The World’s Best Countries, 2018: Small is beautiful in a turbulent world

As traditional powers such as the United States, France and the United Kingdom struggle through another year of dysfunction, those looking for a better way of doing things would do well to look at some of the world’s smaller countries for inspiration. So suggests this year’s estimation of the world’s best countries.

This estimation is based on four popular indices of national performance: the UN’s Human Development Index, the International Institute for Management Development’s World Competitiveness Scoreboard, Vision of Humanity’s Global Peace Index, and Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index. The goal of this exercise is to identify which of the world’s countries could credibly claim to be the world’s best at providing a high standard of living in a safe and peaceful setting, while enjoying the benefits of a robust economy and the trust that others can be counted upon to be fair and honest.

Since each index assigns scores differently, I’ve standardized the scores by comparing each country to the best performer in each given index, with the best-performing country having a score of 100.

If one assumes the best country to be the one with all four scores closest to 100, then this year’s winner is a bit of a surprise: Austria. This small Alpine country of less than nine million people scored consistently very well, if not perfectly, right across the board, with all four scores being greater than eighty. Similarly strong performers included New Zealand, Iceland and Denmark. Canada finished a strong fifth.

COUNTRY HUMAN DEVELOPMENT INDEX WORLD COMPETITIVENESS SCOREBOARD GLOBAL PEACE INDEX CORRUPTION PERCEPTIONS INDEX ALL SCORES EQUAL TO OR GREATER THAN…
Austria 95.3 87.3 86 84.3 84.3
New Zealand 96.2 83.9 91.9 100 83.9
Iceland 98.1 83.2 100 86.5 83.2
Denmark 97.5 96.4 81 98.9 81
Canada 97.2 94.3 79.9 92.1 79.9
Singapore 97.8 98.6 79.3 94.4 79.3
Japan 95.4 81.3 78.8 82 78.8
Ireland 98.4 92.1 78.7 83.1 78.7
Switzerland 99.1 97.1 77.9 95.5 77.9
Australia 98.5 87.1 76.4 86.5 76.4
Sweden 97.9 95 73 94.4 73
Finland 96.5 88.4 72.8 95.5 72.8
Norway 100 95.4 72.2 95.5 72.2
Germany 98.2 88.8 71.6 91 71.6
Portugal 88.9 76.2 83.2 70.8 70.8

If one looks instead at the average score, which favours those countries with the lowest overall deviation from a score of 100 even if there is a shortcoming in one area, then the order changes slightly. By that standard, Denmark can claim to have been the world’s best country in 2018, an honour it wouldn’t be claiming for the first time, but hampered slightly by a slightly weaker Global Peace Index score. New Zealand again claims the number-two spot, followed by… Singapore.

Singapore’s strong performance is an interesting case, in that it can at best be called an illiberal democracy: critics of the government can and do find themselves sued for defamation, and even use of the city-state’s Speakers’ Corner is carefully monitored. Yet it scored very well in human development, economic competitiveness and lack of corruption, and on par with Canada in terms of peace and safety. If you’re in the market for a system of government that runs things with a very firm hand, yet delivers results, Singapore sets the standard.

But don’t give up on liberal democracy just yet: the rest of the list is full of quite liberal places, with Canada finishing just a bit behind Switzerland and Iceland, and just ahead of Norway and Sweden. The Nordics are still very much on-the-ball when it comes to doing a good job of running a country.

 

COUNTRY HUMAN DEVELOPMENT INDEX WORLD COMPETITIVENESS SCOREBOARD GLOBAL PEACE INDEX CORRUPTION PERCEPTIONS INDEX AVERAGE SCORE
Denmark 97.5 96.4 81 98.9 93.45
New Zealand 96.2 83.9 91.9 100 93
Singapore 97.8 98.6 79.3 94.4 92.525
Switzerland 99.1 97.1 77.9 95.5 92.4
Iceland 98.1 83.2 100 86.5 91.95
Canada 97.2 94.3 79.9 92.1 90.875
Norway 100 95.4 72.2 95.5 90.775
Sweden 97.9 95 73 94.4 90.075
Netherlands 97.7 97.5 69.6 92.1 89.225
Finland 96.5 88.4 72.8 95.5 88.3
Austria 95.3 87.3 86 84.3 88.225
Ireland 98.4 92.1 78.7 83.1 88.075
Germany 98.2 88.8 71.6 91 87.4
Australia 98.5 87.1 76.4 86.5 87.125
Japan 95.4 81.3 78.8 82 84.375

 

The year 2018 was a less happy one for traditional great powers. Based on the first measure further above, the United Kingdom finished 29th, France 30th and the United States 37th. The average score method used immediately above delivered happier results, with the U.K. at 16th place, the U.S. 19th, and France 24th. They could all use a little more of whatever it is Austria, Denmark and New Zealand have going for them; as could much of the rest of the world.

