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Safety, security key to a nation's well-being and prosperity

DESPITE all we hear and see, there is some very good news - global prosperity is at its highest level ever. The Legatum Prosperity Index tracks prosperity in 149 countries and we see prosperity continuing to rise in the world, both over the last year and over the last 11 years. More countries are becoming prosperous and more people are living more prosperous lives. This is to be celebrated.

The index also shows that rising well-being is linked to rising levels of prosperity. This might sound obvious, but there is a less clear relationship between wealth levels and well-being, where rising wealth does not necessarily translate into greater happiness.

Prosperity entails much more than wealth. It reaches beyond the financial to the institutional, the judicial and the well-being of the people of a nation - it is about creating an environment where a person can reach his or her full potential. A nation is prosperous when it has an open economy, inclusive society, strong institutions and empowered people who are healthy, educated and safe. This leads to higher levels of well-being.

The news is not all good however. The gap between the highest and lowest prosperity scores is the widest since we began measuring it in 2007, having grown apart since 2013, when the highest and lowest scores were the closest together.

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The further concerning news is that Safety and Security, one of the nine pillars we use to measure prosperity, has continued to deteriorate across the globe. Our analysis shows that Safety and Security, in all its guises, is the foundation of any successful nation-building and enables the other pillars of prosperity to follow, from Personal Freedom, Health and Education through to a thriving business environment and sound governance. Without Safety and Security, it is challenging to build anything, and the pathway to prosperity is obscured.


This pillar measures the safety of individuals, rather than states, and more people today are experiencing greater insecurity caused by very real problems - a rise in wars, conflicts, hunger and a lack of shelter. War, terrorism and oppression are driving insecurity around the world. Deaths from conflict increased 58 per cent over 10 years, and deaths from terrorism quadrupled in the same period. Despite the welcome fall in malnutrition and absolute poverty globally, more people report that they lack the basic needs of food and shelter to live. Globally, the number of people reporting their struggle to buy food at some point over the last year has risen from a quarter in 2008 to a third this year.

Countries that have achieved long-term gains in prosperity show that where leaders create a safe and secure environment, they do also provide a basis for a sustained improvement in prosperity. Sri Lanka is an example of a country that has emerged from years of civil war with its economy and society relatively intact, and as a result has shown a remarkable increase in prosperity. Georgia, freed from the control of the Soviet Union, has emerged steadily as the second-largest winner in prosperity over the last 10 years. The West African states of Cote d'Ivoire and Togo have also risen as a result of improved Personal Freedom and Governance.

Strong Safety and Security improves a country's resilience to withstand external threats and recover quickly while countries on the other end are characterised by lacking the capacity to withstand them. Many countries in the Middle East and North Africa lack the institutional resilience to deal with deteriorating Safety and Security. Of the 20 nations whose prosperity has fallen the most over the last decade, 12 are in Africa and the Middle East, forming an arc that stretches from Afghanistan in the north to Malawi in the south and bounded east to west by Algeria and Yemen. This arc tells a consistent story of several war-torn countries that are highly insecure places to live. Unsurprisingly, they are also the source of a significant proportion of the world's migration.

In today's interconnected world, insecurity in one country has a wider impact beyond its borders, in the form of migration. Global migration, when driven by insecurity, is the biggest single humanitarian crisis of our time. When there is a break down in Safety and Security, people move. Neighbouring countries feel the immediate effects through migration and displacement - the desperate plight of Syrian refugees quickly becomes Lebanon's and Jordan's problem. Although most migration is regional, rich countries further afield also become destinations for economic migrants, asylum seekers and so-called illegal migrants who undertake long and sometimes dangerous journeys to escape insecurity at home, in search of a better life.

If we are to fix the global migration crisis, we must first address insecurity, and help those countries where prosperity is falling. Migration cannot be solved by simply tightening the border controls of the world's richest countries - this ignores the root causes of migration and offers no alleviation of the human cost and suffering. The solution is to find pathways from poverty to prosperity in every country, and the first step is improving safety and security.


The Prosperity Index covers 149 countries. The top 40 most prosperous nations are those that have demonstrated how to build prosperity over time, while the bottom 20 face significant challenges across all pillars, especially improving Safety and Security. The middle 90 countries of the index - those that rank 40 to 130 - comprise 78 per cent of the world's population and represent a massive opportunity for developing prosperity. Without neglecting those at the bottom, we are focused on improving prosperity in this middle grouping of countries.

My ambition for the Prosperity Index is that it becomes a tool for leaders around the world to help set their agenda for growth and development. The measurement of national prosperity is an important task for governments and for those who hold them to account.

  • The writer is CEO of Legatum Institute, a London-based think tank with a vision to see all people lifted out of poverty.