The best New Year’s toast I ever heard was proposed by some Poles, who claimed it’s traditional: “Here’s to the New Year, because even if it’s going to be worse than last year, it’s going to be better than next year”. But that’s an entirely personal view, and professionally, we’ll all be working to propose better policies for better lives again this year. So here with the help of Insights blog articles from 2014, is a list of 15 resolutions to make the world a better person in 2015.
- Get fit. To begin at the beginning. Every list of resolutions worth its salt starts with this because so many readers have a personal stake in the issue. Most adults in the developed world are now overweight and a fifth are obese. In the United States, Mexico and New Zealand, that proportion rises to a third. People who are severely obese cut eight to ten years off their lives, while every extra 15 kilograms of weight increases the risk of early death by about 30%.
- Fail. You may be doing this anyway, but for businesses trying to innovate, learning from experimentation also means learning from failures and mistakes – being allowed to fail and learn fast.
- Visit another country. There’s a joke about a holy man who’s allowed to visit hell for a few days, has a great time, and asks to stay. It then turns out to be, well, hellish, since, as God points out, there’s a big difference between being a tourist and being an immigrant. There’s also a big difference between where you’d expect expats to be happiest and the results of a survey of life satisfaction. The highest-ranking destination is Ecuador.
- Help other people. It’s nice to be nice. If you’re super rich, you probably know a lot about money, and a number of charities funded by wealthy individuals and institutions are working with the UN to help the financially challenged become financially included. By making it easier to get access to loans, insurance, savings accounts, etc., they hope to alleviate worries that economic integration and liberalisation of financial markets will lead to narrow, impervious corridors of spectacular growth surrounded by a hinterland of poverty.
- Learn to count. Kids today have never heard of balance of payment crises, but they used to be very popular in those bygone days when you had to turn a wheel to dial a phone number or change the TV channel (if there was another one). Now all the talk is about GDP, but what is GDP and how do you know it’s gone up or down?
- Be nice to mice. that’s the moral of one of Robert Henryson’s fables, but unfortunately the WWF reports a 52% decline in mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish overall from 1970 to 2010, while IUCN’s Red List indicates that a quarter of mammals, over a tenth of birds, and 41% of amphibians are at risk of extinction.
- Think more clearly. What does π times the radius squared calculate? What does multiplying current by resistance give you? You learned and forgot hundreds of things like this, but if you really want to learn how to learn, you have to think about thinking, and metacognition will help you do this, and make the world much more exciting and exhilarating too.
- Grow old gracefully. “You are old,” said the youth; one would hardly suppose/That your eye was as steady as ever/Yet you balanced an eel on the end of your nose/What made you so awfully clever?”. Better education and health. In Germany for instance, after 2050, at least a third of the population will have graduated from tertiary education and at least 80% of life will be spent in good health.
- Stop smoking. Air pollution has become the biggest environmental cause of premature death, overtaking poor sanitation and a lack of clean drinking water. Road transport is responsible for roughly half the air pollution in OECD countries, and up to 90% of that is from diesels.
- Change your mind. If today is your first day back at work after the holidays, you may be feeling a bit down. But for many people, this feeling isn’t temporary. Across the OECD an estimated 20% of the working-age population suffer from mental ill-health, and many of them may not even have a job: people with severe mental illness are 6 to 7 times more likely to be unemployed, while those with a mild-to-moderate illness are 2 to 3 times more likely to be unemployed.
- Get rich quick. It’s possible, especially if you’ve got money already. In the US, for example, the one percent’s share of pre-tax income more than doubled since 1980, hitting 20% in 2012. There were big rises in other (mostly) English-speaking countries, too, Australia, Canada, Ireland and the UK. More surprising, the 1% in traditionally egalitarian economies like Finland, Norway and Sweden also saw rises in their share of income, although at around 7% to 8% they were well behind US levels.
- Be happy. If you think that “happiness regression” is some politically correct way of saying miserable, you’re probably also unaware that the happiness revolution is in full swing. What it means is that national statistical offices are beginning to collect data on wellbeing; the OECD has prepared a manual on how best to do this; and politicians are promising to focus, not just on economic growth and better material living standards, but on the much wider range of things that are important to people.
- Be fair. If you think that the best way to pay less tax is to have less money, you’re wrong. Companies worth billions manage to avoid paying their fair share of tax through a number of schemes increasingly referred to as “BEPS” – base erosion and profit shifting. The mechanisms can be complicated, but the basic idea is to make income “stateless” by exploiting loopholes in tax systems created decades, or centuries ago. The OECD and G20 are going to put a stop to it though.
- Take stock. But leave some too, please. About 30% of world fisheries are currently overexploited, with many depleted or recovering from depletion. In part this is because governments encouraged the expansion of fishing through various subsidies, and now the people who benefitted don’t want to change. Fisheries managers can propose better alternatives to the current system, and the OECD has produced a handbook to help them do so.
- Stop making lists.