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Wednesday, September 22, 2010

THE BEST PLACE IN THE WORLD: Surveys on the Best Place in the World (Part 16, Section B)

The following continues the serialization of the final chapter from SIMPLE SOLUTIONS for Humanity.  I somehow missed this portion of "Surveys of the Best Places," so add it here.


For those Americans who missed it, the Pew Research Center released their happiness study in 2006. To summarize:

o      Money buys happiness (a very happy tally of 50% was indicated with an annual family income over $150,000, but only 23% at less that $20,000).

o      Only 16% of Americans are not too happy (or don’t know).

o      Married people (43%) are happier than unmarrieds (24%).

o      Those with children are about as happy as those without.

o      Religious types (43%) are happier than the irreligious (26%).

o      Republicans (45%) are happier than Democrats (30%).

o      Whites (36%) and Hispanics (34%) are happier than Blacks (28%), but 12% of Whites are unhappy, while 23% of Blacks and Hispanics are unhappy.

o      27% of single parents with minor children are unhappy.

o      Pet owners (dog or cat, about the same) are no happier than those with no pets.

o      Sunbelt residents are happiest of all. (Another reason why you might want to live where the temperatures remain salubrious and comfortable.)

The National Opinion Research Center of the University of Chicago spent 18 years studying job satisfaction and general happiness. Well, I might have been too critical about religion, for 67% of clergy were at the top in happiness. The average American worker showed a score of 33%. At the very bottom were gas station attendants.

The British New Economics Foundation published their Happy Planet Index, measuring people’s wellbeing, and in 2006 ranked the tiny South Pacific archipelago of Vanuatu at the top, followed by Columbia, Costa Rica, Dominica and Panama. #178 was Zimbabwe. The U.S. ranked #150. The low rating was because Americans don’t treat our planet well. People, the study concluded, are happy because they are satisfied with very little. Clearly, many of you wouldn’t want to live where you only have a very little, save for those with the hermit complex.

(In 2009, Vanuatu disappeared (was it global warming and sea level rise?), but the more recent list had 38 fewer countries. Costa Rica was #1, Dominican Republic #2, Jamaica #3, Guatemala #4 and Vietnam #5.  The United States had improved to #114, with China at #20 and Zimbabwe last at #143, with Tanzania at #142.  Whoops, my next trip includes Tanzania, where Mt. Kilimanjaro is located.)

There are other rankings that could sway you. In the 2007 Mercer Cost of Living list, for the past five years, Asuncion, Paraguay has been the least expensive city. Moscow is the highest and Tokyo is next. Oslo is #10, New York City is #14 and Honolulu is not in the top 50 (this is surprisingly good), while Singapore is. (The 2010 survey for highest cost of living has Luanda (Angola) at #1, Tokyo #2, N'Djamena (Chad) #3 and Moscov #4, with Karachi (Pakistan) as the cheapest.) However, in the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Worldwide Cost of Living Survey, Oslo is the most expensive, with Paris #2. Manila is the cheapest city. Want to live in the Philippines or Paraguay (or Karachi)?

The Mercer best quality of life list ranks these cities: #1 Zurich, #2 Geneva, #3 Vancouver, #4 Vienna, #5 Auckland, #6 Dusseldorf, #7 Frankfurt, #8 Munich, #9 Bern and Sydney. Honolulu is #27 as the highest rated U.S. city, although San Francisco is #28. Oslo is #31 and Singapore #32. Baghdad received the worst score. More recently, though, Switzerland has been tarnished by an electoral campaign featuring three white sheep standing on the Swiss flag, as one of them kicks a single black sheep away. The matter of immigration has suddenly become an issue.  (However, in the Mercer 2010 list, the top five are Vienna #1, Zurich #2, Geneva #3, Vancouver #4 and Auckland #5, essentially unchanged.)

In Gross National Income, Switzerland is #1, Luxembourg #2, Japan #3, Norway #4 and the U.S. #5. If you divide Gross National Income by Gross National Product: #1 Argentina, #2 Uruguay, #3 Kiribati, #16 Japan, #35 U.S., #53 Switzerland, #107 Norway, #166 Libya. If nothing else, these rankings should confuse you.

The International Monetary Fund has Qatar ($83,841) as #1 and Luxembourg ($78,395) #2 on Gross National Product per capita.  Interestingly enough, the CIA World Factbook has Liechtenstein #1 at $122,100, Qatar #2 at $121,700 and Luxembourg #3 at $78,000.  The USA is #6 ($46,381) and #* ($46,400) respectively.  I wonder why Qatar's numbers are so different, for it will be one of my stops on my Fall around the world odyssey.)

Then, there are some bizarre surveys. The University of Chicago international study reported that 71% of Austrians were satisfied with their sex lives, ahead of Spain at 69%, Canada 66%, Belgium 65% and the U.S. 64%. There were only 29 countries, with Japan at #29 and Taiwan #28. The bottom five were countries of the Orient. The study was funded by Pfizer, which sells Viagra.

The World Economic Forum, based in Europe, annually reports on the Global Gender Gap. The Scandinavian nations are the best, and European nations represent eight of the top ten, with the Philippines and New Zealand the only exceptions. The U.S. wallows in 32nd place, with Yemen at the bottom.  (The 2010 index was unchanged at the top, with Sweden #1, Norway #2 and Finland #3.)

However, the World Economic Forum also has a business competitiveness ranking. One hundred thirteen factors contribute to the process, and the USA is ranked #1. Venture capital availability and a large domestic market help. Seven of the top ten nations are from Europe, with Singapore (#7) and Japan (#9).  (However, the 2010 ranking showed Switzerland at #1, Sweden #2, Singapore #3 and the USA #4.  We are falling behind.)

