Stanley's blog

This forum was held in Hangzhou, from 8 to 10 November 2009, organized by the Europe Research Centre of Zhejiang University and sponsored by the Hangzhou municipality.

This was an impressive, demonstrating a clear desire by the municipality to improve the quality of life, which is already comparatively high in Zhejiang province.

Hangzhou exudes entrepreneurialism, innovation and strives for better governance and a good relationship between stakeholders.

The Hangzhou Development Research Centre presented a paper paper, which stated that democracy (consultative and participatory, not elective) “is not only a political system, but also a lifestyle…and also a means of entrepreneurship”, and that you “promote social and economic development with democracy”.

Of particular interest was the presentation of the successful system of neighbourhood councils, set up in 1999 in Los Angeles, to bring the citizens closer to the local government. This was alienated in the 1990s from citizens who were hostile because they thought the government was not responsive to their preferences and needs.

The following is the text of the paper I presented on WESTERN LIFESTYLE vs EASTERN LIFESTYLE

This is an intriguing theme to address, but must be done with caution. What is “lifestyle”? Is there a “Western” and an “Eastern” one or are these inappropriate generalisations?

There is no simple definition of lifestyle nor is the bundle of behaviours which together constitute lifestyle clearly delineated. Included are economic, social and cultural relations and activities, working requirements and conditions, environmental quality, consumption, entertainment and dress. Some, but not all, are voluntary.

We are really addressing and comparing the quality of life, which involves evaluating the general well-being of individuals. Quality of life includes wealth and employment, as well as the overall environment (including eco-friendliness), physical and mental health, education, recreation and leisure time, social belonging, freedom, human rights and happiness. There is no clear definition of quality of life and measurement is difficult, both objective and subjective elements being involved.

The most commonly used international measure of development is the United Nations Human Development Index (HDI), which measures life expectancy, literacy, education, and standard of living in 192 countries. The index was developed in 1990 by Pakistani economist Mahbub ul Haq and Indian economist Amartya Sen.

The Happy Planet Index was introduced in 2006, and additionally measures each country’s ecological footprint. 143 countries are rated. It sets a target of 89 by 2050, on a scale of 0 to 100, based on attainable levels of life expectancy and well-being and a reasonably-sized ecological footprint.

The Legatum Prosperity Index ranks 104 countries, based on economic growth together with measures of happiness and quality of life. The Index defines prosperity as both wealth and wellbeing. The most prosperous nations in the world are not necessarily those that have a high GDP, but are those that also have happy, healthy, and free citizens.

Index results

The Human Development Index classifies the 192 countries in four categories: very high human development, high human development, medium human development and low human development.

The top 22 countries in the 2009 report (based on 2007 data) are all ‘Western’ (including Australia and Japan). Singapore (23), Hong Kong China SAR (24) South Korea (26) and Brunei Darussalam (30) are also in the top category.

Apart from Malaysia (66) which is in the second category, all the Asian countries are classified as medium human development, with China at 92.

The highest Happy Planet Index score of 143 countries, published in 2009 was Costa Rica but with only 76.1. The target is 89 by 2050 The US rates only 30.7 and the EU Member States between 26.4 and 48.1 Asian countries score much more highly, with China at 57.1, bettered only by Indonesia at 58.9.

Nine of the top 10 nations are in Latin America. In general, middle-income countries, such as those in Latin America and South East Asia, tend to be the closest to achieving sustainable well-being. The HPI is not an indicator of the happiest country on the planet or the best place to live. Nor does it indicate the most developed country in the traditional sense, or the most environmentally friendly. Instead, the HPI combines all of these, providing a method of comparing countries’ progress towards the goal of providing long-term well-being for all, without exceeding the limits of equitable resource consumption.

The top 17 countries of the Legatum Prosperity Index of 104 countries are all ‘Western’ (including Australia and Japan). Hong Kong China SAR scores 18, Singapore 23, Taiwan 24, South Korea 26, Malaysia 39, Thailand 44, India 45, Mongolia 50, Phillipines 55, Indonesia 61, China 75, Vietnam 77, Cambodia 93 and Pakistan 98. Europe represents the highest concentration of the world’s most prosperous nations, due to its blend of economic progress and good quality of life.

The nine factors determining the overall score are set out below with the rankings of China, Hong Kong SAR, Taiwan and US:

Factor China HK Taiwan US
Economic fundamentals 29 1 24 9
Entrepreneurship & Innovation 38 10 21 1
Democratic institutions 100 60 29 2
Education 64 39 9 7
Health 53 18 26 27
Safety & security 65 11 20 19
Governance 93 6 43 16
Personal freedom 91 67 30 8
Social capital 70 33 73 7

Conclusions

No objective conclusions can be drawn form studying the indices. Their components are not necessarily of universal application and, even where they may appear to be, their meaning probably differs from region to region.

This having been said, it is useful to examine the factors determining Legatum Prosperity Index rankings. Education, health and personal safety are the most likely criteria which are broadly applicable. The balance between economic success on the one hand and social capital and on the other certainly varies.

The most controversial are democratic institutions, governance and personal freedom. There is no one-size-fits-all definition of democratic institutions. How many Asians would agree the rankings of Indonesia at 58, Hong Kong SAR 60, Singapore 86 and China 100 (behind Khazakstan, Uzbekistan and even Zimbabwe)? Governance surely means the efficient running of a country, whatever the political system. China surely deserves a higher ranking than 93, with Bulgaria at 45 and Romania at 64.

How do you define personal freedom? To what extent is it weighted in favour of the Western notion of human rights, including freedom of expression? China ranks 91st.

This paper demonstrates the difficulty in measuring objectively lifestyles and quality of life. It is not possible therefore to make a judgement on such a subjective issue. Furthermore, one cannot generalize between Eastern and Western lifestyles.

I close on a reference to the excellent book, Smoke and Mirrors, by Pallavi Aiyar, who recently lived for over five years in China, speaks Chinese and has written a charming and engaging book seeing China through young Indian eyes. She offers her insights on China and India and concludes:

“Were I to be able to ensure being borne even moderately well-off, I would probably pump for India over China. There are real pleasures and freedoms which are not confined to the elite. A tradition of argumentation is fundamental to India’s secularism and democratic polity, with wide-ranging implications for all sections of society. Were I to be borne poor, I would take my chances in authoritarian China, where despite lacking a vote, the likelihood of my being decently fed, clothed and housed, are considerably higher.”

This illustrates how personal the choice is.

Author :
Print