Monday, July 28, 2014

Ireland is the "goodest" of all countries (and the US might be 21st)

Ireland does a lot of good for the world, and it's not just because it produced Bono. Getty Images

As if providing the world with Guinness, great literature, and Enya weren't enough. A new index says Ireland is also the country that exports the most good to the rest of the world.

According to the Good Country Index, Ireland is the nation that does the most good for the world, out of 125 nations analyzed. Libya, meanwhile, came out on the bottom.

The countries are ranked based on 35 indicators, like the number of Nobel prizes a country's people have won, the number of refugees a country hosts, and the amount of food aid it contributes to other nations.

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Source: Goodcountryindex.org

The rankings were produced by independent policy advisor Simon Anholt, with the help of advisor Robert Govers and several other organizations. Anholt didn't do these for any particular organization, but says he produced the rankings as his own project, with his own funding.

Though people might take issue with whether Ireland or Finland really are the goodest nations in the world, the results as a whole don't come as much of a surprise — richer countries, like Ireland and Norway and the US, have more money to put towards food aid and don't produce lots of refugees. And so wealthy, highly developed, stable regions tend to come out near the top —9 of the 10 countries at the top of the list, for example, are in northern and western Europe (the other is New Zealand).

Perhaps more interesting than the overall rankings are the individual categories. Knowing that No. 21 US is behind Italy, Spain, and Cyprus doesn't say much, but the rankings make it easy to quickly find out that the US far outperforms other countries on charitable giving but underperforms on signing UN treaties.

That said, these sorts of multifactor rankings suffer from problems. One is that the differences between one country and its nearby countries in the rankings will be relatively meaningless when 35 wide-ranging indicators are mashed together into one system (is No. 3 Switzerland really better than No. 4 Netherlands? Does No. 123 Iraq really export less good to the rest of the world than No. 121 Angola?).

Moreover, "good" can be a relative term. The US comes in 114th of 125 countries on promoting international security. That puts it next to Lebanon and Ukraine, which is, to say the least, questionable. The rankings imply the US should export fewer arms and engage in fewer conflicts (casualties from conflicts are factored into this part of the rankings). But many argue that other nations rely upon on the US to insert itself into conflicts and that US leadership has contributed to unprecedented global stability — would it really have been better for world peace if the US hadn't, say, intervened in Yugoslavia?

Anholt writes that he hopes the rankings inspire people "to urge their governments to look at the total impact of their policies" in promoting a better world.

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