Venezuela ranked happiest nation in South America, US media ignores results

October 1, 2013

The U.N. Sustainable Development Solutions Network has released its World Happiness Report for 2013.

Following up on the first such report, released last year, the U.N. says that the 2013 edition, "delves in more detail into the analysis of the global happiness data, examining trends over time and breaking down each country’s score into its component parts, so that citizens and policy makers can understand their country’s ranking. It also draws connections to other major initiatives to measure well-being, including those conducted by the OECD and UNDP’s Human Development Report …"

The World Happiness Report, as with similar such studies as the Happy Planet Index is in part a response to perceived shortcomings with traditional economic and social measures such as growth, poverty rates, employment, education, life expectancy and other indicators.

While U.S. media coverage of the report was not overwhelming, there was some. The report was also covered in numerous international outlets in countries throughout Europe, in Asia, Africa and Australia and New Zealand, among others.

CNN noted that: “'On a regional basis, by far the largest gains in life evaluations in terms of the prevalence and size of the increases have been in Latin America and the Caribbean, and in Sub-Saharan Africa', the report said. Reduced levels of corruption also contributed to the rise."

But CNN neglected to mention that Venezuela ranked first -- again -- among South American nations as happiest.

One of the only U.S. newspapers to note Venezuela’s ranking was the Deseret Morning News, whose editorial page associate editor was puzzled by the country’s relatively high placement: “Venezuela finished 20th, which must mean happiness doesn’t equate with being able to find milk in the store after years under Hugo Chavez?” -- a reference to shortages of certain goods this year.

Among happy South American countries, Venezuela is a returning champion, having been ranked number one on the continent in 2012 as well, “beating some of its Latin American neighbours, such as Mexico and Brazil,” and “also topp[ing] many European countries such as France, Spain, Italy and Germany,” as Rachael Boothroyd noted last year.

Venezuela also came out on top in a South America happiness comparison in 2011, and was ranked ninth out of 151 countries on the Happy Planet Index.

Overall, mostly Northern European countries ranked happiest in the new World Happiness Report: Denmark ranked first, followed in order by Norway, Switzerland, the Netherlands and Sweden.

Why has there been so little attention to the report -- and to Venezuela’s ranking in it, among the U.S. outlets that did cover it? Could it be that the gains in Venezuela over the past decade challenge the conventional wisdom routinely reported in the press that Venezuela is a mess in terms of its economic, politics and security, and which typically presents Venezuelans as unhappy?

As the Huffington Post notes: "The report -- which analyzed 156 countries -- is intended to be used as a means of improving policy making worldwide by highlighting how people around the world measure their well-being. The findings were based off national statistics and several surveys, including the Gallup World Poll, to assess a population’s emotional happiness and overall satisfaction with life."

It is perhaps not surprising that media outlets that regularly try to convince their audiences that the social democratic policies being pursued in countries in Scandinavia, South America and elsewhere are a failure don’t want to report the contentment of citizens living in these countries.

[Reprinted from the Center for Economic and Policy Research.]

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