A prosperity index that you know in your gut is right

15 августа 2011, 10:55

Sometimes taxi drivers can be hilarious.

Take a cabbie named Aslan, for example. He drove me from my home on Kenesary Street in Astana to the Keruen shopping center on a recent evening.

Aslan could tell I was a foreigner and began chatting me up in Russian. He asked whether I was British or American, what city I was from in the States, what I was doing in Astana.

He told me he was from Semey, and was pleased when I said I’d been there, and I really liked the city’s downtown, with its boutiques, restaurants and coffee shops.

Then Aslan began discussing the U.S. government budget crisis, which has generated headlines around the world in recent days. It was impressed that he had followed it closely.

I almost always ask cabbies who are as friendly as Aslan how they like President Nursultan Nazarbayev.

Aslan, who looks to be in his early 40s, flashed a big grin when I asked the question, exposing a wall of gold teeth.

He’s a thin fellow, but he pointed to his small pot belly and said in Russian: “I like Nazarbayev. See this? If Nazarbayev had not been president the past 20 years, I wouldn’t have a belly. I wouldn’t even have a stomach that was flat – it would be going in.”

Aslan was animated and chuckling as he discussed his belly. He was clearly enjoying himself.

When I began laughing, he seized the moment to try to make me laugh even more, expounding at length on the relationship between his belly and Kazakhstan’s prosperity. My Russian is poor, but I understood enough that I couldn’t stop laughing.

Midway through the cab ride, I was guffawing so hard that I told him: “Please stop. My stomach hurts from laughing. Aslan, you should be a comedian.” He responded by flashing his gold teeth at me again.

After I left the cab, I thought to myself that Aslan was on to something when he linked the size of his belly to Kazakhstan’s wellbeing.

Every year, when he gives his State of the Union Address, President Nazarbayev mentions how measurements of Kazakhstan’s prosperity have steadily increased in the two decades since independence.

One measurement he talks about is gross domestic product per capita – that is, the value of goods and services that Kazakhstan produces per person. The figure has been steadily growing.

Also growing is income per capita – the amount of money the average Kazakh earns.

Still another yardstick that’s been increasing is life expectancy – the number of years the average Kazakh lives.

I would propose that government officials add another barometer to the list of measurements they use to determine prosperity. This would be the Aslan the Cabbie Pot-Belly Index.

The index would be calculated by measuring the girths of a sample of 1,000 people each year.

The average belly size in the first year of the measurement would be the baseline, which we’d set at  1.0.

Measurements in subsequent years would be compared to the baseline. If the figure in the second year was 1.2, it would indicate increasing prosperity. If it were 0.90, it would indicate decreasing prosperity.

I know you scientific types out there will object that the Aslan Index wouldn’t really reflect prosperity because of extraneous factors that can play into a person’s weight.

For example, some of you naysayers would contend that a growing belly may not reflect increasing national prosperity but simply people adding more fatty foods to their diet.

I would say to you: Don’t be spoilsports.

No index is perfect. There is evidence to indicate that the Aslan the Cabbie Pot-Belly Index has a lot of merit.

Just think of the big bellies of those sumo wrestlers in Japan. Then reflect on the fact that Japan is one of the most prosperous countries in the world.

Without a doubt, there is a connection in Japan between big bellies and prosperity.

Why couldn’t the same be said of Kazakhstan?

Aslan, my new friend, you’re a genius.


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