Happiness, patience and confidence: Argentina in the world ranking

Since exaggerations of the rational capacity of Homo Economicus have been challenged, a number of exercises have emerged exposing the endless misjudgments of our species. These tests began by testing the attitudes of a limited group of people (usually university students), but today they are rapidly expanding around the world, creating a new industry of human knowledge.

More and more organizations are carrying out surveys understand the thoughts, beliefs and feelings of Homo Sapiens in the world. In addition to traditional large-scale pollsters such as Gallup or Latinobarómetro, initiatives aimed at understanding specific aspects of human behavior have been added, such as the World Values ​​Survey, the Social Progress Index and the Legatum.

The World Happiness Report (WHR) is dedicated to the study of people’s happiness. This subjective measure is a important complement to the objective indicators of well-being of the traditional economy, as per capita income. It is of little use for people to guarantee economic materiality if they do not lead a life that makes them happier.

Polls show that the association and dissociation between income and happiness can be extended to entire countries. Sometimes money doesn’t buy happiness. Societies with growing economies may do so at the cost of fueling growing inequalities in the distribution of their wealth or causing the pollution of their natural resources. Or, perhaps, the economy has simply failed to combine development with sufficient social cohesion, since a good relationship with others is necessary to enjoy a good life. The human being, although rich and healthy, is not happy alone.

In recent years, the WHR has become a reference for these studies. According to this index, the happiest countries in the world are, in part, the usual suspects. Finland, Denmark, Iceland and Switzerland enjoy high purchasing power, economic stability, social security and civic obligations. And although they suffer from a rather hostile climate, they also share beautiful landscapes. But there are cases that attract attention. One is the appearance of Israel in ninth place, with a good economic performance, but also with constant conflicts. The absence of certain developed countries among the first places is surprising. The United States ranks 16th, Japan 54th and Russia (perhaps less wealthy today) 80th. Obviously, access to goods and technology is not enough to achieve complete happiness.

Argentina was this year in position 57 among the 146 countries studied. The situation is good given the level of GDP and the prevailing economic and social climate, even if it represents a decrease of 10 positions compared to 2021.

Happiness questions are straightforward, but that doesn’t necessarily make them unreliable. People tend to distinguish a circumstantial feeling from a more enduring state of happiness. Seriously ill and dying people may be angry with their lives, but maybe they were happy in the past. Something similar happens if a person is happy, but mired in poverty, without aspirations, or even accustomed to being mistreated by others or restricted in their freedoms.

Now well, Why are some countries satisfied and others not? The answers do not always correspond to the general intuition. A hot climate, with sun and sand, does not always contribute to happiness (this was the perception when the first data suggested that Brazil was happier than rich). Costa Rica has a high happiness ranking compared to its economic level, but not so much because of its beaches and good weather, not too different from those of its less happy neighboring countries, but because of its greater integration social. Religion, on the other hand, seems to play a predominant role, and belief in God is a strong predictor of happiness. In addition, volunteer activities bring happiness thanks to the social links they generate.

In a country, the degree of tolerance to economic inequality plays an important role. In general, a more united country is less prone to inequalities and it is not accepted, for example, that a similar person is poor. On the contrary, economic inequalities tend to be justified if those who suffer from them are “different”: the other deserves less if he has another nationality, or if he does not share the work culture.

A recent initiative is the Briq Institute’s Global Preference Survey, which attempts to measure a society’s patience, the risk of its decisions, and its altruism and trustworthiness. These variables are generally associated with economic development. The most patient countries are the most developed (the top 3 are Sweden, the Netherlands and the United States), while the poorest in Africa and Latin America occupy the last positions.

Argentina, with the position 52 out of 74, reveals great impatience. This result is paired with estimates of the country’s “propensity to consume,” which measures the share of income increases that is spent on spending (not saving). Data from 1980 to date indicates that the propensity in Argentina is the highest in the world: each increase in income by 100 increases consumption by… 120! In comparison, Southeast Asian countries like South Korea, Indonesia or Thailand spend less than 30. What about altruism and trust? The survey does not seem to confirm a relationship between these variables and economic wealth: the most confident are Egypt and China, and the developed countries only appear in the middle of the table. Argentina appears to be a fairly suspicious society, in 63rd place out of 76 countries.

The Argentinian economist Ricardo Pérez Truglia is a doctor at Harvard and a professor at the University of California (UCLA), and his work on behavioral economics has been published in prestigious journals. Consulted by LA NACION about this fashion, he specifies: “When I see these new trends, season 1, episode 1 of Economy comes to mind: in 1776 Adam Smith published The Wealth of Nations and discipline was born. A central question in the book is why some countries are more developed than others. 246 seasons have passed and we still don’t have a satisfactory answer. Is it the institutions? Culture? Luck? To the extent that these surveys allow a better measurement of culture and institutions, they will open up new avenues to explore.

Although survey methodologies have improved rapidly, they have been slow to establish. “For now, the main limitation is cost. Carrying out a representative survey of many countries in the world can be very expensive (more than a million dollars), and for this reason there are very few academics with a sufficient budget,” he points out.

One of the chimeras of certain economic models is to design a representative individual. Do these polls point in that direction? Pérez Truglia is not sure: “Certainly, The interest of these surveys is to better understand the heterogeneity both between countries and between individuals within the same country. There is a 2017 article by Romain Wacziarg and co-authors in the American Economic Review, titled Culture, Ethnicity, and Diversity. Using data from the Global Values ​​Survey, they show that there is great diversity within countries, not just between countries. If two Argentineans are chosen at random, for example, what is the probability that they have the same values, such as believing in God or the importance of making an effort at work? The fact is that if an Argentinian and a Brazilian are chosen at random, contrary to what many think, the odds are quite similar. There is as much diversity in Argentina as between the different countries of Latin America.

As for the future, Perez Truglia considers It is important to democratize the inquiry process to improve research and neutralize discriminatory or stereotypical interpretations. “Since few have funds for these investigations, it would be convenient if they allowed other researchers to make proposals. The German socio-economic panel already does this: it is a very in-depth survey where the organizers allow researchers from all over the world to ask questions. Then they choose the most interesting ones and integrate them.

Ultimately, It is not excluded that the official statistical institutes themselves will soon begin to carry out these surveys and, eventually, to publish the results. “These surveys are usually funded by official scientific bodies, so governments already contribute indirectly to these statistics,” he concludes.

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