The most credible of all surveys is the United Nations Human Development Report, all 444 pages in 2006.245 To gain a quick understanding of the scope of the effort, go to Human Development Index, Wikipedia. The top ten in 2006 were #1 Norway, #2 Iceland, #3 Australia, #4 Ireland, #5 Sweden, #6 Canada, #7 Japan, #8 United States, #9 Switzerland and #10 Netherlands. European countries dominate. Singapore is #25, Paraguay #91, Vanuatu #119 and Bhutan #135. Niger at #177 was the lowest, but that is because Iraq and Afghanistan were not included. However, in 2007, Iceland was rated #1, with Norway #2, Australia #3 and U.S. #12.  (The 2009 report has it:  #1 Norway, #2 Australia, #3 Iceland...USA #13, and falling, again.  I bet Iceland won't be on the list in 2010.)

Analyzing all the above surveys, incorporating my world travels and being influenced by Chapter 1 where I concluded that, darn it, the U.S is the best country, the best place on Planet Earth is the United States of America. Norway is great, but too cold. So are Iceland, Switzerland, Canada and, even Ireland. Singapore is appealing, but they take life too seriously. Australia deserves to be in the top three.

But the USA is a big country. Where is the best of the best? The latest Money Magazine top ten are: #1 Middleton, WI, #2 Hanover, NH, #3 Louisville, CO, #4 Lake Mary, FL, #5 Claremont CA, #6 Papillion, NE, #7, Milton, MA, #8 Chaska, MN, #9 Providence, PA and #10 Suwanee, GA. Chances are, if you’re reading this, you’ve never been to most of these cities.  (In 2010 #1 Eden Prarie MN, Columbia/Ellicott City MD, Newton, MA, Bellevue WA and McKinney TX.) Who heard of we can justifiably delete this Money list. has a livability index by state, incorporating 44 factors. The top three are: New Hampshire, Minnesota and Vermont. Hawaii is #26. Hawaii does poorly because it has the highest gas price and tax burden, plus second highest housing cost (next to California). Yet, Honolulu was rated #1 by Men’s Health for the lowest incidence of insomnia and #2 by the Center for Digital Government in digital access, although we have fallen behind in 2010. Of the eight communities in the country with the highest percentage of solar-water heated homes, eight are in Hawaii. These must count for something.

Sperling’s healthiest cities has San Jose as #1 and Washington, D.C. as #2.  I’ve lived in both locations, and agree that something good has happened to San Jose since I was a college student, but D.C as number two is a startling. Maybe crime was not a factor. Hawaii is not listed in the top 50, but perhaps we did not take enough Centrum pills, which sponsored the study. But, the Environmental Almanac ranked Hawaii #1 on environmental quality. I didn’t see San Jose or D.C. in the top 75. The EPA rated Texas as the worst in toxic discharge and Hawaii as best. The American Lung Association monitoring 700 U.S. counties, rated Honolulu air among the cleanest in the Nation.  (But, oh, oh, we are #8 int 2009.)

Let’s face it, you want to live in a healthy location:

o      Hawaii was ranked #2 to Minnesota by Northwestern National Life Insurance Company in their survey, incorporating 17 indicators, such as infant mortality, access to health care, smoking rates and violent crime.

o      The Anne Casey Foundation looked at the 50 largest cities in the U.S. for well-being of its children, and Honolulu was ranked first. Hawaii also leads the nation in longevity, and is the only state with an average life expectancy topping 80.

o      Children born in Hawaii will have a life expectancy three years longer than the national average, with lower death rates from heart disease and cancer.

o      Hawaii is home to more centegenarians (those 100 years or older) per capita than any other state.

o      Honolulu has the smallest temperature range of any major U.S. city, with a low of 57 °F and high of 88 °F, an average of 76.6 °F (the national average is a chilly 53.2 °F)

o      Men’s Fitness regularly indicates that Honolulu, for all the Spam (canned mystery meat made by Hormel, said by some to contain more cholesterol per gram than anything else) we consume (leads the nation in pounds/capita) is the fittest city. San Francisco or Seattle is normally #2.

Sperling’s Best Places did list Honolulu in the top ten of least stressful cities (Tacoma, Miami, New Orleans, Las Vegas and New York City were the most stressful), and #5 to Charlottesville, Santa Fe, San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara as the best place to live. There were 331 metropolitan areas profiled. The surprise is that Honolulu was recommended not only for your next vacation, but as a good place to live. Unemployment is low (during the past decade Hawaii has been #1 or #2 in the Nation with the lowest unemployment rate) and so is violent crime. However, Hawaii tops the nation in thefts. Ah, this is not good.

Cited by Sperling is a remarkable economy, although Forbes and Money regularly dump on the state as Death Valley for business. All three are correct, as the economy is improving while the labor unions do have an influence on legislation that pains the private sector. The 2005 Milken Institute survey showed that Hawaii was the most expensive state to do business. But do you want to do business in South or North Dakota (the least expensive)?

Also mentioned were the infectious people. No, this has very little to do with communicable diseases. There is an aloha spirit that tends to pervade the community. We do the right thing, being the #4 state on charitable giving and are among the lowest on DUI traffic fatality rate (2.02 versus a national average of 4.74). The people of Hawaii were voted best-looking, friendliest and most laid-back by Travel & Leisure. Is this a hint of the best place, or what?

The Dow Jones Industrials fell 22 to 10,739, with world markets also almost all down.  Gold surged to another all-time high, up $4/toz to $1291, while crude oil is just under $75/barrel.

There are five tropical ocean storms, they seem today not to be of serious concern.  However, I should note that Hurricane Igor struck Newfoundland with a fury on 22September 10, said to be the worst in a century, causing widespread damage.


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