There are a lot of national rankings out there these days. Economic growth, governance, freedom, happiness–if there’s a metric, it’s measured, and we’ve covered quite a few of them at this site. What’s different about the Good Country Index is that it looks not at conditions or performance within a country, but the effect of that country on the world outside of it. It’s a ranking of “what they contribute to the ‘global commons,’ and what they take away,” according to Simon Anholt, the researcher who developed the index.
“We’ve given each country a balance-sheet to show at a glance whether it’s a net creditor to mankind, a burden on the planet, or something in between,” he says in an introduction.
The ranking is based on seven categories, such as education and war and peace, and uses 35 datasets to gauge them. The data is mostly for 2010 and comes from sources such as the United Nations and other international agencies.
The upshot? Ireland, Finland, and Switzerland do the most for the world. Libya, Vietnam, and Iraq do the least. The U.S. falls somewhere in the middle. It is in 21st place, sandwiched between Italy and Costa Rica.
Is that fair?
Some of the results will strike people as strange. For example, the U.S. ranks 26th overall for science and technology (even though it’s probably the most advanced country in the world in this respect). That’s because although we produce higher numbers of international students, Nobel prizes, and patents, the data is normalized for GDP. More economic output, in other words, produces a lower ranking.
Even stranger, Egypt tops the ranking in the international peace and security category (despite its internal turmoil) with Jordan and Tanzania in second and third. That’s because those countries aren’t generally involved in international conflicts, don’t send out peace-keepers, aren’t big arms exporters, and pay their U.N. dues, explains Anholt. The U.S. is in 114th out of 125 countries, with Lithuania dead last.
A ranking as universal as this is always likely to throw up some weirdness. That doesn’t make it all bad. In fact, it’s a rather good idea and a healthy departure from the normal obsession with GDP (which includes absolutely everything a country produces, including all the nasty, socially useless stuff). If you leave aside the anomalies, it’s a pretty refreshing way of looking at the world.
Check out all seven categories here.