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October 24

6:40 GMT +00:00

Counting countries

Posted by:
Economist
Categories:
Countries

WE LIKE to think that we at The World in really do cover the world. After all, we spend days of eye-straining toil making sure we have coherent political and economic predictions for countries ranging from Austria to Zimbabwe. We ask experts to pontificate on every continent (even Antarctica gets a mention). We even look beneath the oceans, which will have their own Law of the Sea deadline for claims of sovereignty in 2009.

 

But actually we fall short. We manage forecasts for some 80 countries—but a well-educated schoolboy might point out that the United Nations has some 192 members.

And if the schoolboy is particularly annoying he might also note the presence beyond the UN’s boundaries of the Vatican City and Taiwan, which likes to call itself the Republic of China. Under that name Taiwan held China’s seat at the UN until booted out in 1971 in favour of the communist People’s Republic of China. So that would make 194. Add Kosovo, whose independence—recognised by America and many EU states—was declared this year, and you get a total of 195. You could even say 196, given that some 49 UN members recognise the sovereignty of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, whose Polisario guerrillas struggle with Morocco for control of the former Spanish Sahara. Or 197 if you think Somaliland deserves credit for distancing itself from failed-state Somalia.

 

The big question is whether there may be more in 2009. We correctly predicted the fuss this year over an independent Kosovo, but missed the violent quasi-secession of South Ossetia from Georgia. Might we get further surprises in the Caucasus region, for example from Abkhazia, whose independence from Georgia is so far recognised only by Russia and Nicaragua (plus South Ossetia, Transdnistria—another self-proclaimed state after breaking away from Moldova in 1992—and the Hamas government in Gaza)? What is certain is that independence movements, from the Basques’ ETA to the Scottish Nationalists, have an extraordinary durability.

The Economist Intelligence Unit, which provides the country forecasts for The World in, already says it offers "business intelligence on 203 countries", a number that includes a few microstates. It won't happen in 2009, but one day the UN's membership will surely reach 200. 

October 21

11:31 GMT +00:00

The best country of 2009

Posted by:
Economist
Categories:
Countries

ENOUGH of the gloom: the list of candidates you have nominated as worthy of the dubious distinction of being the world's worst country in the year ahead is depressingly long.

Let's turn to the other end of the spectrum. Which will be the world's best country in 2009? Bhutan prefers gross national happiness to gross national income. The problem is how to measure it.

The World in 2005 asked the question: which would be the best place to live in 2005? The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) devised an ingenious model for measuring and comparing the quality of life in different countries. Its worldwide quality-of-life index looked at the factors that people say in life-satisfaction surveys affect their sense of wellbeing: money matters, of course, but so do a number of other things, including, health, freedom, employment, and family and community life. 

The EIU consulted its analysts, fed all their appraisals into the model, and—hey presto—it produced the answer. The best place on Earth in 2005 would be Ireland. (Many Irish disagreed.)

For 2009 Ireland, suffering recession and a property crash, would be an unlikely winner. And in any case, in the absence of the EIU's models and data, we'll have to rely on individual judgment—including on what the criteria should be.

However, it should involve more than just income per head (which would measure the richest country on earth). It might be a country that will set a particularly fine example, where improvement in the quality of life will be most striking, or which will be exerting a benign influence in its neighbourhood.

It may be tougher to think of nominations for the best country than for the worst. But let's give it a go.

October 20

14:35 GMT +00:00

The worst country of 2009 (II)

Posted by:
Economist
Categories:
Countries

THANK you for all the nominations for the worst country in the world next year. A few thoughts on this sorry collection.

On the basis of your submissions, the dubious distinction of winning this contest is a close call between Somalia and Pakistan. Other dishonourable mentions go to Zimbabwe, Sudan, Bolivia, Argentina, Venezuela, Haiti and (representing the rich world) England and America. 

Yet two cautionary comments are worth noting. First, as Trurl points out, the demerits of one country are very hard to compare against those of another: it's tough to quantify, and we have no agreed set of criteria. So this is a highly subjective judgment.

Second, what matters—since we're talking about 2009—is the country that we expect to be most rotten next year, not necessarily the one that's already the world's worst now. That would tend to strengthen the case of a country like Pakistan (which has a risk of becoming more chaotic if things go wrong) over, say, Zimbabwe (where there's at least some hope of improvement) or even Somalia (which can hardly get worse).

Finally, as several of you lament, it's indeed unfortunate that the list of potential candidates is long. And yet (it's hard to know whether this is good news or bad), the list contains few if any surprises. Are there really no countries in the world that are barely on our radar screens as being dreadful, yet will force their way to our attention in the year ahead?

October 17

7:13 GMT +00:00

The worst country of 2009

Posted by:
Economist
Categories:
Countries

IN YEARS gone by, The World In used to publish its prediction for which would be "the world's worst country" in the year ahead. We invited the country analysts from the Economist Intelligence Unit to submit their nominations for the place that in their view would be truly the most dreadful on earth in the coming year. From this dismal group of countries the EIU's editorial director then picked the one most deserving of the dubious honour of being named the world's worst.

Through this highly scientific process some interesting selections emerged. Afghanistan won the prize in The World in 2001, shortly before it went on to become a country that grabbed the world's attention. The nomination made a compelling case based on the awfulness of the Taliban, looming hunger and the fact that it was home to a certain Osama bin Laden. Three years later Turkmenistan, then under a particularly ghastly and eccentric dictator, Saparmurad Niyazov, was another worthy winner.

Sadly, with time the exercise showed signs of becoming stale. The same countries—Iraq, Myanmar, North Korea, Zimbabwe—would routinely appear on the nominations list. The World In decided to give the award a break. 

But, after a decent interval, maybe we should think of bringing it back—if not yet in print then at least online. Where do you think will deserve the title of the "The world's worst country of 2009"?

Nominations, please.

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