S&P 500 bounced back 47% in just five months, in a stunning reversal.
Drawing data from Macrotrends, the above infographic compares six historic market crashes—examining the length of their recoveries and the contextual factors influencing their durations.
The Big Picture
How does the current COVID-19 crash of 2020 stack up against previous market crashes?
|Title||Start — End Date||Duration (Trading Days)||% Drop|
|Black Tuesday / Great Crash*||Sep 16, 1929 — Sept 22, 1954||300 months (7,256 days)||-86%|
|Nixon Shock / OPEC Oil Embargo||Jan 11, 1973 — Jul 17, 1980||90 months (1,899 days)||-48%|
|Black Monday**||Oct 13, 1987 — May 15, 1989||19 months (402 days)||-29%|
|Dot Com Bubble||Mar 24, 2000 — May 30, 2007||86 months (1,808 days)||-49%|
|Global Financial Crisis||Oct 9, 2007 — Mar 28, 2013||65 months (1,379 days)||-57%|
|COVID-19 Crash***||Feb 19, 2020 — Ongoing||5 months+ (117+ days)||-34%|
Price returns, based on nominal prices
*Black Tuesday occurred about a month after the market peak on Oct 29, 1929
**The market hit a peak on Oct 13th, prior to Black Monday on Oct 19,1987
***As of market close Aug 4, 2020
By far, the longest recovery of this list followed the devastation of Black Tuesday, while the shortest was Black Monday of 1987—where it took 19 months for the market to fully recover.
Let’s take a closer look at each market crash to navigate the economic climate at the time.
After the Fall
What were some factors that can help provide context into the crash?
1929: Black Tuesday / Great Crash
Following Black Tuesday in 1929, the U.S. stock market took 7,256 days—equal to about 25 years—to fully recover from peak to peak. In response to the market crisis, a coalition of banks bought blocks of shares, but with negligible effects. In turn, investors fled the market.
Meanwhile, the Federal Reserve Board rose the discount lending rate to 6%. As a result, borrowing costs climbed for consumers, businesses, and the central banks themselves. The tightening of rates led to unintended consequences, with the economy capitulating into the Great Depression. Of course, factors that contributed to its prolonged recovery have been debated, but these are just a few of the actions that had implications at the time.
1973: Nixon Shock / OPEC Oil Embargo
The Nixon Shock corresponded with a series of economic measures in response to high inflation. Soaring inflation devastated stocks, consuming real returns on capital. Around the same time, the oil embargo also occurred, with OPEC member countries halting oil exports to the U.S. and its allies, causing a severe spike in oil prices. It took seven years for the S&P 500 to return to its previous peak.
1987: Black Monday
While the exact cause of the 1987 crash has been debated, key factors include both the advent of computerized trading systems and overvalued markets.
To curtail the impact of the crash, former Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan aggressively slashed interest rates, repeatedly promising to take great lengths to stabilize the market. The S&P took under two years to recover.
2000: Dot Com Bubble
To curb the stratospheric rise of U.S. tech stocks, the Federal Reserve raised interest rates five times in eight months, sending the markets into a tailspin. Virtually $5 trillion in market value evaporated.
However, a number of well-known companies survived, including eBay and Amazon. At the time, Amazon’s stock price cratered from $107 to $11 while eBay lost 75% of its market value. Meanwhile, a number of Dot Com flops included Pets.com, WorldCom, and FreeInternet.com.
2007: Global Financial Crisis
Relaxed credit policies, the proliferation of subprime mortgages, credit default swaps, and commercial mortgage-backed securities were all factors behind the market turmoil of 2007. As banks carved out risky loans packaged in opaque tranches of debt, risk in the market accelerated.
Similar to 1987, the Federal Reserve initiated a number of rescue actions. Interest rates were brought down to historical levels and $498 billion in bailouts were injected into the financial system. Crisis-related bailouts extended to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), the Federal Housing Administration, and others.
