The Most Miserable Countries in the World

Some people believe that happiness comes from within. In the world of economics, however, happiness may be more linked to quantitative factors such as inflation, lending rates, employment levels, and growth in gross domestic product (GDP).

This week’s chart uses data from Steve Hanke of the Cato Institute, and it visualizes the 2019 Misery Index rankings, across 95 countries that report this data on a consistent basis.

The index uses four key economic variables to rank and score countries:

  1. Inflation
  2. Lending rate
  3. Unemployment rate
  4. GDP per capita growth

Here are the Misery Index scores for all 95 countries:

Rank Country Contributing Factor Misery Index Score
#1 🇻🇪 Venezuela Inflation 1,746,439.1
#2 🇦🇷 Argentina Inflation 105.6
#3 🇮🇷 Iran Inflation 75.7
#4 🇧🇷 Brazil Lending Rates 53.6
#5 🇹🇷 Turkey Unemployment 53.3
#6 🇳🇬 Nigeria Unemployment 43.0
#7 🇿🇦 South Africa Unemployment 42.0
#8 🇧🇦 Bosnia and Herzegovina Unemployment 38.2
#9 🇪🇬 Egypt Lending Rates 36.8
#10 🇺🇦 Ukraine Lending Rates 34.3
#11 Nicaragua Unemployment 31.3
#12 Jordan Unemployment 30.9
#13 Uruguay Lending Rates 27.1
#14 Honduras Unemployment 26.8
#15 Macedonia Unemployment 26.4
#16 Armenia Unemployment 25.1
#17 Jamaica Lending Rates 24.9
#18 Saudi Arabia Unemployment 23.5
#19 Columbia Lending Rates 23.2
#20 Paraguay Lending Rates 22.9
#21 Greece Unemployment 22.5
#22 Algeria Unemployment 21.9
#23 Costa Rica Lending Rates 21.7
#24 Peru Lending Rates 21.2
#25 Azerbaijan Lending Rates 21.0
#26 Dominican Republic Lending Rates & Unemployment 20.3
#27 Kazakhstan Lending Rates 20.1
#28 Barbados Unemployment 19.7
#29 Papua New Guinea Lending Rates 19.2
#30 Georgia Unemployment 18.8
#31 Mauritius Lending Rates 17.9
#32 Serbia Unemployment 17.4
#33 Guatemala Lending Rates 17.2
#34 Pakistan Lending Rates 16.7
#35 Sri Lanka Lending Rates 16.0
#36 Spain Unemployment 15.9
#37 Russia Lending Rates 15.7
#38 Mexico Lending Rates 15.4
#39 Indonesia Lending Rates 15.2
#40 Trinidad & Tobago Lending Rates 14.7
#41 New Zealand Lending Rates 14.4
#42 Italy Unemployment 13.7
#43 Mali Unemployment 13.6
#44 India Lending Rates 13.2
#45 Bangladesh Lending Rates 12.6
#46 Albania Lending Rates 12.2
#47 Ecuador Unemployment 12.2
#48 El Salvador Unemployment 12.0
#49 Philipines Lending Rates 11.8
#50 Cyprus Unemployment 11.7
#51 Croatia Unemployment 10.9
#52 Bolivia Lending Rates 10.8
#53 Canada Unemployment 10.8
#54 Panama Lending Rates 10.7
#55 France Unemployment 10.7
#56 Australia Unemployment 10.6
#57 Kuwait Lending Rates 10.5
#58 Chile Unemployment 10.3
#59 Estonia Unemployment 10.3
#60 Romania Lending Rates 10.3
#61 Iceland Lending Rates 9.7
#62 United Kingdom Lending Rates 9.6
#63 Belgium Unemployment 9.3
#64 Norway Unemployment 9.3
#65 Sweden Unemployment 8.8
#66 Moldova Lending Rates 8.8
#67 Vietnam Lending Rates 8.7
#68 United States Lending Rates 8.7
#69 Bulgaria Unemployment 8.6
#70 Finland Unemployment 8.3
#71 Hong Kong Lending Rates 8.3
#72 Portugal Unemployment 8.2
#73 Lithuania Unemployment 7.3
#74 Slovenia Unemployment 7.2
#75 Latvia Unemployment 7.0
#76 Israel Unemployment 6.8
#77 Denmark Unemployment 6.8
#78 South Korea Unemployment 6.5
#79 Poland Unemployment 6.5
#80 Qatar Lending Rates 5.8
#81 Slovakia Unemployment 5.7
#82 Germany Unemployment 5.6
#83 Malta Unemployment 5.3
#84 Singapore Lending Rates 5.2
#85 Ireland Unemployment 5.1
#86 Malaysia Lending Rates 5.1
#87 Czech Republic Lending Rates 5.0
#88 Netherlands Unemployment 4.7
#89 Taiwan Unemployment 4.4
#90 Switzerland Lending Rates 4.2
#91 China Lending Rates 4.2
#92 Austria Unemployment 3.9
#93 Japan Unemployment 3.3
#94 Hungary Unemployment 2.6
#95 Thailand Lending Rates 1.7

To calculate each Misery Index score, a simple formula is used: GDP per capita growth is subtracted from the sum of unemployment, inflation, and bank lending rates.

Which of these factors are driving scores in some of the more “miserable” countries? Which countries rank low on the list, and why?

The Highest Misery Index Scores

Two Latin American countries, Venezuela and Argentina, rank near the top of Hanke’s index.

1. Vexation in Venezuela

Venezuela holds the title of the most “miserable” country in the world for the fourth consecutive year in a row. According to the United Nations, four million Venezuelans have left the country since its economic crisis began in 2014.

Turmoil in Venezuela has been further fueled by skyrocketing hyperinflation. Citizens struggle to afford basic items such as food, toiletries, and medicine. The Cafe Con Leche Index was created specifically to monitor the rapidly changing inflation rates in Venezuela.

Not only does Venezuela have the highest score in the Misery Index, but its score has also seen a dramatic increase over the past year as the crisis has accelerated.

2. Argentina’s History of Volatility

Argentina is the second most “miserable” country, which comes as no surprise given the country’s history of economic crises.

The 2018 Argentine monetary crisis caused a severe devaluation of the peso. The downfall forced the President, Mauricio Macri, to request a loan from the International Monetary Fund.

The Lowest Misery Index Scores

The two countries with the lowest scores in the index have one thing in common: extremely low rates of unemployment.

1. Why Thailand is the Land of Smiles

Thailand takes the prize as the least “miserable” country in the world on the index. The country’s unemployment rate has been remarkably low for years, ranging between 0.4% and 1.2% since 2011. This is the result of the country’s unique structural factors. The “informal” sectors—such as street vendors or taxi drivers—absorb people who become unemployed in the “formal” sector.

Public infrastructure investments by the Thai government continue to attract both private domestic and foreign investments, bolstering the country’s GDP alongside tourism and exports.

2. Hungary’s Prime Minister Sets the Score

Hungary is the second least “miserable” country in the world according to the index.

In 2010, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán implemented a workfare program which diverted menial tasks to thousands of job seekers. Over the same period that the program ran, the national unemployment rate fell from 11.4% to 3.8%.

Orbán won a controversial fourth term in 2018, possibly in part due to promises to protect the country’s sovereignty against the European Union. Despite accusations of populism and even authoritarian tendencies, the Prime Minister still commands a strong following in Hungary.