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Canadians are cutting back on their international travel, but why?

Demand for international travel says a lot about the state of the world. It soars when people are feeling good about their finances and when the world is relatively peaceful; and it suffers when the economy goes pear-shaped and when war and terrorism are top concerns.

For years in Canada, the boom in international travel to countries other than the United States was a good news story. In October, Statistics Canada released its latest international travel numbers showing that 992,872 Canadians had returned from a foreign country other than the United States in August 2018, some 46 percent higher than the 679,234 Canadians who did so 10 years earlier in August 2008.

A closer look at the numbers, however, revealed more disturbing news: Canadians have been cutting back on their travel in 2018. The 992,872 who came home from abroad in August was down eight percent from the 1,074,086 who did so in August 2017.

Statistics Canada’s collection of data on Canadians’ international travels goes back to January 1972, which makes it possible to track year-over-year changes going back to January 1973.

Of the worst 10 percent of the 548 months for which year-over-year data is available, five of those months occurred during 2018 — January, and May through August.

Why is this slump happening, in a year when airlines have been adding new capacity to foreign destinations and prices have remained about the same? Is it a response to an increasingly uncertain foreign world, or a sign that Canadians are feeling apprehensive about their financial circumstances?

Let’s look back at similar slumps.

One such rough patch happened from Sept. 1979 through Aug. 1981, which featured 24 consecutive months of year-over-year shrinkage amid high inflation and an economic recession, with the worst months being between Mar. 1980 and Mar. 1981.

The summer of 1986 was also particularly bad, with results for each month from May through September being five to 10 percent worse than the same months in 1985. This slump cannot be blamed on the economy, which was going through a relatively good stretch in 1986. The previous year, however, had featured several terrorist incidents — including the Air India bombing and the coordinated assault rifle and grenade attacks on the check-in areas at the Rome and Vienna airports — and high-fatality airliner crashes at Dallas/Fort Worth Airport and in Japan.

The economy pummelled traveler numbers again in the early Nineties, with some months during 1991 being more than 10 percent off the same month in 1990 as Canada went through its second severe recession in a decade, with unemployment rates hitting 10 percent.

Apart from some weakness in 1999-2000, the next serious drop in traveler numbers took place from Oct. 2001 through Aug. 2002, undoubtedly on account of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

What is behind the travel slump of 2018 is not yet clear, but one can hope that it’s simply a sense of unease about the state of the world, and not the chill of an oncoming recession.

Housekeeper ads illustrated insecurity of pre-Sixties life

A few evenings ago, following a casual discussion at a social event, I went looking for archival newspaper articles about “Rooster Town”, a neighbourhood of shacks on the south side of Winnipeg that was cleared away in the Fifties to make way for Grant Park High School, the adjacent athletic grounds, and eventually Pan Am Pool.

As fascinating as the story was, my eye was soon caught by another story, accompanied by a picture of a young woman in hospital with a bandage around her head. Above the photo, a caption: “Why Was She Shot?” Below it, the headline: “Just Like Dream, Says Gun Victim”.

The gun victim was 23-year-old Analise Zahn, who arrived in Canada in October, 1951 after escaping from East Germany to West Berlin, and then emigrating to Canada where she found work as a housekeeper in the Averbach household on Bredin Drive in East Kildonan.

On the evening of Dec. 17, barely two months after arriving in Canada and knowing few people here, a .22-calibre bullet entered the house through a basement window and struck the side of her head while she was doing the ironing. Not knowing the source of her injury, it wasn’t until she was eventually taken to St. Boniface Hospital that she realized that she had been shot.

The only hints as to how she might have come to be shot: her own recollection of a dark sedan driving slowly past the home about 20 minutes before the incident, and unconfirmed reports that two rifle shells were found in the back lane.

After those initial reports were published, the story went dead. Neither the newspapers nor Google yield any information into Analise’s fate.

A newspaper search for the address, though, yields something a little more interesting. The Averbachs regularly advertised in the Winnipeg Free Press for a domestic: at least twice during 1950, twice more in 1951, regularly every subsequent year through 1955, and for one last time in 1957.

