Will Our Quality of Life Decline?

Posted by Dr. Michael Berry Ph.D

Share on Facebook

Tweet on Twitter

Screen shot 2012-03-01 at 9.41.32 AM


Quality of Life (QOL) can be defined in many different ways. Most North Americans think of increased leisure time, early retirement, time to enjoy our hobbies, home ownership and the ability raise a family comfortably. Others want worry free living. That’s probably a bit of a stretch for most of us. This is likely the state of North American and OECD view of QOL. Since 1950 the lifestyle of Canadians and Americans has become increasingly rich and easy.

The rise of unionized labour, pension largesse, top notch medical coverage, cheap products from Asia and the ability of Canadians and Americans to borrow and accumulate debt in an unrestricted mode has meant that there are not many lifestyle amenities out of reach. It has indeed been a great 5 decade party akin to 50 years of Ferris Beuhler’s Day Off! QOL has been sustained by uninhibited borrowing.

However increased QOL is defined differently by citizens in the emerging world (Emergica). In Emergica there is more emphasis on income and jobs that provides enough to attain some of the accoutrements of the modern world. Savings rates are much higher in Emergica. Indians revere gold. You cannot be married without significant gold endowment in India. Gold is considered the way to create and store wealth in India. Chinese citizens are buying gold and silver at breakneck speed in units from single gram cards to kilogram bars. Gold is a quality of life asset in these countries.

Nevertheless, governments everywhere try to stimulate a growing QOL, however defined, in the culture of their country. One look at the domestic reaction to Greece’s forced “austerity” should convince one of this government’s priorities. Greece is once again feeling the heel of Europe’s jackboot. Remember the recent (1990 to 2007) “Flip that House” folly here in the U.S.? The government notion (with a big assist from Wall Street) that we should have a “chicken in every pot” housing policy was supported by both Republican and Democratic administrations. Housing was considered a quality of life asset. Subsequent to August 2007, much of what we have all experienced in North America, particularly the United States, has been fostered by this unsustainable orgy of low interest rates, easy loans, no down/ low down home ownership supported by cement mixer mortgage and investment bankers who rattled off mortgage bonds so quickly that they cannot now be unwound. Welcome to continued Quantitative Easing and “Too Big to Fail!

Across the globe, there are different views of a “good” quality of life. That’s part of the great strength of the democratic way of life in which humanity can strive to be better. My parents simply wanted to own their home free and clear, save for retirement and send their children to University.

But social scientists view lifestyle analytics differently in their efforts to measure and compare any country’s QOL over time (increasing happiness) and with other countries (relative happiness). Australian social scientists focus on immigration as a key driver of increased QOL.

For example here’s how the United Nations Human Development Agency views QOL i. The index is calculated using three sub-indices to construct an HDI index. They are per capita income, health (life expectancy) and education (years of schooling).

Screen shot 2012-03-01 at 9.41.32 AM

The following diagram shows the increase in this index as estimated by the United Nations Human Development Program for a group of OECD countries.    Norway sports the highest index value, the U.S. ranks 4th and Canada 6th according to the study.

These time series and graphs imply that the quality of life as measured by the HDI index has increased for these countries over the past 30 years. In 1980 The U.S. sported the second highest index while Canada ranked third (in the world). They now rank 4th and 6th respectively. I think this is what Mark Faber was getting at in his research results that the QOL of the West was falling and likely to fall further relative to other countries.

….read pages – 3- 6 HERE