The Good Country Index scores nations on their contribution to the rest of the world. Photo: Getty
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Does your nation free-ride on the planet or benefit humanity?

The Good Country Index scores nations on their beneficent contributions to the world. Its creator hopes it will encourage governments to think globally rather than nationally.

Britain ranks seventh in the world for its contribution to humanity, according to a new global index of “good” nations published for the first time this summer.

The UK claimed the top spot in science and technology and scored highly for its contribution to global health, prosperity and culture, but fell in the bottom quartile of nations for “international peace and security”.

After the results of the Good Country Index were published last month, national media around the world reported on their countries’ respective rankings; Ireland celebrated its premier position, while Doha reflected on its lowly ranking at 110th.

Finland, Switzerland and the Netherlands scored the highest marks after the Emerald Isle, while Iraq, Vietnam and Libya were ranked the least “good” nations in the world.

I spoke to the index’s creator Simon Anholt, an independent policy advisor, about the aims behind the project.

Speaking over the phone, he explained that it is “the first to measure exactly how much each country contributes to the planet and to humanity.”

The index comprises the “national balance sheets” of 125 countries. They are measured across seven categories, from their contribution to climate change and the planet, through prosperity and equality, to their promotion of world order.

The ambitious goal of the scorecard, said Anholt, is to compel governments to give greater thought to their ultimate responsibility to humanity worldwide, not just citizens at home.

While it may seem a worthwhile aim to encourage voters and politicians to think beyond their national self-interest and about the greater good of the world, his project is undoubtedly ambitious.

Anholt maintains that his research has shown that citizens around the world do care about nations’ benefaction to humanity.

“People like good countries,” he said. “They admire nations that are powerful, beautiful, large, but the thing that counts most of all is the perception that it contributes something to the rest of the world that we all live in. This finding filled me with joy.”

He believes the Great Recession of 2009 has contributed to a collective desire for deeper and more meaningful contributions on the part of states. As the world economy lay in tatters, the hollowness of materialism and selfishness of national interest became increasingly apparent and prompted people to question the foundations of the concepts, he said.

“The Washington consensus and aggressive Anglo-Saxon capitalism has been the presiding model for a very long time. But even before the recession, it was already beginning to get to the stage where people were asking ‘Is this really it? Is this really the best model?’.”

For his index, Anholt harvested data from 35 global, accurate and up-to-date surveys, including from the World Bank, United Nations and other multinational agencies.

“Although it’s theoretically true that the choice of data is subjective, in reality it isn’t a choice, it’s just all there is,” he claims.

He wants the index to serve as more than a piece of research. “It’s more an act of public diplomacy than statistical analysis.  This is not to say I don’t stand by it, I think it’s a good piece of work. But in the end there isn’t enough data to give a definitive account of what every country on earth contributes to humanity – partially because that isn’t really measurable.”

He added: “The reason I wanted to do it is to find every way possible to bring this topic alive to people and make them ask these kinds of questions.”

Anholt contends that globalisation has made our gravest and most complex problems global.

If nations continue to act only in their own interest, then borderless challenges such as climate change, economic instability, pandemics, terrorism, inequality, overpopulation and migration will become insurmountable.

He said: “The United Nations and other multinationals have very little power to solve problems, so unless countries start collaborating more, we’re going to get nowhere.”

One of the most controversial parts of the index is the international peace and security criterion, which is calculated “to everybody’s astonishment and a certain amount of outrage”, said Anholt, by counting the number of people a nation has killed and debiting that number from the country’s scorecard.

It seems a potentially reductive approach. After all, a nation may engage in a military mission to protect civilian populations or maintain peace and security rather than destroy it.

Anholt was unrepentant about his methodology: “I take a simplistic view of this – I think killing people is wrong.”
This method explains why the US ranked only 21st in the index. Americans were outraged. Anholt claims that more than 10,000 emails, blog posts and Tweets were written by Americans in response to the results, all “furious that America doesn’t come out on top”.

A Brit himself, Anholt is ambivalent about the UK’s contribution to humanity: “proud” of some parts and “ashamed” of others.

“We’re like a lot of western democracies,” he said. “We give an awful lot and we steal an awful lot.” Among the UK’s greatest contributions are “the amount of overseas development and aid we do; we accept a lot of migrants and students; our cultural relations are good and active; we send doctors to Médecins Sans Frontières, we pay our dues to the United Nations.”

While Britain scores highly in the Good Country Index, Anholt hopes that delineating the country's contributions to the world will prompt further beneficent action.

His aims, while noble, are highly ambitious to the point of being unrealistic. But perhaps this idealistic project has come at the right time. In a period when the Middle East seems torn by strife, and internal conflict rages in Ukraine, thoughtful consideration of the external impact that countries have can only be a good thing.

Lucy Fisher writes about politics and is the winner of the Anthony Howard Award 2013. She tweets @LOS_Fisher.


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America’s domestic terrorists: why there’s no such thing as a “lone wolf”

After the latest attack on Planned Parenthood in Colorado Springs, America must confront the violence escalating at its heart.

First things first: let’s not pretend this is about life.

Three people have died and nine were injured on Friday in the latest attack on a women’s health clinic in the United States. Planned Parenthood in Colorado Springs was besieged by a gunman whose motives remain unclear, but right-to-lifers—who should really be called “forced birth advocates”—have already taken up their keyboards to defend his actions, claiming that women seeking an abortion, or doctors providing them, are never “innocent”. 

