Azerbaijan Made it into Newsweek’s Top 100 Countries!
I really have no idea what that could mean. How does one become a top 100 country? And, really, how does one even rank that? Apparently, the diggers at Newsweek have come up with a formula that puts Azerbaijan squarely at number 69! (Be careful with the interactive features–you can get tangled up fairly quickly.) Unfortunately, it looks like Azerbaijan reached the top 100 by default, as only 100 countries have been ranked. In particular, Newsweek left out the neighbors, Armenia and Georgia, which takes some of the fun out of the whole enterprise.
There are a few things I’d like to point out about the survey, though. First, Newsweek is using some “official statistics,” which means that, in Azerbaijan’s case at least, they’ve got some faulty data. The most glaring in this array is the unemployment number. Most reasonable people around here acknowledge that the economic crisis of the past couple years hasn’t really affected Azerbaijan directly. Being an all-cash economy without much development in the financial sector left Azerbaijan relatively isolated from the shocks rippling through Western countries with behemoth financial operations. Azerbaijan doesn’t really even have a stock market. However, that insulation from the global shocks does not confer on anyone the right to claim that Azerbaijan only has 6% unemployment. One of the astounding inefficiencies of such a corrupt society is that few people get jobs they are qualified for, most people with jobs bought them, and the combination of those two things results in a severely pessimistic employment pool when it comes to finding a job. I would love to see how they came up with that number.
One thing Newsweek managed to hit on the nose is the political climate. They referenced Freedom House numbers, the EIU Democracy Index, and Political Risk Services. All good choices. And all conveying a reasonably accurate picture of what the political situation is here. Stability is decent, certainly a goal of the administration; political participation is very low, partly a hangover from Soviet times, partly a reflection of the attitude of the country when it comes to their ability to affect change; and a general meta-analysis of freedoms reveals that, in fact, most people don’t feel like they have choices and freedom like we would describe in a Western democracy. That’s a rough go, for sure.
In some of the other categories: Education is about right. Literacy is high here (though it depends in what script your writing–my host mom here in Lənkəran can only read Cyrillic); but, average years of schooling is probably about right, too low. There are a number of students who leave early, particularly women, to either hurry up and get school done with at a “college” or to hurry up and get married. Health I have a hard time with since they just measured life expectancy. I can’t imagine a lot of these people are particularly healthy, as they eat more sugar in a day than I consume in a month or two, probably. The last thing I’ll comment on is the percent of people living on less than $2 per day. That’s probably accurate at 2%. Extreme poverty is pretty low here, since everyone seems to own their home and there’s probably a strong inertia from Soviet times keeping most people above the poverty line.