One of those ads was placed on Jan. 21, 1952, just a month after Analise was shot: “Reliable girl for housework in lovely new home, all electric appliances, private room and radio, no cooking, liberal free time. Ph. 501 842, 330 Bredin Dr.”

Clearly, Analise had moved on.

Looking through the same classified ads, there was obviously an active market in 1952 for domestics.

Some advertisers only needed part-time help, such as one River Heights resident who was looking for a “reliable woman to take charge of evening meal, 3 to 7 Mon. through Fri.”

Others wanted someone who would be present around the clock, such as this advertiser: “Young married couple. Both working, living in new modern home, 1 child, need preferably middle aged woman to live in.” Another ad reads, “Reliable girl for light housework, 1 child, small home, must sleep in [employer’s residence].”

To some degree, would-be employers competed with each other to make their homes seem more attractive than others, using terms like “liberal free time”, “no waxing”, “no cooking” or “top wages” to differentiate themselves.

A surprising number of advertisers also added conditions such as “must be plain cook”, which speaks volumes to Canadians’ love for flavourless food in those days. Others promoted themselves as providing “a good home”, suggesting in some cases that the employers intended to take on a semi-parental role.

By the early Fifties, addresses, where given, tended to be in the suburbs. In earlier years, however, housekeepers were common even in what would now be considered as more modest parts of town, illustrating the changes in Winnipeg neighbourhoods over the decades.

“Wanted. General Servant,” read one ad published in June 1917, directing applicants to a neighbourhood that now has a sketchy reputation. “One willing to go to Winnipeg Beach. Apply 228 Spence.”

Another, the same day, directed applicants to a thoroughly middle class St. Boniface neighbourhood: “Girl wanted. Small family. $20 month. 68 Monk [sic] Ave., Norwood.”

Even after a century of inflation, this wage would still only be equivalent to $335 per month in 2018.

Some employers had unique needs. One advertiser in April 1920 sought a “refined woman in small home as companion, and for light housekeeping” for a family of two on Rosedale Ave. in Fort Rouge, promising “Sundays and most evenings free.” A year before, another advertiser claiming to be a widower was specifically looking for a “homely housekeeper, about 34”.

Some advertisements highlighted the city’s social tensions. One blunt advertisement published in March 1917 read, “Wanted, woman to wash every Monday; no foreigners need apply. 34 Middlegate, Armstrong’s Point.”

Yet others perhaps accidentally highlighted the vulnerability of the young women who took these jobs. “Schoolgirl will give services in return for board, room and slight remuneration,” reads one published in August 1929. “Danish housekeeper with baby, wants position, home more than wages,” read another slightly desperate advertisement placed in August 1916. “Elderly widow wishes a situation as housekeeper to widower or bachelor,” reads a third ad placed in April 1922.

These advertisements reveal a truth about the past: many of the women who worked as domestics in Winnipeg did so for lack of better options.

Some were teenagers living apart from their families for the first time, and needed some way — even if a risky way — of avoiding homelessness. Others were single mothers or elderly women with little to nothing in terms of a social safety net to resort to.

Once a stronger social safety net reduced the kind of desperation that pushed women toward domestic service, cheaper household appliances rendered human servants uneconomically expensive, and Canadians became accustomed to low-density suburban living and the additional privacy it offered, the era of keeping a servant around the house came to an end for all but the wealthiest of families.

Below, you can read some of the ads that appeared in the Winnipeg Free Press in Nov. 1920. These offer rich insights into the insecurity that many women faced in the era as well as into the ethnic and religious hierarchies of the time.

A moderately successful fix for Digital TV reception woes

Since it became the only way to watch local, over-the-air TV in many Canadian cities in 2011, people have been bedevilled by the difficulties of receiving digital TV signals, particularly those operating on lower VHF-band frequencies. This problem will remain as “cord cutters” continue to opt for free-of-charge over-the-air reception of their local stations in high definition as an alternative to expensive cable bills.

When Winnipeg local television went digital in 2011, several stations moved to higher UHF frequencies while others remained on their originally assigned frequencies:

  • CBWFT (SRC) moved from VHF channel 3 to UHF channel 51. Continues to appear as “channel 3-1” on digital TV.
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  • CBWT (CBC) moved from VHF channel 6 to UHF channel 27. Continues to appear as “channel 6-1” on digital TV.
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  • CKY (CTV) remained on VHF channel 7. Appears as “channel 7-1” on digital TV.
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  • CKND (Global) moved from VHF channel 9 to UHF channel 40. Continues to appear as “channel 9-1” (high definition) and “channel 9-2” (standard definition) on digital TV.
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  • CHMI (Citytv) remained on VHF channel 13. Appears as “channel 13-1” on digital TV.
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  • CIIT (Hope TV) remained on UHF channel 35. Appears as “channel 35-1” on digital TV.

