What then about the Misery Index? By Issa Aremu

What is in a Report entitled The Misery Index 2018 authored by one Dr. Steve Hanke of the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, according to which Nigerians are the sixth “most miserable people in the world”? For one how “miserable” is the author of the Misery Index to have known so much about misery such that he could miserably classify nations-States? 

For one there is nothing intellectually original about Hanke’s Index. The so-called misery index was actually invented in the 1970s by Arthur Okun, an American economist, author of the seminal work, Equality and Efficiency: The Big Trade Off (1975). The original index has been further modified to factor “bank lending rates” in addition to “unemployment and inflation rates” as yardsticks for indicating national misery? Why on earth would any country in 2019 catch  cold on account of a repackaged imported misery Index invented some 50 years ago?

The Index is as miserable as some of the  miserable reactions that have trailed it. Take the three indicators of the level of misery. At best Dr. Steve Hanke’s choice is arbitrary, non- inclusive and unhelpful for a developing nation like Nigeria. Why three macro economic variable of  inflation, unemployment and lending rates? Capacity utilization is very important in measuring wealth generation for a country like Nigeria that is witnessing de-industrialization on account of massive legal and illegal (read: smuggling!) imports.

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Why not energy generation? With less than 10000 megawatts, miserable distribution and inadequate supply as well crazy bills, Nigerians are already energy miserable. We do not need Steve Hanke’s Misery Index that is miserably silent on electricity. Why the return on capital (lending rates?)? Why not return on labour productivity (read: wages and pension)? Every worker knows that due to Naira devaluation and inflation, take home pay takes her to no home. Indeed Nigerian workers are more miserable than their forbearers were 50 years ago. Nigeria worker once earned  minimum wage of N125 per month, some 120 dollars in 1981.

The new minimum wage of N30000 is  $86 dollars less than what it was in 1981! Do we need Hanke’s Index which does not reflect this collapse of wage income before we wake up to fight poverty and generate wealth by improving on purchasing power? Nigerians and Africans must doubt  some unhelpful  imported (or is it smuggled?) indexes of dubious development value. Most indexes divert our attention from national development goals. Hanke’s 2018 Report  has predictable list of nations already miserably reported in the Western media namely Venezuela Zimbabwe, Argentina, Iran, Brazil, Turkey, Nigeria, South Africa, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Egypt and Ukraine almost in -that -order. In 2003, there was the  so-called ‘World Values Survey’ which suggested that Nigerians were the ‘happiest people’ on earth! The controversial survey was scandalously greeted with unprecedented indifference and surprise compared with the excitement and active commentary that heralded annual  Transparency International (TI’s) that reportedly rated Nigeria as the most corrupt country on earth. What then is in the news about happiness that makes people unhappy?

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What is in the news about misery and corruption (and indeed all that is ever negative!) that repeatedly makes  some Nigerians excited? Talking about miserable responses to Misery Index, the  People’s Democratic Party (PDP) (which for two decades underdeveloped Nigeria!) excitedly cited Hanke index as evidence that Nigeria’s economy “has virtually collapsed under Buhari.” With miserable mindset like PDP’s why would Hanke index be  exclusive of political economic cluelessness as a  factor in nation’s misery?.

As the expected columnist Dan Agbese rightly puts is it “ Hanke index does not say that the Nigerian economy has “virtually collapsed. It says the people are among the ten most miserable people in the world. It is an economist’s index not a political review” . But even at that Dan Agbese begs the issue which is unacceptably miserable. The  Misery Index  is as subjective ( sorry: “political”!) as much as the so-called objective measurable three factors of inflation, unemployment and lending rates. There is nothing inherently “economic” about Hanke’s Index. There is a lot that is political about it! It’s a value judgment to take inflation as a measure of misery instead of violence and gun killings/ deaths. If you take gun killing statistics, America leads  tops with all miserable economic consequences for USA.

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“Out of the world’s 251,000 gun deaths every year, there’s a group of six countries that make up more than half of those deaths — and the United States is in it” according to a new report which is not popularized by the Western news agencies as they are eager to “report”, inflation and corruption in Nigeria and Venezuela.  And not few  Americans feel miserable about the  growing gun killings even if not captured by Hanke’s Index. Please don’t get me wrong. Nigeria is the most unequal country on earth, though the miserable  Hanke’s Misery Index miserably ignores the called Gini index, (which measures income or wealth distribution of a nation’s citizens) in his “politically correct Index”. Oxfam has repeatedly reported that the combined wealth of Nigeria’s five richest men – $29.9 billion – could end extreme poverty in Nigeria! The report entitled , ‘Inequality in Nigeria,’ exposes the large and growing gap between rich and poor. It reveals how the benefits of economic growth have been captured by a wealthy elite at the expense of ordinary Nigerians. Economic inequality is a key factor behind the conflict that has led to the severe food crisis in Nigeria’s north-eastern states. This inequality must make us all miserable more than the miserable received Index.

Nigeria has commendably signed on to 2030 SDGs, Sustainable Development 17 Goals. It’s time we measured our development and happiness by how we are meeting these goals and stop agonizing about an unhelpful imported Index. By the way we already missed 2015 MDGs, we must not miss 2030 SDGs.

Issa Aremu mni

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