The first time I heard about the institute and its prosperity index was in an opinion piece by György Bolgár. I immediately went to the original source, the web site of the Legatum Institute. I found the study fascinating. Legatum defines prosperity as both material wealth and spiritual well being. So the world's most prosperous nations have both a sound economy and happy, healthy, free citizens. The Index studied the situation in 104 different countries that comprise 90% of the world's population. The Index is subdivided into nine sub-indexes: economic fundamentals (meaning a growing sound economy), entrepreneurship and innovation, democratic institutions, education, health, safety and security, governance, personal freedom, and social capital (that is, trustworthiness in relationships and strong communities).
Finland tops the list, narrowly ahead of Switzerland, Sweden, and Denmark followed by Norway, Australia, Canada, the Netherlands, the United States, and New Zealand. And now comes the surprise. In Eastern Europe in Legatum's prosperity index Hungary is twenty-seventh, ahead of Poland (29), Slovakia (34), Bulgaria (46), and Romania (48). In the region only Slovenia (20) and the Czech Republic (25) are ahead of Hungary.
What is Hungary's weakest link? It is social capital. And it is not just a bit weak. If one looks at the entire list it is one the worst with a score of 92. Just to give you some idea of how bad that is, it can be compared to Algeria, Bulgaria, Romania, Estonia, Peru, and yes, Zimbabwe that, by the way, is last on the list. (Do you remember that Hungarians' satisfaction with their own lot was comparable on another international comparison with that of the citizens of Zimbabwe?) But this category is the only one that is marked red on the Hungarian "prosperity map." Everything else is bright green with the exception of one yellow bloc meaning "average" and that is "personal freedom." Interestingly enough, "personal freedom" as defined by the researchers at Legatum is also considered "average" in Austria, Slovenia, Italy, Israel, Poland, Greece, and Slovakia, just to mention a few. In fact, Hungary with a score of 48 is doing relatively well, because Greece received a score of 65 and Slovakia 69. One may find it a source of satisfaction that Israel and Hungary are tied with an overall score of 27.
One observation of the Legatum Institute is that "history is not destiny." Highly ranked nations include those with a long history of productive economies, effective and limited government, and social capital, yet several other nations rank high that not long ago were afflicted with poverty, oppression, and unhappiness. In Europe the authors of the Prosperity Index specifically mention Croatia, Estonia, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia, countries that not so long ago were controlled by communist governments, with little wealth or freedom.
I assume Viktor Orbán would not agree with these findings. After all, according to him Hungary is like an abandoned battlefield. The country impatiently awaits the Messiah who will make from this poor second Zimbabwe a country like Finland! Well, I will be curious to see what the 2010 Prosperity Index will look like if Orbán's dream of a "national renaissance" actually materializes.