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2.7%  Q1 GDP    4.57%  avg. 30-year mortgage     9.5%  Unemployment

New 'Misery Index' makes U.S. world's 8th-most miserable economy

Those of us above a certain age who remember the 1970s also remember the "misery index," a new-at-the-time measure of the economy. Invented by economist Arthur Okun, the misery index added the U.S. unemployment and inflation rates to create a number meant to show us how miserable we are. Think of it as an economic windchill factor.

The old misery index peaked during the administration of Jimmy Carter, in June 1980, at 21.98. Pretty miserable.

Tuesday, Moody's rolled out a New Misery Index and took it global. As in the 1970s and early '80s, unemployment is a problem today. But inflation is not (yet). Today, the problem is debt run up by governments around the world during the bubble. Debt that many of them are now having trouble repaying. (CoughcoughGreececoughcough.)

Moody's Misery Index combines the projected 2010 national unemployment rate with the projected 2010 budget deficit as a percentage of GDP.

The list puts the U.S. at No. 8 among the world's miserable nations. More miserable than Iceland but not quite as miserable as Jamaica.

Here are the world's 16 Most Miserable Countries, according to Moody's new index:


And here's the list with the numbers broken out:

1. Spain (10% debt, 20% unemployment)
2. Latvia (8.5%, 19.9%)
3. Lithuania (9.2%, 17.6%)
4. Ireland (12.5%, 14%)
5. Greece (12.2%, 10.2%)
6. England (12.9%, 8.7%)
7. Iceland (10.7%, 10.6%)
8. United States (10.3%, 10.4)
9. Jamaica (9.1%, 11.3%)
10. France (8.3%, 10.2%)
11. Estonia (3%, 15.2%)
12. Portugal (8%, 9%)
13. Hungary (4.3%, 11.3%)
14. Germany (4.3%, 11.3%)
15. Italy (5.3%, 8.7%)
16. Czech Republic (5.5%, 7.9%)

A few observations on the index:

  • Spain tops the list because of its Euro-leading unemployment rate, the result of laid-off construction workers who had worked in the country's booming housing industry.

  • The debt problems in Ireland, Greece and Iceland are by now well-known.

  • Look at England's deficit as a percentage of its GDP. A lot of people think this is a nation teetering on the brink, i.e., the next one to go down. England's banks are sick.

  • Estonia, upside: No debt! Downside: No jobs!

    -- Frank Ahrens
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  • By Frank Ahrens  |  December 16, 2009; 3:00 PM ET
    Categories:  The Ticker  | Tags: Moodys, debt, deficit, misery index, unemployment  
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