Your biggest reception problems are going to be with CTV and Citytv, both of which remained on the VHF band. This band is vulnerable to problems for several reasons, including:

  • Many “HDTV” antennas being optimized for higher UHF frequencies.
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  • Interference from FM stations, which can create harmonic or “ghost” signals at two times their normal frequencies. Since FM stations normally operate on 88 to 108 MHz, their harmonics appear between 176 and 216 MHz — the same frequencies that TV channels 7 to 13 operate on. These harmonics will be particularly strong in south Winnipeg, closer to the towers most FM stations originate their signals from.
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  • Lower signal intensities, as CTV and Citytv operate from towers located 35 and 45 kilometres from central Winnipeg, respectively. The other stations operate from atop the Portage and Main office towers, except for Hope TV, which operates from a tower on the southern outskirts of Winnipeg.

Nevertheless, I’ve been able to figure out a way to get fairly decent reception of all Winnipeg stations, except for Citytv, which remains unreliable. Here’s how:

Start with two “rubber duck” antennas. These are old radio scanner antennas supposedly designed to cover both the VHF and UHF bands. They seem to do a decent enough job anyway. With Radio Shack being nothing more than a memory now, you might need to order these online.

 

Such antennas typically attach to BNC ports, while TV antennas usually attach to coaxial ports. You’ll need to obtain two BNC-to-coaxial adapters.

 

Next, get yourself a signal splitter/combiner like this one. Again, you might need to order one online if you can’t get one at The Source or another electronics store.

 

Finally, you’ll need a stretch of coaxial cable about two metres (6.5 feet) long. Shorter lengths might prevent you from ideally positioning your antenna, while longer lengths might not only cost you more money, but also result in a weaker signal reaching your TV. Coaxial cables marked RF-9913, RF-9914, RG-11 or RG-6 offer the best signal retention between antenna and TV, while cables marked RG-213, RG-8X, RG-58 or RG-174 are more likely to see signals weaken the further they travel from the antenna to the TV. But if you keep cable lengths down to about two metres or less, you won’t lose too much signal in any case.

 

Assemble all your bits and pieces together like this. Plug the opposite end of the coaxial cable into the TV.

 

I find that reception tends to be best when the antenna is positioned behind or under heavy furniture, like the entertainment centre housing the TV, and when the cable is touching the wall. I’m not sure why this is: perhaps this gets rid of interference somehow, or perhaps there’s less multi-path interference caused by signals reverberating off walls and furniture. (Pardon the mess — this is a difficult area to clean.)

 

Scan for channels according to the instructions appropriate to your own TV.

 

Try jiggling and repositioning both the cable and the antenna until you get good reception on channel 7, which should be the stronger of the two VHF signals in Winnipeg as they operate at about three times as much power (in kilowatts) as channel 13 does.

 

Channel 13 remains hit-or-miss. On New Years’ Day, things were working out well enough.

 

If you live in Winnipeg, you should have no problem receiving the UHF stations even if they are still listed according to their lower pre-digital channels (as is the case with CKND), as their signals are very strong and UHF lacks the interference that messes up VHF digital signals.

 

What would Jesus do if he were running CIIT, a.k.a. Hope TV? He’d do better than this, in terms of both programming and picture. Even YouTube part-time filmmakers like Dan Bell and Bright Sun Films have more professional looking feeds than this CRTC-licenced channel. If anyone at Hope TV, a.k.a. ZoomerMedia, is reading this, please bring back the classic shows from the Joy TV era.

 

From the earliest days of television, there has been interest in picking up American TV signals. The only one that you have a faint hope of receiving in Winnipeg is Fox affiliate KNRR channel 12-1, and its Antenna TV classic comedy subchannel on channel 12-2, which originates from a tower near Pembina, N.D. The station operates at fairly low power, so your only hope of reliable reception is by using a high-gain, south-facing rooftop antenna, preferably above the tree line. Other American stations are too far south to be received in Winnipeg, except under unusual atmospheric conditions.

