I have been crunching some numbers today to try to make sense of Brexit. My burning question: how does a population get manipulated to such an extent that they would drop out of one of the world’s most successful peace projects in order to get more customers for Donald Trump’s new golf course in Scotland? Secondary question: why let the people decide by vote on a subject that literally none of them fully understand? Third question: why are people’s levels of satisfaction inversely proportional to the actual situation they are in?
My first surfing stop was at the OECD’s index on the quality of life (http://www.oecdbetterlifeindex.org ). Considering a country’s level of housing, income, jobs, community, education, environment, health and safety, the US comes out pretty rosy in 4th place. Germany, Austria, and the UK are #’s 13, 14, and 15 respectively. Of the top 38 countries listed, 22 of them are European Union countries. Only Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Lithuania, Malta, and Romania don’t make the list (but give them time!)
I then jiggered the parameters a bit and some interesting stuff happened. Simply add the category “Life satisfaction” to the mix and this happens: Austria goes up, Germany stays the same, the UK goes down a place and the USA sinks 4 full places:
Click on “Life satisfaction” on its own and it gets worse. Germany and Austria take the lead at places 12 and 13, because the US sinks to #15 and the UK all the way down to #21:
Conventional wisdom, “the experts”, and the pundits all tell us that the Brexit, the Trump phenomena, and the rise of the nationalist right have arisen because of people’s anxieties about the economy and immigration (or the refugee crisis). But numbers simply don’t support this. Economically speaking, of all the countries in the world, the USA and the EU countries monopolize the top spots in all indicators. And yet we are unsatisfied.
So is it the threat of migrants that makes us so insecure?
That idea is also not borne out by the numbers. Everyone knows how many refugees Germany took in – hundreds of thousands. To be precise they took in 587 per 100,000 population in 2015. What few people know is that, in percentage of population, Austria took in almost twice as many – 1027. In contrast, the United Kingdom took in a mere 60 and the United States took in about 70,000 refugees in 2015 – or 22 per 100,000 Americans (if I am doing the math right):
In FY 2015, 69,933 individuals arrived in the United States as refugees, according to data from the State Department’s Worldwide Refugee Admissions Processing System (WRAPS).
So what conclusion do I come to? The level of “life satisfaction” in a country is directly proportional to the generosity and welcome shown to people in need. Germany and Austria moved up in satisfaction rankings and the UK and the US moved down, despite the fact that they are barely affected by the “crisis”.
As I sit here writing this, my husband is upstairs watching a soccer match with Rohulla, Shaban, Hayez and Gedere. Our guys. We originally called them “the refugees”, later “the migrants”, then “our guys”, and now by their names. Despite the fact that this is their third visit, they were excruciatingly polite and very hesitant to even enter the house, much less walk upstairs to the TV room. Later, Gedere dived into the chips with a smile, but he was the exception. The others held back. We eventually had to coerce Rohulla into accepting a simple glass of tap water.