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Does This Colombian City Prove You Can Be Poor And Happy?

Latin America is starting to measure happiness or "well-being" levels to gauge social trends and set public policy. Surprising results in Cali, Colombia.

In Cali, the "happiest city in Colombia"
In Cali, the "happiest city in Colombia"
Lina Martinez

CALI — Gauging satisfaction among citizens has become a key factor in formulating public policy. It involves countless factors that all affect quality of life, but in broad terms such surveys tell us how people feel about their lives and perceive their immediate future.

"Subjective well-being," or SWB, as the survey jargon calls it, includes a range of qualitative and quantitative data that become relevant when considering how macroeconomic data fail to inform governments about issues of concern to the citizenry. Per-capita gross domestic product or infant mortality rates, for example, are useful measures, but they offer few clues about whether, and how much, people are satisfied with government services.
Obviously, life satisfaction is also based on non-government factors, such as family relationships and life within a couple. Other factors concern the public sphere and relate to policymaking, like whether people feel safe on the streets or whether health care is accessible, affordable and effective.
European states have been measuring SWB since 2011. An example of this is the Better Life Index in OECD countries, probably the largest-scale continuous measurement of life satisfaction with relevance to policymaking. The same practice is just starting in Latin America. Public opinion surveys such as Latinobarómetro and similar polls are increasingly including questions about how people feel about their lives, and these results are beginning to be included in official statistics in places like Colombia.
In the Colombian city of Cali — known for salsa, a steamy climate and stubborn crime rates — authorities have been implementing the CaliBRANDO surveys developed by Cali's ICESI university. The name plays on the ideas of "calibrating" and "branding." The first poll found that Cali residents were reasonably satisfied with their lives, on average scoring 8.3 out of a possible 10 points. This was the highest in Colombia and well above the average of 6.6 points reported for European states.

Yet this average hides factors that are hugely relevant to creating public policies. For example, the results show that people of ethnic minorities are less satisfied, which is at least an indicator of discrimination. Women on average declare themselves to be more satisfied with their lives, but they are paid less money or are far more affected than men by unemployment or the inability to save money. People without children say they are more satisfied than those with children, as do those who have a good education, compared to those have not.

Cali's citizens are incredibly optimistic about their economic conditions, though almost half work in the informal sector and very few have enough savings to last them three months, in case of an external "liquidity shock." Furthermore, very few people are able to buy assets here, fewer than 30% own some type of real estate, and only 31% own a motorized vehicle. But they believe they are doing better than their parents and are generally happy with their living standards. That may suggest the average resident in Cali is conformist or that their personal references allow them to be satisfied with what they have. The poll results prompt many questions, such as with whom people in Cali compare themselves.

The CaliBRANDO survey began in 2014 and is to be conducted annually to offer representative data for the city. These results, it is hoped, will help improve municipal governance, allow smarter allocation of resources, and inform the local government about whether it's successfully communicating its actions.

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Geopolitics

Why The 'Perfect Storm' Of Iran's Protests May Be Unstoppable

The latest round of anti-regime protests in Iran is different than other in the 40 years of the Islamic Republic: for its universality and boldness, the level of public fury and grief, and the role of women and social media. The target is not some policy or the economy, but the regime itself.

A woman holds a lock of her hair during a London rally to protest the murder of Mahsa Amini in London

Roshanak Astaraki

-Analysis-

The death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in Tehran on Sept. 16, after a possible beating at a police station, has sparked outrage and mass protests in Iran and abroad. There have been demonstrations and a violent attempt to suppress them in more than 100 districts in every province of Iran.

These protests may look like others since 2017, and back even to 1999 — yet we may be facing an unprecedented turning point in Iranians' opposition to the Islamic Republic. Indeed newly installed conservative President Ibrahim Raisi could not have expected such momentum when he set off for a quick trip to New York and back for a meeting of the UN General Assembly.

For one of the mistakes of a regime that takes pride in dismissing the national traditions of Iran is to have overlooked the power of grief among our people.

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