Even as 2017 ends with a sigh of relief, it still managed to give us a few chuckles

Well, we’ve made it to the end. “May you live in interesting times,” goes an old Chinese curse, and if nothing else, 2017 was an “interesting” year.

It was a year of revolutions. It was the year in which Donald Trump and his crew threw out all the old rules about the U.S. presidency, only to find out that it wasn’t just his supporters who wanted change as Colin Kaepernick took a knee for equality, and the “#MeToo” movement took down the high and the mighty.

Other countries, meanwhile, opted for youth. Emmanuel Macron became President of France at age 39, Jacinda Ardern became Prime Minister of New Zealand at age 37, and Sebastian Kurz became Chancellor of Austria at a mere 31. In Ireland, meanwhile, the 38-year-old, openly gay, ancestrally half-Indian and half-Irish Leo Varadkar was promoted to Taoiseach — i.e., Prime Minister.

And Britain? The land that once gave Margaret Thatcher three majority governments in a row very nearly gave the keys to 10 Downing Street to Jeremy Corbyn, an unapologetic socialist, despite early expectations of a Conservative landslide.

And as 2017 ends, protests are rapidly spreading in Iran, hinting that nearly 40 years of religious dictatorship could be on the verge of being swept away by a secular and democratic tide.

While 2017 was a year of serious business and once unimaginable change, it also gave us a few good chuckles to lighten the mood a bit.

Why you should keep Alexa and Siri away from your TV. 2017 started off with a rather funny story out of Texas, where a six-year-old managed to convince her parents’ Alexa voice-recognition device to purchase her a $170 dollhouse and “four pounds of sugar cookies” — with the bill going to her parents of course. But that wasn’t the end of the story. Days later, a San Diego TV morning show host concluded a report on the story by uttering the words, “I love the little girl saying ‘Alexa ordered me a dollhouse’”.

“Ordered” or “order”? Apparently some viewers’ Alexa devices couldn’t tell the difference, and the station received complaints that “the TV broadcast caused their voice-controlled personal assistants to try to place orders for dollhouses on Amazon.” (Jan. 7)

Hi, this is head office calling! The search was on for an Irish-accented prankster this spring after two incidents in which callers claiming to be from “head office” convinced employees in Britain to close their stores and do bizarre things in exchange for prizes. In one incident, the caller from “head office” instructed employees to “…lick the shoppers’ feet… [and] even convinced the employees to ‘pretend to be a vacuum cleaner’.” In another, at a Poundworld discount store, “the staff had to refer to [two customers] as ‘Ugly’ and ‘Beast’ and in return they had to call the manager ‘Beautiful lady’ with the promise of £50 each time they said it.”

“We are both too scared to go into Poundworld now,” said one of the customers caught up in the prank. (May 23-26)

Waking up the Nation. If you’re setting up a national emergency alert system, it is naturally good practice to make sure it works. New Zealand Civil Defence dutifully carried out its own test in early October.

The good news was: The system worked.

The bad news was: The system worked — for real!

An unknown number of New Zealanders — about one-third of the nation’s phones were believed to be capable of receiving the alert — were woken up by three emergency alerts sent to their smartphones beginning at 1:32 a.m., informing them that “This is a test message for the Emergency Mobile Alert System that will be available by the end of 2017. Visit civildefence.govt.nz to find out more.”

“Dear @NZcivildefence, thanks for testing your mobile emergency alert system at 01:30AM. The whole house is awake now. #muppets,” one perturbed New Zealander wrote on Twitter.

“This is completely unacceptable … and [we] want to say sorry to every person that was woken by the messages during the night,” New Zealand Civil Defence spokesperson Sarah Stuart-Black said. (Oct. 3)

British prime minister’s speech turns into a comedy of errors. Having very nearly lost an election she was expected to easily win, and with Britain’s Brexit plans having turned out to be “no plan at all”, British prime minister Theresa May needed all the good luck she could get going into her Conservative Party’s annual conference in October. The highlight was to be her speech to the party faithful, broadcast on live television, and she must have hoped that perhaps the spirit of Winston Churchill or Margaret Thatcher would guide her through it.

What she got instead was the ghost of Benny Hill, as she was first handed a termination notice by a prankster claiming to be acting on behalf of Foreign Secretary (and potential leadership challenger) Boris Johnson, then suffered a coughing fit, and then had to continue on as the letters fell off the wall behind her.

