MAIL CALL: MAKING THE TOP 10

Our July 26 report on the best-run nations pleased many readers. But, said one, "how can you forget New Zealand?" Another suggested "Switzerland for the top of the list." Some Swedes dismissed their No. 1 spot.

The Fairest of Them All?

Your July 26 issue on "The World's Best Countries" offered excellent and timely coverage. However, if you consider that the criteria for a country to shine are social indicators like per capita income, health, democracy, economic competitiveness, environmental consciousness and honesty, then how can you forget New Zealand? New Zealand was only a reference item, listed under Finland, for being good in math education. I have lived and worked in six countries, and selected New Zealand as the best place to live and be happy, because working less and socializing more, without sacrificing your income, is possible only here.
Parwaiz Karamat
Wellington, New Zealand

It was inspiring to read your articles about the many ways in which nations can distinguish themselves in a positive manner. As you reported, Nordic nations with their welfare systems and competitive economies set a good example for the rest of the world. Unfortunately, however, in Denmark, everyone is not happy--statistics show that "new Danes" (immigrants) have an unemployment rate nearly three times higher than native-born Danes, making Denmark the worst country in the Western world where integration is concerned. Our right-wing government will hardly make things better. If Danish society has become egalitarian, it is only because of the awful "Jante law," which still plays a significant role here. According to this fictional law, which kills talent and innovation, no one should believe they perform any better than others. People from Britain and the United States are lucky that talent is considered a gift there.
Arman Niknam
Copenhagen, Denmark

Your ranking of the best countries in the world is subjective. That Jeffrey Sachs prefers Sweden to more market-oriented countries is not news to anyone following the international-development debate. But his claim that Scandinavia is superior to the rest of the world on the basis of the United Nations Development Programme's Human Development Index cannot be serious. That index is biased, giving lower weight to GDP per capita than to other indicators. It is considered meaningless by the UNDP itself when it comes to comparing developing countries. You also don't mention that in the past 30 years, Sweden has lost its position among the richest countries in the world. You ignore a malfunctioning public-health-care system with months of waiting time for routine operations. Even the prime minister, Goran Persson, had to wait months before he could have hip-replacement surgery. Also, about 20 percent of the working-age population is either unemployed, in public-training programs, on sick leave or in early retirement. So much for not leaving anyone behind. In 1960, Sweden had higher income levels and lower taxes than most industrialized countries. Life expectancy and infant mortality then were better than they are today. Thus, taxes and public spending cannot explain Sweden's welfare. Finally, in contrast to the glossy picture you paint of the business climate, according to the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, Sweden has among the lowest levels of entrepreneurial activity in Europe.
Fabian Wallen and Fredrik Segerfeldt
Stockholm, Sweden

I have been back in my old country, Sweden, for a few years now, and would like to comment on your selection of this country as No. 1 in the world. Sweden does contribute to the good life with its fantastic nature and competitive industry. However, having lived here and witnessed its system falling apart, I question your choice. Today the Swedish welfare state is more a burden for the country than a good thing. People here know that the system needs to be changed, but politicians scratch their heads as they continue to raise taxes--among the highest in the world. In the meantime, problems are mounting. We have about 10,000 homeless people and more than 200,000 poor children. The official unemployment rate is 5.8 percent, but unofficially it's more like 12 to 15 percent. According to EU statistics, Sweden has the worst immigration problem of all EU states in regard to integration of its immigrants into the society. According to the United Nations, the Swedish crime rate is even higher than that in the States and getting worse. I was born in Sweden and want to be proud of it, but honestly, I believe that Sweden needs to change and be more like the United States of America to keep its good life in the future.
John Olsson
Stockholm, Sweden

Your cover articles provided an invigorating reminder that humanity's prospects, at least in the globe's wealthier regions, are better than a cauldron of gloom, doom and despondency. Surprisingly, longstanding dead-enders like Japan and Germany have made their way back into the top league. Still, in my opinion, it is the Scandinavian countries that demonstrate, beyond any reasonable doubt, that high taxation does not automatically prevent socioeconomic progress from gaining more than just a foothold. Finland's schools, for instance, can serve as shining beacons to the rest of the world. Educators in that country must be doing something right.
Werner Radtke
Paderborn, Germany

Jeffrey D. Sachs's article was good, but I felt that something was missing when he mentioned Nordic countries' high taxes. Actually, comparing the taxes of those countries with those of the United States (after federal, state and local taxes), I don't think there is really that much difference. Besides, the high taxes in Nordic countries give one access to health, education and retirement benefits. Also, you can enjoy the money you earn in Nordic countries while you're still fit. With four weeks' minimum vacation, you can travel to enhance your cultural knowledge and acceptance of others (however different they may seem) or you can enjoy your time in activities that are close to your heart and your dreams. Finally, when you retire, you can relax and enjoy the rest of your life without working. You paid your taxes while working, so now you reap the benefits. As for private businesses, just check the stock markets and you'll see that those Nordic countries have their share of businesses in it. Not bad when the population in some of these countries is a fraction--not even 5 percent--of the States'.
Else Hagelin
Bedminster, New Jersey

