- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 10, 2009


The U.N. rankings on the quality of life in 182 countries are out, and like the U.S. News & World Report rankings of American colleges and universities, only those who finished at or near the top are happy.

The top three - based on life expectancy, literacy, school enrollment and GDP - are Norway, Australia and Iceland, all three of them small. We love the Aussies, but there are only 21 million of them, largely homogeneous and pretty much surrounded by water.

The United States, just to end the suspense, finished 13th, down a place from last year. We’ve got to get those SATs up, people. Canada finished fourth, which, as the Toronto Star noted gratuitously, “was well ahead of the United States.” But then, Canada’s population is small, largely homogeneous and pretty much surrounded by water.

The rankings were based on 2007 data, in other words, before Iceland went broke. The International Monetary Fund bailed it out but insisted it begin repaying all the British and Dutch depositors it lured to its banks by paying ridiculous rates of interest.

Some minority parties are urging Iceland’s government to stiff the IMF, but then its trading partners would insist on cash up front and the Dutch and the Brits would see that Iceland didn’t get into the European Union and that happy, little, homogeneous isle would really tank in the U.N. ratings.

The other countries rounding out the top 10 are Ireland (small, homogeneous, surrounded by water, broke), the Netherlands, Sweden, France, Switzerland and Japan - fine countries all.

The United Nations seemed aware that if the rankings fell into the hands of the impoverished masses in the bottom half of the list they might be tempted, as so many of them already do, to move to a better neighborhood. Migration, the United Nations said, should not substitute for “efforts by developing countries to achieve growth and improve human wellbeing.” Good luck with that.

Niger had the unhappy distinction of finishing 182nd and last. How bad was that? Afghanistan, which hadn’t even been on the list since 1996, finished 181st its first year back. Afghanistan, by the way, was the only Asian country to finish in the bottom 10, which should be some incentive to stop shooting each other and make something of the place.

The CIA’s World Fact Book says Niger’s GDP per capita is $700, 221st among countries with an economy that can be measured. Niger is landlocked, dependent on subsistence farming and herding in an area beset by droughts, desertification and rapid population growth.

What Niger does have, the agency says, is abundant supplies of uranium. If Iran breaks the dam and every country decides it needs nuclear weapons, Niger may one day be as flush as Iceland once was.

The CIA’s Web site says no photos are available for Niger. Afghanistan has 12 on its page. Can’t we get a Peace Corps volunteer to upload a few pictures, for heaven’s sake?

The United States did much better in another ranking. A survey of the 20 richest countries found that it is the world’s most admired nation.

This is going to make a vocal minority really, really unhappy, but the pollster, GFK Roper, said that the reason the United States leaped from seventh under President George W. Bush to first was largely due, as Reuters phrased it, to the “star power” of President Obama.

Canada fell further than any other country, going from fourth to seventh, which - Toronto Star, take note - was well behind the United States.

Dale McFeatters is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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