By the time she was finished her speech, “Building a Country That Works for Everyone” had become “Building a Country that Works or Everyon”. (Oct. 4)

How in the world did he get up there?! A hospital offers many tempting places for an inquisitive young child to explore, and precautions are generally taken to prevent wandering. Hospital staff in Auckland, New Zealand were baffled however, in October, when a child somehow managed to climb into the ceiling unnoticed. First called at about 8 a.m., rescuers from the Fire Department managed to coax the child out of the ceiling by 9:45 a.m., but how the young explorer ended up there remained a mystery. (Oct. 19)

 

Five nude people in a car. It’s not unusual for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to respond to motor vehicle accidents, but it’s certainly unusual for them to find five nude people inside, as they did when they responded to a report of a car-truck collision south of Edmonton in November. Police were said to have considered it a “purposeful collision” and to have suspected that drugs or alcohol were involved. (Nov. 7)

What a bunch of donkeys. Jail staff in India’s Uttar Pradesh state had had enough with all the trouble the eight had been causing in the neighbourhood, injuring children and wrecking gardens. But the eight miscreants weren’t humans — they were donkeys that had been let loose in the vicinity of the jail. When the donkeys’ presumed owner pleaded ignorance, the jailers decided to lock up the eight donkeys until the problem could be resolved. Eventually, the donkeys’ owners and other local officials were able to arrange for the animals’ release. (Nov. 28)

Fare dodger gets his due. How else to end 2017, the Year of the Absurd, than with the news out of London, England that a would-be fare dodger got his “penis stuck in ticket barriers at Covent Garden Tube station”.

If you’ve taken the London Underground in recent years, you’ll know that you must go through automatic gates to get in or out of the station. Last Wednesday, one man decided to try to get a free ride on the Tube by sneaking past the gates, only to find himself pinned by them — at the crotch. Transport Police were able to free the hapless fare evader after about two minutes, but not before one bystander filmed the scene and another taunted him with “Butter him up!”

Once freed, the man reportedly “hugged a police officer and a passer-by” — though perhaps not the taunter. (Dec. 31)

Best wishes for a happy New Year!

Where Canada’s new budget carriers will likely take you (and not take you)

Two-thousand and eighteen will presumably be the Year of the Ultra-Low-Cost Carrier in Canada. Already one such operation — the little-known Flair Airlines, which acquired the assets of “virtual airline” NewLeaf Travel this year — is in the air serving domestic routes, but has yet to make a substantial impact on the market. Three others, meanwhile, are planning to make an entrance.

  • Swoop, WestJet’s ultra-low-cost subsidiary, which is expected to begin selling seats in February in preparation for a June 1 launch. Destinations have yet to be announced, but Swoop will use 189-seat Boeing 737-800s — 21 more than are currently installed on WestJet’s 168-seat 737-800s.
  • Canada Jetlines, which is also planning on a June 1 launch. They plan to start with only domestic flights, from Hamilton, Ont. to Halifax, Winnipeg, Edmonton, Calgary and Abbotsford, B.C. Flights from Hamilton to holiday destinations in the U.S., Mexico and the Dominican Republic would follow in the winter of 2018-19. Like Swoop, Jetlines also plans to operate 189-seat Boeing 737-800 aircraft.
  • FlyToo, a proposed spin-off of charter carrier EnerJet, is considering getting into the market. As of late-November, however, no final decisions had been made yet on whether the airline would operate Boeing 737s or Airbus A320s, focus on domestic or international routes, or even stick with the “FlyToo” name or give the airline a different brand.

These airlines propose to offer Canadian travellers low base fares. Jetlines has said that it will offer fares comparable to the price of a pair of jeans, while Swoop has suggested that base fares will be about one-half of WestJet’s typical fares.

These carriers propose to emulate Ryanair and EasyJet in Europe, which offer very low base fares but charge extra not just for baggage and beverages, but even for having your boarding pass printed at the airport (€15, or $23 Cdn., on Ryanair) or to use their telephone call centre (£0.13, or $0.22 Cdn., per minute to call Ryanair’s U.K. call centre to make bookings; service not available during the evening or overnight hours.)

But if you think the extra charges are a small price to pay in exchange for being able to go visit Aunt Suzy in Ottawa for $250 round-trip or being able to hop over to Calgary for the same price to see a football game — not so fast.

There is a logic to how ultra-low-cost carriers make their money. It’s by going to the places where passenger loads increase rapidly as fares go down — and not going to the places where that correlation does not exist. (Or, if they do, they risk losing money and going out of business.)

