Education Or Integrity: How Best To Boost A Nation's Well-Being?

China is asking hard questions about what it takes to make a big nation a great nation.

Schoolgirl in Macau
Schoolgirl in Macau
Betty Ng

BEIJING – Last month, Transparency International published their Corruption Perception Index (CPI). Out of the 177 countries surveyed China ranked 80th. Though these rankings garnered major worldwide coverage, it aroused scant concern and attention in China. Instead another ranking released around the same time, the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), which evaluates academic performances of 15-year-olds around the world, made major waves in the Chinese public space.

On a basic level, this probably reflects a universal belief that education and labor training are the essential factor in a country’s economic potential and future growth.

Yet, as a matter of fact, the degree of a country’s official probity is an even better indicator of its economic development and the happiness of its citizens. A country with incorruptible officials is most likely to attract investment capital and talent. And, in fact, when a country is corrupt, its investment in education may actually be converted into a free or subsidised cultivation of talent for countries where systems are uncorrupted and the people are happy.

In relation to education, the corruption ranking is more closely correlated with a nation's economic performance and individual well-being. Switzerland, Australia, Canada, Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Finland make up the world’s happiest countries with the highest living standard based on the United Nation’s World Happiness Report of 2013. Likewise, they are also the world’s most uncorrupted places.

Meanwhile in the PISA indicator, these rich and happy countries lag behind places such as South Korea or certain Chinese localities, like Shanghai, which topped the rankings. Most countries which make it to the top of the PISA ranking are Asian ones where the happiness ranking is far inferior than the Nordic states. Even in Japan and the two former British colonies of Hong Kong and Singapore where the PISA scores are high and they have relatively fewer amoral officials, people remain less happy.

In brief, Asia is not a happy land.

Clearly, the happiness index is related to official integrity and people’s living standards more than it is to academic performance. Meanwhile it was nations such as Britain, the United States and Germany that responded with the greatest concern to their slipping PISA rankings. So who is misplacing or exaggerating their focus?

Corruption brain drain

To a certain extent talent flows freely. As long as the conditions permit, a very corrupt country’s well-educated elite will move to other countries looking for better opportunities. This explains why a lot of the best students who went abroad for further studies chose to take root in their adoptive country. This is to say a corrupt country’s education investment may actually become a free or subsidised cultivation of talent for uncorrupted and happy countries.

According to the Global Professionals on the Move study on international professional mobility conducted by the Hydrogen Group and ESCP Europe, a business school, the top destinations of choice are: the United States, Britain, Australia, Singapore and Canada.

These are all relatively incorruptible countries that also are generally more welcoming to new immigration. Even though America and Britain’s PISA scores are a lot worse than certain Asian nations they nonetheless attract and are able to retain other countries’ elite students to compensate their own qualified labor shortage. This helps them to maintain their competitiveness.

The emigration loss demonstrates that when a country’s entire environment does not attract and retain its talent the country’s education investment can lead to waste. From this point of view eliminating corruption is more crucial than education investment to securing long-term economic growth — it will also raise people’s sense of well-being.

Various local governments’ hype of the PISA scores masks their concern about the CPI. This seems to be misplacing their focus, whether or not it is intentional. This is understandable in countries with relatively trustworthy officials because their underlying economic development conditions have been met.

In the end, it is actually far easier to improve students’ performances than crack down on corruption. Studies show that the more resources and investment are put into education, the better the students' results. The cause and effect are very direct and measurable. When the focus is placed on education it indirectly transfers people’s attention from much thornier issues such as corruption. Unfortunately it is often the public who pay the cost.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!

What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel


BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.

Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!