This was not unexpected. Abortion providers have been shot and killed before in the United States. The recent book Living in the Crosshairs by David S Cohen and Krysten Connon describes in sanguine detail the extent of domestic terrorism against women’s healthcare facilities, which is increasing as the American right-wing goes into meltdown over women’s continued insistence on having some measure of control over their own damn bodies. As Slate reports

In July, employees at a clinic in the Chicago suburb of Aurora, Illinois, reported an attempted arson. In August, firefighters found half a burning car at the construction site of a future clinic in New Orleans. On Sept. 4, a clinic in Pullman, Washington, was set ablaze at 3:30 a.m., and on Sept. 30, someone broke a window at a Thousand Oaks, California, clinic and threw a makeshift bomb inside.

The real horror here is not just that a forced-birth fanatic attacked a clinic, but that abortion providers across America are obliged to work as if they might, at any time, be attacked by forced-birth fanatics whose right to own a small arsenal of firearms is protected by Congress. 

The United States is bristling with heavily armed right-wingers who believe the law applies to everyone but them. This is the second act of domestic terrorism in America in a week. On Monday, racists shouting the n-word opened fire at a Black Lives Matter protest in Minneapolis, injuring three. This time, the killer is a white man in his 50s. Most American domestic terrorists are white men, which may explain why they are not treated as political agents, and instead dismissed as “lone wolves” and “madmen”.

Terrorism is violence against civilians in the service of ideology. By anyone’s sights, these killers are terrorists, and by the numbers, these terrorists pose substantially more of a threat to American citizens than foreign terrorism—but nobody is calling for background checks on white men, or for members of the republican party to wear ID tags. In America, like many other western nations, people only get to be “terrorists” when they are “outsiders” who go against the political consensus. And there is a significant political consensus behind this bigotry, including within Washington itself. That consensus plays out every time a Republican candidate or Fox news hatebot expresses sorrow for the victims of murder whilst supporting both the motives and the methods of the murderers. If that sounds extreme, let’s remind ourselves that the same politicians who declare that abortion is murder are also telling their constituents that any attempt to prevent them owning and using firearms is an attack on their human rights. 

Take Planned Parenthood. For months now, systematic attempts in Washington to defund the organisation have swamped the nation with anti-choice, anti-woman rhetoric. Donald Trump, the tangerine-tanned tycoon who has managed to become the frontrunner in the republican presidential race not in spite of his swivel-eyed, stage-managed, tub-thumping bigotry but because of it, recently called Planned Parenthood an “abortion factory” and demanded that it be stripped of all state support. Trump, in fact, held a pro-choice position not long ago, but like many US republicans, he is far smarter than he plays. Trump understands that what works for the American public right now, in an absence of real hope, is fanaticism. 

Donald Trump, like many republican candidates, is happy to play the anti-woman, anti-immigrant, racist fanatic in order to pander to white, fundamentalist Christian voters who just want to hear someone tell it like it is. Who just want to hear someone say that all Muslims should be made to wear ID cards, that Black protesters deserve to be “roughed up”, that water-boarding is acceptable even if it doesn’t work because “they deserve it”. Who just want something to believe in, and when the future is a terrifying blank space, the only voice that makes sense anymore is the ugly, violent whisper in the part of your heart that hates humanity, and goddamn but it’s a relief to hear someone speaking that way in a legitimate political forum. Otherwise you might be crazy.

American domestic terrorists are not “lone wolves”. They are entrepreneurial. They may work alone or in small groups, but they are merely the extreme expression of a political system in meltdown. Republican politicians are careful not to alienate voters who might think these shooters had the right idea when they condemn the violence, which they occasionally forget to do right away. In August, a homeless Hispanic man was allegedly beaten to a pulp by two Bostonians, one of whom told the police that he was inspired by Donald Trump’s call for the deportation of “illegals”. Trump responded to the incident by explaining that “people who are following me are very passionate. They love this country and they want this country to be great again.”

But that’s not even the real problem with Donald Trump. The real problem with Donald Trump is that he makes everyone standing just to the left of him look sane. All but one republican governor has declared that refugees from Syria are unwelcome in their states. Across the nation, red states are voting in laws preventing women from accessing abortion, contraception and reproductive healthcare. Earlier this year, as congressmen discussed defunding Planned Parenthood, 300 ‘pro-life’ protesters demonstrated outside the same Colorado clinic where three people died this weekend. On a daily basis, the women who seek treatment at the clinic are apparently forced to face down cohorts of shouting fanatics just to get in the door. To refuse any connection between these daily threats and the gunman who took the violence to its logical extreme is not merely illogical—it is dangerous.

If terrorism is the murder of civilians in the service of a political ideology, the United States is a nation in the grip of a wave of domestic terrorism. It cannot properly be named as such because its logic draws directly from the political consensus of the popular right. If the killers were not white American men, we would be able to call them what they are—and politicians might be obligated to come up with a response beyond “these things happen.”

These things don’t just “happen”. These things happen with escalating, terrifying frequency, and for a reason. The reason is that America is a nation descending into political chaos, unwilling to confront the violent bigotry at its heart, stoked to frenzy by politicians all too willing to feed the violence if it consolidates their own power. It is a political choice, and it demands a political response.

Laurie Penny is a contributing editor to the New Statesman. She is the author of five books, most recently Unspeakable Things.