The Good Country Index (GCI), aiming “to measure what each country on earth contributes to the common good of humanity,” has just been launched by Simon Anholt at TEDsalon in Berlin. Congratulations, Simon! We are happy to see more and more people thinking about how the decisions of one country can have great effects on another.

We also know how difficult it is to put together a composite index like this, as we’ve been publishing the Commitment to Development Index (CDI) since 2003. The architects are always constrained by data availability, the credibility of sources, and even the underlying theory. With 125 countries under its purview (compared to the CDI’s 27), many of the GCI’s indicators are not available for every country. That’s understandable, but even recognizing the data constraints, we are not completely convinced by the choice of indicators of how much a country contributes to the common good.

Coincidentally, the Good Country Index and the Commitment to Development Index both rank countries in seven dimensions. But as you will see from the table below, the dimensions are very different. 

CDI and CGI components (in alphabetical order)

 

Commitment to Development Index

Good Country Index

aid

culture

environment

health and wellbeing

finance

international peace and security

migration

planet and climate

security

prosperity and equality

technology

science and technology

trade

world order

The Good Country Index does not publish detailed scores (only final rankings) or the underlying data, so it is not possible for the ordinary reader to know what exactly happens behind the scenes. [Update 6 Aug: Simon Anholt has got in touch to say that a spreadsheet with the sub-scores is available on request (and apparently has been sent to anyone who asked) by e-mailing info@goodcountry.org. The GCI website provides information on original sources, and describes the indicators, but there is no way to download the underlying data and code from the GCI site.] We cannot therefore make a full assessment, but below are some of our thoughts on the GCI components and methods, presented in the spirit of constructive dialog.

Culture

The culture subcomponent of the GCI is based on the premise that a country contributes to the common good by exporting its culture. This judgment is likely to be contentious to some, but it is not a surprising starting point for Anholt, whose work has mainly been in helping nations and cities project their brands. The component rewards countries that export creative goods and services and also countries whose citizens can enter other countries without a visa. It isn’t obvious what the underlying theory is here: it appears mainly to reward the geopolitical power of the European Union, United States, and other developed countries. If we wanted to measure what good the country does for others we should rather be concerned with the number of migrants that it allows to enter its borders without restrictions, not where its citizens are allowed to travel. Our recent study authored by Gonzalo Fanjul shows that migration policies of OECD countries have not become more open to non-OECD citizens over the past decade.

Science and Technology

Investments in science and technology contribute to important advancements for humanity, and so it is proper that they are reflected in the GCI. However, the GCI rewards countries which apply for a patent, presumably as a proxy for the amount of knowledge the country creates. Intellectual property regimes, however, aren’t always a force for good. In 1955, the American journalist Edward R. Murrow asked Jonas Salk, the inventor of the first successful inactivated polio vaccine, “Who owns the patent on this vaccine?” Salk replied, “Well, the people, I would say. There is no patent. Could you patent the sun?”[1] Because it was not patented, the Salk vaccine was distributed widely and saved the lives of millions of people. Effective intellectual property regimes can stimulate research (which is good), but they can also restrict access to the fruits of that research (which is bad). That’s why the CDI penalizes countries for unnecessarily restrictive intellectual property rights (see our previous blog post).  Taking out a lot of patents is not necessarily evidence of a country’s contribution to the common good.  

World Order

The world order component of the GCI is perhaps the most contentious.  It penalizes countries for generating refugees, which seems harsh on those countries which have suffered natural disasters or conflicts beyond their control. The GCI penalizes Vietnam because it has many ‘refugees’ living abroad, but not Norway or Ireland whose wealth today is partly the result of previous waves of economic migration. It might be helpful to measure the flow of new refugees, rather than the stock of refugees living abroad, so countries are not penalized today for events which happened decades ago. This component also rewards countries for UN security treaties signed (we think ratification would be better). But most bizarrely, the GCI penalizes countries with high rates of population growth, presumably out of an abundance of neo-Malthusian zeal.

Prosperity and Equality

The prosperity and equality component assesses, amongst other things, open trading based on the World Bank’s Doing Business database, but it does not penalize countries for imposing tariffs and quotas on imports from elsewhere. As Kim Elliott previously pointed out, some OECD countries impose tariffs that increase the price of imported rice seven-fold. We’d have liked to see these trade barriers recognised in the Good Country Index as harmful to the common good.

Weighting and Other Quibbles

The Good Country Index scales its indicators “so that smaller and poorer countries aren’t unduly penalized in the ranking for their limited ability to ‘make a difference’ in the world.” But it appears that the indicators are mainly weighted by GDP, which may not be the best denominator in all cases. Some countries face limitations other than size and income on what they can contribute: for example, landlocked countries are less likely to seize illicit drugs at their border. It is an interesting design question whether an index should penalize a country for underperforming if a lower contribution to that particular field is a more or less inevitable consequence of their geography or history. (The GCI penalizes countries which seize relatively few illicit drugs, and the CDI penalizes Switzerland for not having a navy to police the sea lanes). 

We have other quibbles. The planet and climate component, for example, could do more to measure the impact of countries on the biodiversity and biocapacity of the rest of the world (such as reducing fish stocks in other countries’ waters), and we’re not convinced that the export of periodicals and journals greatly contributes to science and technology.

Looking Ahead to More

It’s easy to focus on what you don’t agree with. Again: we offer our observations to be constructive. We welcome the Good Country Index and wish it well because it, like the Commitment to Development Index, highlights the important effects a country’s policy choices and behavior have on others. We are sure the GCI will benefit from suggestions and debate, just as the CDI has benefitted over the years from new analysis and data and from the feedback and ideas of people who use it. 

Thanks to Matt Collin for valuable comments and suggestions on this blog post.



[1] CBS Television interview, on See It Now (12 April 1955); quoted in Shots in the Dark : The Wayward Search for an AIDS Vaccine (2001) by Jon Cohen