Comparing Standards of Living
a) How would you compare the standard of living in the UK with that in the Soviet Union and Ethiopia?
To really answer this question you have to understand what the standard of living means - Comparing Standards of Living introduction? I think it means a way of measuring the quality of life, usually in monetary terms. The problem with this is that some things are very hard to value in this way as it is hard to actually put a monetary value on the item. E.g. The value of having a father in a family, the value of education of a person and the value of having two married parents.
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The way to compare all these things is to get the figures for each country like divorce rate, number of single parents, GNP, average air quality, the number of people per doctor, etc, etc.
To do this properly then you will have to decide how important each item is to the quality of life of a person. An example of this would be Gross National Product per capita. This is probably one of the most important as if people earn more they can buy more goods with the money and this will help them enjoy life a bit more. Then you can find the Gross National Product per Capita but if you are comparing two countries together the currencies will be different. Even if you use the exchange rate to change the values they will still be hard to compare as the exchange rate is always changing. Not only that but the price of goods is always changing between countries.
If in France a bag of teabags was ï¿½2 and in the UK they might be ï¿½3. This leaves a problem because someone over here might get paid more put they have to spend more on essential goods such as food. They way to get round this difference is to get the average price of a typical bag of shopping on one particular day of the year. This will entail hundreds of people going out and finding the price of 500 different goods like Nescafe coffee and Walls ice cream. Then they will average these up over the whole country. These then can be used as an exchange rate as they can be compared to the price in francs or marks of the same basket in the other country.
Even after you have done this all you have is a reasonably balanced way of finding Gross National Product per Capita. You still can’t compare all the other data available like air quality and divorce rate.
I would have to decide how they would be compared like the value of clean air and the value of having two parents that are not divorced. The importance of each of these has to be added up and put into a final number for the standard of life for that country.
The system that is most likely to be used is the 13 quality of life indicators. These are economic growth- this would be the total output of the economy.
The Gross Domestic Product is the value that would be used for this.
Social Investment-this is the value of investment in public assets such as new roads, hospitals, etc.
Employment- the income of a person can seriously change their standard of living and so the more employment in a country the better.
Health- The average life expectancy of a person is a very good way to compare countries as a more developed country will tend to have better health care systems in place so will generally live much longer than somewhere with very low quality health care.
Education and training-generally it is accepted that the better education you have the more likely you are to get a nice job or have higher income.
Housing quality-this is the percentage of homes that are unfit to be lived in. It is much nicer to live in a central heated house than a mud hut generally.
Climate change-the climate can play a large role in the standard of living especially in farming communities where a long drought can be devastating.
Air quality-the average amount of pollution in the air. It is much nicer to live with clean air as things like asthma is reduced and it makes a better working environment.
Transport-the amount of cars and congestion on the roads. Also the number and frequency of trains and bus’s.
Water quality-water is one of the most basic needs of human life and it is very important to have good quality water. A lot of diseases are spread by water but it has to be drunk otherwise people could die of dehydration.
Wildlife- animals and creatures that are around and if they can be enjoyed. National parks are a way of preserving wildlife and countryside of humans to enjoy.
Land use- the best land to use to develop houses and building on is a brown field site as they have already been developed on and this will mean that countryside doesn’t have to be destroyed.
Waste- The amount of waste of a nation can help see how good the quality of life is.
When a value for all these has been calculated it then has to be analysed and an overall value for the country can be made. This will allow two countries to be compared.
b) What problems would you encounter in this task?
In completing this task I would come against many problems. First of all if I was trying a calculate Gross Domestic Product of a country as there are 3 methods, expenditure, income and output. In theory they will all give the same results but in practice they don’t, as it is very hard to get accurate figures for the three methods. The black economy is one that doesn’t show all its income, as it wants to avoid tax. Because of this sort of thing the figures will never be 100% accurate. To get round this I would measure Gross Domestic Product with all the different ways and find an average of the three. This will not be perfect but they will nearly be more accurate than before.
Also another problem is that of the different prices of goods and different exchange rates through the countries. If you go to Spain you might be able to get six bottles of Stella for ï¿½1.50 but in the UK they will be closer to ï¿½5 so even if someone in Spain got paid less they might still be able to buy more due to the difference in prices. The way to get round this is to get the average price of a typical shopping basket over the countries you want to compare. The best way to do this would to get the average price of 500 homogenous products in the two countries and then even in their different currencies you can form a new exchange rate, which can be used to change the final amounts into comparable numbers.
Another problem that will be encountered will be getting correct figures for other things like climate change and air pollution. The best way to do most of this is find a system and stick to it for all countries like air pollution should be measured over a wide area to get an average amount. Also the congestion of roads is a problem as how can it be measured. I think the best way to do this would have to be the average speed on a stretch of road and how much this is less than the speed limit.
Then you have education and training and the value you can put on that. In one country a child might have no education and just work on a field all day. They might still be happy but they have no education. Waste also is hard to value as when countries get more developed they tend to have larger amounts of waste as they get more packet food and microwavable dinners. This may seem like they have a better standard of living but in some cases this extra waste can cause big problems like where to put it, the smell of it all and the wildlife problems it can cause. E.g. a bird might get strangled in the plastic things that hold beer cans together. In a developing country you might find there is very little waste as all the left over stuff is still used.
The main problem that would be encountered would be putting a value on different things like air pollution. The value might be decided to be the cost to the National Health Service for instance of worse pollution so another person gets Asthma but this is not really a very good way as what we are trying to calculate is the quality of life and if you have asthma your quality of life might be substantially reduced.
The there is wildlife and how can you really say that the amount of wild birds affects the quality of life that much. You might get a country that has millions of wild birds, which makes their standard of living look really great but they start becoming a nuisance costing you average persons hundreds to get rid of them out of the loft or chimney. Then this extra cost of disposing of these birds will actually increase the Gross Domestic Product because more money is flowing around the economy.
The idea that quality of life can be judged is not really possible. These figures give an indication only of how well on average each person lives. The problem with averages is that they can be seriously affected by an extreme value. For example the average Gross Domestic Product per Capita might be seriously affected by a few really rich people that have most of the money in the country. They might have a reasonable Gross Domestic Product but if you look at the average man in the street he might be very poor. This is the same for just about any measure of quality of life.
Air pollution might be really good over most of the country but one industrialised bit might have really awful air pollution brings down the average.
In conclusion what I am trying to do here is impossible as the quality of life is really how happy someone is and the number of birds flying around or the education of an individual can’t measure this. They only give an idea of what it is like in this other country. There might be a boy who is not getting paid anything, with no education and not transport apart from walking that is very happy and feels he doesn’t want to aspire to have a large income, a degree and a brand new car.
It is impossible to measure happiness so we will just have to stick with indicators of happiness such as the 13 quality of life indicators.