Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Israel Places Highly in Economic World Rankings - and this is not necessarily good news...

I don’t know how it can be possible!

Sure, many people have noted that Israel seems to receive a disproportionate amount of news coverage throughout the world. I grew up in America and was used to seeing Israel on the news, even though most people in the rural county where I lived would have little chance to find it on the map, let alone understand what the relevance of the situation in Israel is to them. Then, when I began to travel to different regions, including Europe, Asia, and Africa, I also found that on newscasts Israel is mentioned possibly more than any other country in the world.

Today, I read two reports ranking countries for quite different economic characteristics, and again Israel appears in both of them as one of the top ranked countries, once negatively and once positively.

Take a look for yourself:

Countries with the Widest Gap Between Rich and Poor - Israel ranks number 5
The Happiest Countries in the World - Israel ranks number 9

According to my quick research, there are anywhere from 189 to 196 countries in the world, depending upon how a country is defined. This confirmed my suspicion that Israel is not the only country in the world. So, what is going on here? How can it be that whatever the question, the answer includes Israel?

Maybe because in Israel we live such vibrant lives, more on the edge, this translates into extreme readings, no matter what is being measured. I remember some years ago that the Israeli stock market was the number 1 performing stock market in the world, and the following year was the worst performing stock market in the world. Economists may not find this odd, since a country with small companies and inherent security risk is by definition going to have great volatility, both positive and negative. Maybe this logic carries over into other arenas.

The report about happiness is interesting in that for many of the factors under consideration in the study, Israel ranks poorly, yet for some reason, Israelis are still inexplicitly happy. This is not strictly economic, but of course a large portion of people’s happiness is related to their current economic situation and future outlook. Without economic security, other issues seem less important.

Israel’s gap between rich and poor is worrying, as even with low unemployment, the average income of the poorest 10% of the country actually decreased, while the richest 10% income increased, thereby widening an already bad ratio. There is no way to interpret this except extremely negatively, with the trend going in the wrong direction. The richest 10% will pay a high price for this situation sooner or later if it is not rectified.

So, who are these happy people in Israel, and why are they happier than people in other countries? What do they have to be happy about? Is simply having a job enough? Or are there factors more critical than economic/employment that engender a happy person? And, if so, what could they possibly be that would cause Israel to rank highly, with just a quick look at the local news (or remembering the most recent of the many missile sirens we have heard on my moshav) being a daily reality check?

I don’t know the answers to any of these questions, but I'm sure there will be a new study soon, and that Israel will rank highly in the results.

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