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Wed, 23 April 2014 23:36:38
How good is Sri Lanka?
29 Nov, 2012 05:46:20
By Rohan Samarajiva
Nov 29, 2012 (LBO) - I came across a little index from The Economist that I tweeted about. I was surprised by the reaction: lots of retweets; even caused the ranks of my followers to swell. So it appears that the question addressed in the Index, “which country will be the best for a baby born in 2013?,” has great resonance.
I’ve always been interested in indicators, especially parsimonious ones. So, for example, I’ve always considered the net migration rate to be highly significant in assessing a country.

The fact that large numbers of people make the sacrifices necessary to leave their loved ones and familiar ways says something powerful about a country. Their actions speak far louder than endless reiterations of “Loken uthum rata Lankavayi.”

I had studied the Irish migration patterns that turned from net outflow to net inflow in the heyday of Celtic Tigerhood (http://www.lbo.lk/fullstory.php?nid=973273158) and then again to outflow in recent times.

It seems that the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), a sister company of The Economist, has taken a very serious approach to the problem with the above Index. It tries to answer systematically the question a Sri Lankan getting on an illegal boat headed for Australia answers with his or her gut.

Its quality-of-life index links the results of subjective life-satisfaction surveys—how happy people say they are—to objective determinants of the quality of life across countries. Being rich helps more than anything else, but it is not all that counts; things like crime, trust in public institutions and the health of family life matter too. In all, the index takes 11 statistically significant indicators into account. They are a mixed bunch: some are fixed factors, such as geography; others change only very slowly over time (demography, many social and cultural characteristics); and some factors depend on policies and the state of the world economy.

A forward-looking element comes into play, too. Although many of the drivers of the quality of life are slow-changing, for this ranking some variables, such as income per head, need to be forecast. We use the EIU’s economic forecasts to 2030, which is roughly when children born in 2013 will reach adulthood.

So, first the good news.

Of the 80 ranked countries, Sri Lanka shares 63rd place with the Philippines. It is three places above India (66th), five ahead of Vietnam (68th) and eight ahead of Indonesia (71st). Bangladesh, despite remarkable progress in recent times, is 77th, just two places behind troubled Pakistan (75th). So of all the SAARC countries that have been measured, Sri Lanka is number one.

The only country that is likely to be ahead, if measured, is the microstate of Bhutan, a fast growing economy with a strong bureaucracy and “Gross National Happiness” as the national brand.

But that is still 63rd out of 80. Back of the class. We are 13 places behind Thailand (50th) despite that country’s dysfunctional Red-Yellow polarization, floods and what not.

We are 11 places behind the Dominican Republic, which has the economic and demographic profile most like Sri Lanka. South Korea, a country we used to name our slums after in the 1960s, is in 19th place, just three below the US. And Singapore, which used to look to Sri Lanka as a model, is highest ranked in all of Asia at 6th place.

Thailand illustrates the value of my favored indicator of net migration rate. Despite the proliferation of Thai takeout, it is still rare for Thais to leave their country. Even the few who do are more than balanced out by in-migration from Myanmar and other neighbors.

Just eye-balling it, the only country that is high in the list that has significant numbers trying to leave is Mexico (39th). But it may be an anomaly because of the proximity to the US. And in any case, I understand the rate has slowed down since the Great Recession.

Cuba too is an anomaly. The fact that half the country will leave if given a chance is well known. What is surprising is that Cuba ranks so high (40th), above even China (49th).

Putin’s Russia is ranked 72nd, the last among the BRICS and well below Sri Lanka. I don’t know what to make of that, seriously.

Other than feel good, I suppose. As a frequent traveler in South Asia, I always come back to a good feeling about Sri Lanka. That is confirmed by this Index.

But it would be nice to get out of the fourth quartile in my life time. That is not too hard. 63 to 59, overtaking the Philippines, El Salvador, Bulgaria and Egypt . . .. Then, maybe, the multi-day fishing vessels will go fishing and nothing else. And my people will willingly stay in this beautiful country.

Rohan Samarajiva heads LirneAsia, a regional think tank. He was also a former telecoms regulator in Sri Lanka. To read previous columns go to LBOs main navigation panel and click on the 'Choices' category.

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READER COMMENT(S)
9. Shaik Anwar Ahamath Jan 04
FB makes a valid point. The Foreign Employment Bureau proposes to cut the domestic workers going to the Middle East by 90%. On the face of it, appears a good move as these workers had been treated badly by a few Middle East employers but for the majority poor Sri Lankans this is the only source to earn a decent wage. What the Employment Bureau should introduce instead is a set of regulations to monitor the well being of our workers.
8. Jazz Jan 04
Most Sri Lankans who migrate out do so for economic reasons. Some do it in order to provide their children with better education. However, migrating out cannot be interpreted to how people feel towards their own country or their people.Does migrating out necessarily mean that people dislike their country? If so, how can we explain the tens of thousands of Sri Lankans who are employed in the middle east, but choose to send back their savings to Sri Lanka.