2020: COVID-19 Crash
In 2020, historic fiscal stimulus measures along with trillions in Fed financing have factored heavily in its swift reversal. The result has been one of the steepest rallies in S&P 500 history.
At the same time, the economy is mirroring Great Depression-level unemployment numbers, reaching 14.7% in April 2020. In short, this starkly exposes the sharp disconnect between the markets and broader economy.
History offers many lessons, and in this case, a view into the shape of a post-coronavirus market recovery.
Although the stock market is likely rallying off Fed liquidity, investor optimism, and the promise of potential vaccines, it’s interesting to note that the trajectory of this crash in some ways resembles the initial rebound shown during the Great Depression—which means we may not be out of the woods quite yet.
As the S&P 500 edges 2% shy of its February peak, could the market post a hastened recovery—or is a protracted downturn in the cards?
This graphic has been inspired by this Reddit post.
Ranked: The Best and Worst Pension Plans, by Country
As the global population ages, pension reform is more important than ever. Here’s a breakdown of how key countries rank in terms of pension plans.
Ranked: Countries with the Best and Worst Pension Plans
The global population is aging—by 2050, one in six people will be over the age of 65.
As our aging population nears retirement and gets closer to cashing in their pensions, countries need to ensure their pension systems can withstand the extra strain.
This graphic uses data from the Melbourne Mercer Global Pension Index (MMGPI) to showcase which countries are best equipped to support their older citizens, and which ones aren’t.
Each country’s pension system has been shaped by its own economic and historical context. This makes it difficult to draw precise comparisons between countries—yet there are certain universal elements that typically lead to adequate and stable support for older citizens.
MMGPI organized these universal elements into three sub-indexes:
- Adequacy: The base-level of income, as well as the design of a region’s private pension system.
- Sustainability: The state pension age, the level of advanced funding from government, and the level of government debt.
- Integrity: Regulations and governance put in place to protect plan members.
These three measures were used to rank the pension system of 37 different countries, representing over 63% of the world’s population.
Here’s how each country ranked:
The Importance of Sustainability
While all three sub-indexes are important to consider when ranking a country’s pension system, sustainability is particularly significant in the modern context. This is because our global population is increasingly skewing older, meaning an influx of people will soon be cashing in their retirement funds. As a consequence, countries need to ensure their pension systems are sustainable over the long-term.
There are several factors that affect a pension system’s sustainability, including a region’s private pension system, the state pension age, and the balance between workers and retirees.
The country with the most sustainable pension system is Denmark. Not only does the country have a strong basic pension plan—it also has a mandatory occupational scheme, which means employers are obligated by law to provide pension plans for their employees.
Adequacy versus Sustainability
Several countries scored high on adequacy but ranked low when it came to sustainability. Here’s a comparison of both measures, and how each country scored:
Ireland took first place for adequacy, but scored relatively low on the sustainability front at 27th place. This can be partly explained by Ireland’s low level of occupational coverage. The country also has a rapidly aging population, which skews the ratio of workers to retirees. By 2050, Ireland’s worker to retiree ratio is estimated to go from 5:1 to 2:1.
Similar to Ireland, Spain ranks high in adequacy but places extremely low in sustainability.
There are several possible explanations for this—while occupational pension schemes exist, they are optional and participation is low. Spain also has a low fertility rate, which means their worker-to-retiree ratio is expected to decrease.
Steps Towards a Better System
All countries have room for improvement—even the highest-ranking ones. Some general recommendations from MMGPI on how to build a better pension system include:
- Increasing the age of retirement: Helps maintain a more balanced worker-to-retiree ratio.
- Enforcing mandatory occupational schemes: Makes employers obligated to provide pension plans for their employees.
- Limiting access to benefits: Prevents people from dipping into their savings preemptively, thus preserving funds until retirement.
- Establishing strong pension assets to fund future liabilities: Ideally, these assets are more than 100% of a country’s GDP.
Pension systems across the globe are under an increasing amount of pressure. It’s time for countries to take a hard look at their pension systems to make sure they’re ready to support their aging population.
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