Because many of the world’s biggest problems, such as climate change, disease pandemics and terrorism, are global, countries operating inwardly as if they were alone on the planet, can’t deal with them, says policy advisor Simon Anholt. He thinks getting countries to look outwards, be generous, and help humanity and the planet beyond national borders is essential.
He describes nations that do this as “good countries”. He points out that “good” doesn’t mean morally good. Instead it means generosity towards the planet and humanity abroad. Less good (not to be confused with worse) countries are more self-centred, show less empathy for citizens of other nations, and can be described as more culturally psychopathic.
To measure national “goodness”, he came up with The Good Country Index.
The video above shows Anholt giving a TED talk. In it he explains how a world divided into around 200 largely inward looking nation states, stands in the way of global action. He stresses the importance of working together and says he has never seen a national issue that couldn’t be better solved by approaching it as a global one.
Stop dreaming about Ireland and start dreaming of Swedes
Measuring goodness is not an exact science, however the index, based on 200 billion data points from the Nation Brands Index database, which gathers world perceptions of countries, is a solid attempt.
Some of the results are surprising. Large geopolitical players, that invest hugely abroad, such as the US and China rank poorly. In the first ranking in 2014 the US came in at number 21, while China took 107th position out of the 125 nations ranked. In the second, published recently, the US retained its 21st spot, while China rose to 67th. The results are per capita, which pushes large nations down in the ranking.
The 2014 winner was Ireland. Anholt said in his talk, that we should all think as we drift off to sleep “God damnit I’m glad that Ireland exists”, while explaining how Ireland didn’t forget its international obligations when rebuilding its economy from the depths of a very severe economic recession.
This year, Sweden topped the ranking. No doubt Anholt would now suggest we dream of Sweden when going to bed.
Switzerland, a shining star with two weak points
In the first ranking, Switzerland came third out of 125 nations. In 2016, it ranked 12th. In both years the nation ranked well in five areas but quite poorly in the other two.
- Swiss German response to Geneva: “We like you but there’s no need to come (Le News)
- Rebranding International Geneva (Le News)
In 2016, while Switzerland ranked in the top ten for its global contributions to science and technology (10th), world order (10th), planet and climate (3rd), prosperity and equality (2nd) and health and wellbeing (5th), it was well behind on culture (71st) and international peace and security (61st). Switzerland showed the same weaknesses in 2014.
On the face of it, a low score for international peace and security is puzzling. Geneva is home to the United Nations and the Red Cross after all. Digging deeper it becomes clear that Switzerland’s goodness in this area is undone by arms trading and its limited contribution to international peace keeping, something related to its history of neutrality.
Digging into Switzerland’s second area of underperformance: culture, it is clear where the weakness lies: creative service exports. This includes creative outputs that possess a high degree of expressive value and invoke copyright protection. Architecture, cultural and recreational services, audio-visual services, advertising, and research and development related services are the core elements of creative services. While Switzerland might score well locally on some of these things, outside perceptions of what it exports were low.
Switzerland’s decline in overall ranking from third to twelfth is largely down to a fall in its cultural exports. Switzerland’s rank in this domain slipped from 32nd to 71st, due to a big drop in creative goods exports (as opposed to creative services). Cultural goods include creativity’s end products. Films, art crafts, published works etc. In this year’s ranking the number one spot for culture went to Luxembourg, not an obvious candidate.
Plenty to sleep on
So what does all this mean? Switzerland’s rank of 12 among 125 is solid. It is well ahead of the US (21st), Spain (20th), Japan (19th), Italy (18th) and Australia (17th). The rankings are volatile. Ireland was 1st last time but only 27th this time. Switzerland’s average of 7.5 across two rankings is higher than Ireland’s average of 14. Perhaps Switzerland will prove to be a consistent high performer.
While “good” countries are good for the world, Anholt points out that being “good” makes everything easier at home. “Good” countries attract more tourists, more investors and sell their products for more. Global generosity and national self interest it seems, overlap. There is plenty here, beyond Sweden, to sleep on.
Update: the good country index for 2016 was updated after this article was written and the update improved Switzerland’s ranking on culture, up from 71st to 31st. This shifted its overall rank from 12th to 5th.