For example, what if I offer you a non-stop flight from Winnipeg to Honolulu in February for $750 round-trip? You might think about it.

What if I offer you that trip for $500? Your interest has likely gone up a bit.

Now how about $400? Your interest has likely gone up still more.

Now forget all about Honolulu. What if I offer you a February round-trip to Thunder Bay for just $400?

“Ugh, no thanks,” you’d likely say.

Fine; I’ll lower the price to $200 round-trip, plus you can go in nice, warm July instead of frigid February.

“Thanks, but no thanks.”

$100 round-trip? Your golden opportunity to spend a week in Thunder Bay!

“Forget it. What the hell am I going to do in Thunder Bay?”

The first map below shows a number of destinations in Europe and the Mediterranean served by Ryanair and/or EasyJet — except for the fictitious Zurich hub in the middle. If you ran a traditional hub-and-spoke system, you could connect all of these cities to each other through the hub. Since this requires a lot of passenger processing and daily (or near-daily) service to all destinations to work effectively, it’s a very expensive way of doing business — and the fares reflect that.

The traditional hub-and-spoke model: It offers frequent and convenient transportation between many cities, including those with too little traffic to ever support a non-stop flight, such as Belfast-to-Vilnius. But it’s a costly service to provide, so fares tend to be higher. (Map generated on gcmap.com)

So, the ultra-low-cost carriers fly point-to-point. They pick up a load of passengers in one city, drop them off in another, and then the jetliner flies away to someplace else. Only the most popular routes get daily service year-round. Many routes are only served two or three times per week on a seasonal basis; some routes even only get one flight per week.

Note the pattern in this map, which represents a random selection of routes on which Ryanair and/or EasyJet will be offering at least one non-stop per week in January 2018. Note that these carriers largely exist, with only the occasional exception, to bridge two divides:

– The divide between “cold and cloudy” northern Europe and the “hot and sunny” destinations;

– The divide between “richer Europe” and “poorer Europe”, following the prevailing migration patterns.

Note also that almost all of these routes are north/south. Very few are truly east/west.

A random selection of city-pairs that will have nonstop Ryanair and/or EasyJet service in January. Note how these are mostly north/south holiday routes; though some follow migration paths between richer and poorer areas of Europe. Cheaper for passengers — especially for tourists and people who’ve moved abroad in search of work — but only a few routes are offered on both a daily and year-round basis.

Now, consider the following random city-pairs that the ultra-low cost carriers will not be serving at all. Note that ultra-low-cost carriers largely do not exist to connect business capitals or cities with similar climates and similar levels of economic development.

A “non-service” map: Random city-pairs where neither Ryanair nor EasyJet can take you (at least on a cheap, non-stop basis) in January, despite serving these cities. Note that service between places with similar climates and similar levels of economic development — and thus more limited migration — is not the purpose of ultra-low-cost carriers.

In short, outside of a few exceptions, you need either a disparity in wealth or a disparity in climate to make an ultra-low-cost model work.

So, what should we expect from a successful ultra-low-cost carrier in Canada?

First — at least during the winter months — it will need to exist primarily to carry Canadians non-stop to warmer climates. If I were to place a bet, it would be on Swoop replacing WestJet entirely on some of its U.S. routes and most, if not all, of its Mexican, Bermudan, Cuban and other Caribbean routes. The other upstarts should consider doing the same: climate differences and the popular tourism paths are where the money is in the ultra-low-cost carrier business.

Second, to the extent that ultra-low-cost carriers do offer east-west routes, expect this to follow existing tourism and migration flows, at days and times that suit the holiday traveler. Do not expect daily or year-round service — this is what Air Canada and WestJet exist to do, and not what ultra-low-cost carriers make their money on.

Contented Norway, Stressed-Out America: A tale of two countries, and what their governments spend the people’s money on

Nearly five years ago, The Economist published a front cover featuring a scruffy-looking Viking, accompanied by the words: “The Next Supermodel: Why the world should look at the Nordic countries.” While the world’s bigger countries and current and former superpowers struggled with their problems, the Nordic countries — Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Finland — seemed to have their act together, winning praise over and over again for their healthy economies, relatively low crime rates and high standards of living.

Over the intervening five years, not much has changed. The Nordics continue to be strong performers in all the areas that matter. When this blog looked at countries’ performance across four indices last May — the Human Development Index, the Corruption Perceptions Index, the World Competitiveness Scoreboard and the Global Peace Index — the Nordics constituted at least four of the world’s 10 best countries, with Denmark taking the number-one spot. (Canada ranked either fourth or sixth, depending on whether you ranked each country by its “weakest link” or by its average score.)