Their foreign remittances are immensely important to the SL economy?How can we explain the number of people who return to SL for a holiday on an annual basis? It's not just the 'economically disadvantaged' Sri lankans, but also 'middle class' Sri Lankans who choose to return especially during Christmas because they just love the 'Sri Lankan way' of celebrating and according to them, there is no substitute.

I hear so many Sri Lankans who have migrated tell me that if one has the money, then Sri Lanka is the best place to live with all that it offers.However, I would also advise policy makers in Sl to do a study on why Sri lankans migrate and that would highlight the major problem areas that should be addressed for the benefit of our citizens. 'Migration' would still happen, but it would be a pleasant choice that people make rather than a compelling one.

7. Frederick Dec 07
More than the position( you said 63rd or something in the index) it is the TREND that Iam worried about.Seems to be going the wrong way.Pity! It is such a beautiful country.And the war ended three years ago.
6. kawdaboy Nov 30
@wadda podda Reminds me of a popular desert available in a trendy restaurant in Colombo called "Death by Chocolate".
5. Wadda Podda Nov 29
Mr Samarajiva, don't take the index of the Economist Intelligence Unit(EIU) I have been to the Dominican Republic and Cuba. Have you seen the woman they have over there ? My God!! If you got the money then you can have more “Gross National Happiness” then all Bhutan put together.
Those English are just saying sour grapes(no more money to flash around in the so called 'third world 'because they have joined the third world club)
4. Udana Nov 29
For many of the Sri Lankans migrating the only reason would be economic well being(wages/ cost of living). Feel that most of the people especially the poor (no offence), the feel good factors or freedom or liberty in those countries compared to lack of it in SL would be have compelled them on migrating.

What they have felt is the gradually increasing economic hardships created by the successive govts, so compelled to seek greener pastures abroad some times at great risks.

3. low rider Nov 29
@kawdaboy
Politicians are a reflection of society. So is this what Sri Lankan society or any of the countries that scored poorly is? No wonder more people are leaving Sri Lanka now than when the civil conflict was on.
2. kawdaboy Nov 29
Sri Lanka - Nava Gilunath Ban Choon! (No matter what happens we will have a good time).
1. fb Nov 29
Here is a perspective on migration. People have migrated throughout history. It is what humans do. They move: from the Rift Valley, from the Urals.

Before the advent of the modern nationalist nation state from the mid 1800s, which was then backed by police power, border patrols, the visa, the passport, the green card the work permit and of course citizenship and other tools of the anti-migration nationalist brigade in the last century; people moved. It is only now that the EU and ASEAN are dismantling some of these tools.

Other things being equal people move for economic reasons - provided the potential rewards outweigh the risks. The modern nationalist will deride 'economic migrants'. But economic migration is all that there should be in a liberal world made up of equal humans.

In a basic classical liberal economic sense, people move to places where rewards (wage rates) are higher. Hey presto, unemployment ends, wages balance at both ends. People move from village to city, and city to city. People are great social creatures. Rome, Thebes, Mohenjo-daro, and now Mexico City (to check how many people 'migrate' to Mexico City each year vs how many people 'migrate' to US the may be an interesting study), New York, Shanghai etc.

You can see that happening in some of the last remaining places where it is permitted. The US, (despite all that the anti-migration nationalists have tried to do) the Middle East, and of course increasingly East Asia, Singapore and Malaysia etc. (Chinese bus drivers struck work this week at SMRT because Malaysian drivers were paid 1,400 dollars while they were paid 800 dollars a month - Go figure).

Dubai runs on at one extreme (over generalised) on British brains and at the other extreme on South Asian/Indonesian/Filipino/ex Soviet state labour.

Greater the economic freedom, the greater the employment and in-migration. Backed with European nationalist tools, Middle East does not allow naturalization except in some rare instances - and these were countries with nomadic tribes. But at least the labour market is not closed.

But how a person moves may tell something. Most decisions are based on risk and reward. In some cases risks are merely commercial. At other times risks are not commercial.

A Britisher who answers an advert for a job to run an airline in the Middle East (whose dog will be air lifted to his new home later), an Indian or Pakistani who decides to set up a business in income-tax-free Dubai, a Sri Lankan who answers a job advert in a foreign country faces, perso who jumps visa after traveling in a commercial airliner at little risk, a Mexican who slips across the border at some risk, a Sri Lankan who gambles all his savings, as well as his life on a rickety fishing boat or an East German who faced death at the end of a Stazi bullet in the dead of night, faces different risks and situations.

It may be interesting to see whether Sri Lanka will introduce the most oppressive anti-migration tool of all - the exit visa.