Thoughts on British politics, economics, foreign affairs and feminism

RSS

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.

The Good Country Index scores nations on their contribution to the rest of the world.
The Good Country Index scores nations on their contribution to the rest of the world. Photo: Getty

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.