Jeffrey Sachs's idealism is commendable but naive. He has written a neat and tidy little article about a neat and tidy little way of living in a neat and tidy little country. He calls for less ideology on our part so we can open up to the example of Nordic states. But the very notion that the United States can be anything like a Nordic nation is an apples-to-oranges comparison that is so ideological it's well off the map of the real world. Multiply the population of a Nordic state by 100, pour in people from every corner of the globe in daily droves--the educated, the ignorant, the upstanding, the corrupt, the industrious, the lazy, the virtuous and the hateful racists--and try not to let the government infringe on their freedom to breathe and prosper. Then add to that the miraculous stewpot of shoulder-to-shoulder fellowship that makes our behemoth United States. I'm so proud that we Americans rank eighth after the teeny-weeny, unencumbered systems of the Nordic states.
Kathleen Scott
Amsterdam, Netherlands

Jeffrey Sachs stated that Iceland sells know-how about sustainable fisheries management. The fact is that our management is neither economically beneficial nor sustainable. Since Iceland took up the quota system to manage fisheries 20 years ago, there has been a dramatic decline in the catch, which now is only about half the level predicted as maintainable when the system was introduced. The quota system encourages either discarding fish or reporting the catch under false species names. If a fisherman does not have a quota for, say, cod that turns up in his nets, then he has two options: to throw the dead fish back into the sea or falsely name it haddock in the landing report. Furthermore, the quota system promotes discarding of smaller and less valuable fish because the fishermen do not want to waste their limited quota on those if there is any possibility of catching the larger, more valuable kind. Our political parties are permitted to keep their financial donations secret. We in the Liberal Party believe that the parties forming the coalition government are receiving financial contributions from stakeholders in the quota system. Therefore the parties have a vested interest in maintaining this impractical system.
Sigurjon Thordarson
Member of Parliament
Saudarkrokur, Iceland

When I saw your cover line "The World's Best Countries," I was confident Switzerland would top the list. To my surprise, there was no mention of it at all! As you may know, ours is a country where people who speak four distinct native languages (Italian, French, German and Rhaeto-Romanic) live comfortably together on the principles of the world's oldest democracy, integrating a 21 percent foreign population. Switzerland has the lowest unemployment rate in the world (3.8 percent), excellent means of communication, the world's best-run railway system and probably the best-maintained road network. We have 10 high-class universities, including two top technical institutes, that have generated the world's third greatest number of per capita Nobel Prize winners. This is a nation with a well-founded humanitarian tradition (Geneva Conventions). Thanks to the generosity, courteous treatment, free dental and medical care, and clean accommodations that they receive here, Switzerland is sought after by a steady influx of asylum seekers and refugees. Above all, people with a cause have political clout here and can make things move: the country is run not by the government alone but rather by its people. Not surprisingly, there is peace between social partners.
Bernhard Nachbur
Bern, Switzerland

The Democrats' Dream Team

John Kerry's decision to name John Edwards as his running mate in the November election will no doubt add some sorely needed sparkle to a campaign that has seemed somewhat boring so far ("Warming Up Kerry," July 19). Edwards's charisma and common touch are largely missing in Kerry. And I wouldn't lose much sleep over Edwards's lack of experience, especially in foreign politics. When Bill Clinton started his presidency, foreign affairs didn't take center stage with him because he was a neophyte in the field. Why shouldn't a vice president learn just as quickly? He will have ample opportunity, looking over his boss's shoulder. We should wish the two Johns all the luck in the world in their bid to unseat the current team in the White House.
Werner Radtke
Paderborn, Germany

I screamed with glee when I found out that John Kerry had selected John Edwards as his running mate. I see in Edwards another John F. Kennedy. I see the future of America--the America we once were: a nation that represented liberty and opportunity for all and was respected globally. John Kerry, as president, will restore all this and more. I believe in him, heart and soul. I am deeply distressed with George W. Bush's leadership. He inflated intelligence to justify war; he has weakened the economy and has turned the previous administration's surplus into a huge deficit. On Election Day, I will proudly vote for Kerry and Edwards. They have my complete support.
Michelle Hollingsworth
Parkland, Florida

John Kerry and John Edwards want to reach voters by defining values such as pride in "America's role as the world's moral leader." America the leader of moral values? What about pornography, homosexual marriage and child adoption, the extreme violence and sex in American movies, guns everywhere, millions of abortions, the prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib and, in addition to all this, the arrogance of pretending to be the world's leader on morals? America, heal thyself first if you want to be credible abroad.
Edouard Bozadjian
Limeil-Brevannes, France

The real issue is not optimism about America. This election is about substance versus style. So far in the campaign the American public has been treated to a John Kerry who is so optimistic about America, he says nothing else. What Americans want are answers to gasoline prices well over $2 a gallon, milk up 50 cents a gallon, continuing unemployment and patients forced to buy medicine from Canada so they won't have to pay double. When Kerry and Edwards get done praising themselves, I hope they will realize that America needs more substantial answers and less stylish descriptions.
Anthony Mirante
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Dinner Over Durban

In "Height Cuisine" (Tip Sheet, July 12) you recommend six restaurants with great views from a high location. You should have included the Roma Revolving Restaurant in Durban, South Africa. It sits on the 32nd floor of the John Ross House in central Durban and offers spectacular views of Durban Bay, the harbor and the city. It also revolves one circle per hour and has been managed by the same Italian family for 31 years.
Andre E. Denis
Richards Bay, South Africa

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