Then he began peering into it and tracing some places with much earnestness. As the iron monster finally got started and chugged on past the concrete tapestry of the mega city and waded into green fields, pastures and pristine scenery, the man went on with this exercise, raising his head now and then that exposed an inebriated state via red eyes. Now a fellow passenger reaching the optimum of his curiosity asked him what he was earnestly seeking.
"For a place to be born in, other than this country", he blurted out much to the amusement of the audience captured in that section of the iron devil.
Then he said, "Almost 15 times I have chugged in this train to get my pension worked out but it is two years since my retirement and still the pension is only a dream".
This episode was enacted about 25 years back and I presume that the Pension Department is in a better working order now. Perhaps that gentleman too would have solved his problem and gifted the large map to his grandchildren, after finding his El Dorado or not. He could be even in a heavenly abode now. The incident rose in my mind when I came across a feature titled "Looking for a country to be born?" The newspaper was no less a paper than the The Washington Post that covered research done in this regard by the Economic Intelligence Unit. Eighty countries have been subject to the research and among the facets taken into reckoning are economic opportunity, health standards, political freedom, quality of Life, gender equality, job security, crime situation and climate.
The list of countries chosen, along this criteria is given and yields unexpected results.
"The USA and Germany, two of the world's top economic powerhouses have been placed 16th. Japan goes down to the 25th and Britain and France plummet even further. What countries surprisingly push the above states further down? You would be surprised to read that war-torn Israel earns the 20th place and is preceded by the oil-rich United Arab Emirates.
"The best countries to be born in are small, peaceful, homogenous and liberal democracies. The Nordic countries too come out on top alongside Ireland, New Zealand and Canada. The top 15 also include Australia, New Zealand and Switzerland. The first three in the list are Switzerland, Australia and Norway. Asia's two super-rich city states are Singapore and Taiwan with its political freedom and improved health.
There are further contradictions in the picture of that pensioner's map. Portugal and Spain score highly despite their present troubles. All the benign policies of the present government seem to have no effect on international publicity.
China, despite the publicity, is not a great place to be born in. It ranks 49th out of 80 below Latvia and Hungary. This is paradoxical for China boasts the largest number of billionaires next to the USA billionaires and general living standards seem to be two different worlds. True, states the report, that China has made astounding gains but the gains have not benefited the massive country equally. The majority of the population are still below the poverty line and even the big coastal cities do not project a favourable picture.
A child born in Poland or Greece will have a better life than in rising economic giants such as Brazil, Turkey or China!
Russia is bottom-ranked but she is not poor. It has a bad record in the political field and public health. Latin America has an optimistic future except for Ecuador. The report flaunts a gross omission. It is mum about India. So, you cannot take this study by the Economic Intelligence Init as flawless Gospel truth. Its predictions too may go wrong but it is an interesting attempt which if it fell within the reach of that pensioner I met way back would have just intrigued him.
By PADMA EDIRISINGHE - SUNDAY OBSERVER