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[Opinion] Seoul Ranking 88th

Posted March. 05, 2003 22:25,   


It has been always a matter of great interest to find out who won and who lost. Without winners and losers, neither the Olympic nor the World Cup games would draw a huge number of fans. People rank salaries of sports players and popularity of pop stars. Koreans, having seen the national team advance to the semifinals during the World Cup last year, must be all familiar with giving ranks. Even when it comes to quality of living and feelings of happiness, people now resort to ranking.

With people growing obsessed with ranking, research firms are also rushing to ride on the trend. They all vary in setting standards for good places to live in, however. Income level must be an objective tool of measurement if economic factors only matter. Yet, it is not that easy. They often come up with a misery index, which adds unemployment and inflation rates. This means a good place to live must offer low prices for goods and services and create more jobs for people. The U.N. announces every year what is called `human development index,` covering income, education level and average lifespan. Of 173 countries surveyed last year, Korea ranked 27th. A London-based university specializing in political economics conducted a survey on `feelings of happiness` among countries across the world, and found out that people in Bangladesh felt that they were more satisfied with their living than any other country in the world. Korea ranked 23rd and the U.S. was far behind on 46th, which indicates that feelings of happiness are not necessarily proportional to high incomes.

Economic brains of the new government must find the results of the survey intriguing. Bangladesh seems to be a case in point for their economic theory that places a focus on distribution rather than growth. “Since the way people feel happiness is decided by comparison of incomes, we can say distribution counts more than growth,“ once said presidential aide Lee Jung-woo in his speech at the Korea Economics Society. He must have meant that even people suffering from poverty could feel happiness as long as they are not poorer than others. Yet, not many Koreans would want to live in Bangladesh for that matter.

The ways research firms measure quality of urban living also vary. According to Mercer Human Resources Consulting, Seoul was on 88th of the total 215 cities surveyed last year. It compared 39 factors such as health, education and traffic. It was before the country was hit by the Daegu subway fire and the North Korea`s nuclear program. Zurich, Switzerland ranked the first for the second consecutive year, while Baghdad, Iraq, now facing a war threat, came third. Income and distribution count when it comes to feelings of happiness. Yet, happiness is like a castle on the sand unless it is accompanied by feelings of security.

Park Young-kyun, Editorial Writer, parkyk@donga.com