Now there’s more good news for the Nordics. John Helliwell, Richard Layard and Jeffrey Sachs of the New York-based Sustainable Development Solutions Network have released their 2017 World Happiness Report, and concluded that Norway, Denmark, Iceland and Switzerland were the world’s happiest societies in the 2014-16 period.* They credit Norway’s high ranking on “mutual trust, shared purpose, generosity and good governance”, as well as good management of its oil reserves, and using the proceeds from it to prepare for a better future instead of spending it all as it comes in.

“Mutual trust, shared purpose, generosity and good governance” are not words, however, that would describe 2017 in our neighbour to the south. The United States has had a memorable 2017 for all the wrong reasons — and it showed in its rank. As noted:

The USA is a story of reduced happiness. In 2007 the USA ranked 3rd among the OECD countries; in 2016 it came 19th [Note: this might be a typo — the report’s data tables show the U.S. in 14th place; it was the U.K. that was in 19th place]. The reasons are declining social support and increased corruption . . . and it is these same factors that explain why the Nordic countries do so much better.

The authors particularly singled out the U.S. government’s priorities for criticism. As they bluntly note on page 180:

America’s crisis is, in short, a social crisis, not an economic crisis . . . This American social crisis is widely noted, but it has not translated into public policy. Almost all of the policy discourse in Washington DC centers on naïve attempts to raise the economic growth rate, as if a higher growth rate would somehow heal the deepening divisions and angst in American society. This kind of growth-only agenda is doubly wrong-headed. First, most of the pseudo-elixirs for growth — especially the Republican Party’s beloved nostrum of endless tax cuts and voodoo economics — will only exacerbate America’s social inequalities and feed the distrust that is already tearing society apart. Second, a forthright attack on the real sources of social crisis would have a much larger and more rapid beneficial effect on U.S. happiness.

One could only imagine the authors’ alarm that, having just passed controversial tax reform legislation, there is now talk of targeting America’s already modest social safety net for deep cuts. As the New York Times reported on Dec. 2:

As the tax cut legislation passed by the Senate early Saturday hurtles toward final approval, Republicans are preparing to use the swelling deficits made worse by the package as a rationale to pursue their long-held vision: undoing the entitlements of the New Deal and Great Society, leaving government leaner and the safety net skimpier for millions of Americans.

Speaker Paul D. Ryan and other Republicans are beginning to express their big dreams publicly, vowing that next year they will move on to changes in Medicare and Social Security. President Trump told a Missouri rally last week, “We’re going to go into welfare reform.”

In fact, the core items of the social safety net already constitute a relatively small share of total U.S. local, state and federal government spending. Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) data show that, in 2015, only 21 percent of total government spending was dedicated to what the OECD classifies as “social protection”; that is, sickness, disability, old age, housing and unemployment support.

This already puts the U.S. toward the bottom of OECD nations in terms of the percentage of local, regional and national government spending on social protection. Indeed, given the low priority their own governments give to their well-being, not to mention other abuses like drawing local electoral boundaries to guarantee one-party rule, why shouldn’t Americans feel bitterly resentful toward their governments?

In Norway, social protection was a significant 40 percent of all government spending in 2015 despite an unemployment rate of just four percent that year and 75 percent of all Norwegians aged 15-64 having a job — one of the highest rates in the world.

That spending paid off, according to a 2017 OECD report on Norway. Not only has it helped provide the sense of well-being that the lack of prompted many Americans to vote for Donald Trump in 2016, but it is something the OECD recommended that Norway leave intact (emphasis mine):

Fiscal reform should not aim to significantly reduce the scope of Norway’s comprehensive welfare programmes and public services. These are integral to its socio-economic model, playing a key role in making economic growth inclusive and keeping well-being high. Given the fiscal rule, this means that taxation will remain high compared with many countries. Consequently, a pro-growth tax mix, strong labour skills and easier regulations for doing business are needed for the business sector to thrive in global markets.

As we end 2017, revolution is in the air as like no other time in the past 50 years, if not the past 100 years. Some look to the hard-left for solutions to the high level of anxiety, some to the hard-right. What the world could really use, though, is a bit of Nordic sense by protecting not jobs, not industries, but people.

 

* – Canada ranked seventh in the World Happiness Report, just behind Finland and the Netherlands. New Zealand, Australia and Sweden rounded out the top 10.