THE “misery index” I wrote about last Monday is a rough economic measure of the well-being, or rather its obverse, of a country. Its usefulness is that it provides some solid basis — a quantifiable one — for assessing where we are as a nation under a current administration. The index is simply the sum of the inflation rate and unemployment rate for a particular period.
High prices drive up a person’s misery; joblessness reflects the citizens’ misery.
As I reported in detail in last Monday’s column, the 11.9 average of our misery indices in the year to June 2023 is the third-highest in the current decade, after the 19.5 index in 1998 during the 1997-1998 Asian financial crisis, and the 12 in 2008 during the global financial crisis.
The high misery index under Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. has been due mainly to the rise in our inflation rates, which in turn is due to the drastic increases in food costs such as those for rice, sugar and certain vegetables. The big questions are whether Marcos has realized this fact as well as the reality that he cannot be president and agriculture secretary at the same time.
But how do we compare with our neighbors as well as with the two superpowers, the US and China? As shown in the accompanying table, our 6.2 seven-year misery index is second in Southeast Asia to Indonesia, which has an average misery index of 6.9 in the same period.
It is a source of some consolation though, that we are less miserable than the two richest and most powerful global superpowers, the US (7.9 index) and China (6.9). That’s perhaps another statement to that arguable aphorism — at least for countries — that wealth doesn’t necessarily mean happiness.
On the other hand, the data bolsters the claim that in terms of people’s well-being, the socialist system is superior: It took China just five decades and for Vietnam about three to achieve those low misery indices. It took the US about two centuries, and by exploiting the Third World, to generate that well-being for its people.
Thailand’s extremely low misery index is due to a large extent to its remarkably low inflation rates — which averaged less than 1 percent annually in this decade. Our economists should find out what Thailand has been doing right to keep inflation rates low.
One thing I’m sure of is that Thailand’s government interventions — anathema to most of our economists with the American free-market neoliberal ideology — have kept fuel and electricity costs low, which are key components of inflation, way below those of the Philippines. For instance, electricity in Thailand costs P797 per 100 kilowatt hours for residences, compared to the Philippines’ P986. Diesel per liter in Thailand is P50 as against our P56.
I have also computed the misery indices since 1986 for our country, and the results would be a surprise and disappointing to our elite. The least miserable regime was that of President Rodrigo Duterte, during whose administration the misery index average was 5.6.
The misery indices were highest during Corazon Aquino’s regime, at 19, and her successor Fidel Ramos’, at 16.9. More often than not, elite-created views are so different from
CORRECTION: In last Monday’s column, the fifth paragraph should have read: “Marcos’ index is the third-highest in 25 years. The most miserable year in that period, going by the misery index, was during President Estrada’s term in 1998 when the index was a high 19.5, way above Marcos’ 11.9.
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