Quality of Life in the US

Quality of life is a hard thing to measure. Economists argue about the parameters that make up this elusive measurement of how satisfied people are with their lives. There are several QoF indices being published by different bodies; The Economist’s is one. Things like wealth, health, political stability, political freedom, climate and job security are taken into account. The weighting of each of these parameters is crucial in determining which country’s QoF is better.

Because of its composition, the QoF index does not produce the same country rankings as the GDP per capita index. For example, in the The Economist’s index, the US comes 13th in the QoF ranking, despite it being the country with the highest GDP per capita in the world (if you ignore tiny Luxembourg).

I thought about this during my recent stay in the US. I spent two weeks in Irvine, California, a southern suburb of Los Angeles (the locals will resent this definition; for them, Orange County is distinct and separate from L.A.). Irvine is one of the country’s most peaceful and wealthy cities. And yet many of the city’s residents work in L.A., which means they spend hours each day sitting in traffic on dreadfully congested San Diego freeway (route 405). Ensconced in their air-conditioned SUVs and Priuses, they spend their mornings and their evenings in a bumper-to-bumper river of cars. How do you factor this nightmare into the QoF index? People in Irvine may be sleeping in 3-million dollar homes and driving in 100,000-dollar cars, but can you really put a price on the agony of spending hours each day staring at other cars’ backsides?

Or take dometic air travel in the US. I flew from L.A. to Boston yesterday. Economy class on United Airlines. It’s been a while since I was on a long domestic flight in the US, and it wasn’t pleasant. The security lines were long. The TSA personnel grumpy. The United employee at the gate kept barking at passengers. The flight attendants adopted another strategy: they simply ignored the passengers. No food was served, only drinks and a biscuit (this was a 5-hour flight). The only positive element of it all was that the flight was on time. Compared to domestic flights in Europe (and certainly in Asia) the Americans have it really bad. The treatment they receive at the airport and in the air is atrociously discourteous. And they seem to take it willingly. So either they’ve given up on being treated nicely or they’ve been bullied into stunned obedience by the post-9/11 American way of life.

Quality of life? I think not.

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