The Wonders of Costa Rica

On Thursday, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof had a wonderful piece about Costa Rica, home of “The Happiest People“) (ht Catie).

Kristof reports that Costa Ricans are the happiest people in the world, at least according to three broad surveys. Why? Kristof offers the following hypothesis:

What sets Costa Rica apart is its remarkable decision in 1949 to dissolve its armed forces and invest instead in education. Increased schooling created a more stable society, less prone to the conflicts that have raged elsewhere in Central America. Education also boosted the economy, enabling the country to become a major exporter of computer chips and improving English-language skills so as to attract American eco-tourists.

I’m not antimilitary. But the evidence is strong that education is often a far better investment than artillery.

In Costa Rica, rising education levels also fostered impressive gender equality so that it ranks higher than the United States in the World Economic Forum gender gap index. This allows Costa Rica to use its female population more productively than is true in most of the region. Likewise, education nurtured improvements in health care, with life expectancy now about the same as in the United States — a bit longer in some data sets, a bit shorter in others.

I like this hypothesis, but being an empirical guy, I should note another possibility: maybe one of the keys to happiness is whatever allowed Costa Rica to eliminate its military in the first place?

Over the holidays, I did some field research (aka vacation) in Costa Rica and am happy to report that the area we visited (the Guanacaste province) is indeed lovely. I won’t torment you with my travelogue here–my wife and I have another blog for that–but here are a couple photos of the local fauna:

3 thoughts on “The Wonders of Costa Rica”

  1. Donald,

    I may be going to Costa Rica this year. It’s been on my list for a while, mainly for the fauna. Awesome pics on your other blog!

    Re: another possibility: maybe one of the keys to happiness is whatever allowed Costa Rica to eliminate its military in the first place

    Good point. Also, an important reality, apparently overlooked by Kristof (if his implication is that we would be better off, on balance, if we spend less on the military and more on other programs), is that Costa Rica is a “free rider” of U.S. military spending; if they didn’t have a nearby superpower that would probably come to their defense if invaded by a neighbor (and thus deters an invasion), I assume it would be substantially less likely that they would have eliminated their military and saved all that money to use for other spending instead.

    I have a similar question, although probably more complex and less clear (at least to me), about R&D of pharmaceuticals and medical equipment: Some argue that the U.S. pays higher prices for the same stuff than do other nations, so we should start paying less (via prices government will pay and via regulatory/legal changes such as more re-importation or shorter patent protection). But if we are “overpaying”, does that profit potential in the U.S. market (1) increase innovation vs. what it otherwise would be? (2) enable those other nations to benefit from prices that are lower than they otherwise would be for the products in question? In other words, are those other nations free-riding on the “excess” spending by the U.S.?

  2. I think I allready have been acknowledged about this issue
    at work yesterday by a friend, but at that time
    it didn’t caugh my attention.

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