If, as part of the (classic) liberal Anglophone intelligentsia, you want to be really edgy, indeed outré, you sneer at the Economist and don’t read it. Otherwise, everyone who is anyone is (as the hotel ad puts it) a fan. It is the chattering classes’ brain candy of choice. The only criticism might be that over the years it has gone from an insider-ish insignia by
which a certain oh-so select group recognized one another, to a wonkish status symbol, to today’s huge pile of glossy next to the two-for-one snacks on the counter in my local 7-Eleven. But it hasn’t gained this popularity by becoming massively more tabloidy or dumbed down or full of child-oriented graphics – compare with Time, for example.
The newspaper lends its brand name to a money-spinning publishing/conference outfit called the Economist Intelligence Unit. Like many consulting and analysis groups, the EIU grabs occasional free publicity by producing a Big List of Places Ranked According to an Impressive Formula. Thus the news today is full of the Global Livability Index.
Who can resist? CBC excitedly reports that Canada has no fewer than three of the top six cities. ABC rejoices that Australia has two. China News gushes that social stability helped Chinese cities’ rankings.
Or didn’t. Hong Kong’s pro-government media leap on the EIU’s claim that last year’s Occupy protests hit the city’s livability. The SCMP quotes the survey as saying the city could face continued high risk of protests. Gasp!
To its credit, the Standard mentions some doubts: a student activist asks, in effect, whether declining rule of law and unaffordable housing aren’t more relevant to livability than kids with umbrellas in the street (kids driven in part by declining rule of law and unaffordable housing). And some of us thought Occupy actually improved livability, reducing traffic and turning a stretch of Admiralty freeway into a carnival – but what do we know?
Even more puzzling, Singapore – with all those trees, best airport in the solar system, the death penalty for chewing gum and no nasty kids with umbrellas – still ranks lower than Hong Kong. What did the Lion City do to upset the EIU?
To put it in perspective, it might be an idea to look at what the EIU thinks its scores represent. Anything from 80 to 100 (Hong Kong is 88.8) means ‘there are few, if any, challenges to living standards’. A score from 70-80 means that ‘day-to-day living is fine, in general, but some aspects of life may entail problems’, which workers shoveling smoldering sodium cyanide in search of dead firemen in Tianjin (76.0) would probably go along with, while being thankful they’re not living in crappy Shenzhen (72.8). To put it another, relentlessly positive, way: in Hong Kong, ‘no aspects of life may entail problems’. Who’d have thought it? I feel better already.