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Macedonia finds Economist Grim Reading

February 12, 2012
By Sinisa Jakov Marusic

The well-known magazine may have come up with some data proving Macedonia’s ‘misery’ – but fear not; the government has plenty of other data proving the exact opposite.

Macedonian businessman: “How much does The Economist cost?” Some clever fellow tweeted this on Tuesday after the well-known magazine on Monday placed Macedonia on top of its world “misery” index. “The country is in a mess”, the Economist claimed.

The joke refers to the businessman close to the government who recently bought three main newspapers from the German media giant WAZ for an undisclosed price.

For those who do not get this (internal Macedonian) jest, put it this way: if a local mogul ever gets hold of the Economist, you can bet it will become off limits for bad news like this.

But back to the index. The Economist has made a simple calculation, marrying data on unemployment and inflation for 2011. Guess what? Of 92 economies compared worldwide Macedonia came up looking gloomiest.

Macedonia took first place mainly thanks to its record-breaking unemployment that in September reached 32 per cent according to the International Monetary Fund.

Year-end inflation in 2011 of 3.5 per cent, according to the European Bank for Investment and Development, which is actually not so worrying compared to some others. Venezuela and Iran took second and third place on the Economist misery list, mainly for their high inflation.

Turning to the other Balkan countries, Greece is ranked in 13th position, while is United States comes in at 50th and China is right behind at 51st.

The least “miserable” economies on the list are Germany, Switzerland and the top champion, Qatar.

After the story spread on the social networks in Macedonia, reactions varied from approval to disgust. Miserable? We are not miserable! Who said that? – some asked.

Legislators in the national assembly on Tuesday tore each other apart over the issue.
The opposition seemed to draw pleasure from the fact that someone outside Macedonia had finally said what they have been chanting for years.

The ruling centre-right VMRO party of Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski was dismissive. High unemployment was a legacy of the time before 2006 when the opposition Social Democrats were in power, they said.

Finance Minister Zoran Stavreski described the Economist as irrelevant as a source of information. He redirected people to his favorite boasting material, last year’s World Bank Doing Business report, which ranked Macedonia as the third top economic reformer in the world.

“Somehow I think I’d rather be in Macedonia or Venezuela than South Sudan or North Korea,” a visitor commented on the newspaper’s web page, pointing out the absurdity of such rankings.

One can indeed argue that in the case of the Economist, the supposed “misery” of Macedonia was a simple reflection of the fact that mathematically combining a few bits of generic data do not add up to a realistic estimate of the state of a nation.

The magazine said it took its data for the survey from 92 countries – but one can guess from the results that some of the genuinely dismal countries in the world were clearly not included.

Critics of the survey have rightfully noted that some important parameters such as GDP, average wages or national debts were not factored into the equation.

Some are upset for different reasons – mainly because Macedonia has been subjected for six years now to a constant, aggressive PR campaign, designed to ram home the message that Macedonia is a happy and prosperous land where only good things happen.

Last week’s ceremonial inauguration of a new triumphal arch in Skopje was only the latest official advert in stone and bronze of the country’s alleged greatness.

All those grandiose monuments and buildings inaugurated last year, all those government advertisements about recent reforms, all those ground-breaking ceremonies, sometimes repeated several times to boost the effect – and now this!

Of course, when the Foreign Minister last year boasted about the Macedonia’s high place in the Doing Business Report, he passed over the fact that it, too, was the result of a generic combination – of some ten-or-so passed but not necessary applied business bills.

Back then, the government recorded a commercial, repeating the good news over and over. People got the impression that thousands of foreign businessmen would soon be swarming the country, waiting in line to invest.

No matter how narrow the foundations of the Economist’s misery index may be, it underlines one grim index with precision. Macedonia has not moved on much in ten years when it comes to unemployment. That very gloomy benchmark has remained the same as before.

Macedonians do not need The Economist to say bluntly that we are in a mess when it comes to job creation.  We know that already, though many feel insulted when someone else mentions it.

Not to worry, though, as we recently secured another top ranking that will come in useful, domestically.

According to the Economic Freedoms Index, a ranking compiled by The Heritage Foundation and The Wall Street Journal, Macedonia is a regional leader.

Excuse me if I don’t go and turn on the TV – where there will no doubt soon be a new government advertisement, hailing the latest international authorized piece of good news.

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From → FYROM

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