The Good Country Index

HuffPo (occasionally they do have decent stuff) describes a recently compiled “Good Country Index,” which uses data from the UN, WHO, and the World Bank to rank countries on a number of axes: science and technology, culture, world order, international peace and security, planet and climate, prosperity and equality, and health and wellbeing (there are subrankings as well—35 in total). As HuffPo reports:

The index is the work of Simon Anholt, a policy adviser who has worked with governments across the world for the last 25 years. He told HuffPost his aim was to move away from traditional performance measurements such as GDP and army size, and to stop looking at countries in isolation from one another.

“In the age of advanced globalization … we’re all part of a massively interconnected system,” he said. “And what goes on in one country invariably has an impact on people in other countries. It’s a closed system, it’s a zero-sum game. … I just thought: Who’s measuring that? Who’s measuring the interconnections?”

Below are the overall rankings of 163 countries, “designed to rate countries on the effect they have on humanity and on the planet,” with the most “positive” countries at the top. The U.S. slipped from 20th to 25th place over the last year, but the data come from the period of the Obama and not the Trump presidency.

I’m presenting screenshots of the results (you can see a neater figure and some sub-rankings here), hoping that a diligent reader might correlate these standings with religiosity—a statistic available for most countries. For if you look at the top countries like Netherlands, Switzerland, Denmark, and Finland, they are decidedly less religious than the lowest countries like Yemen, Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan. The relationship won’t be perfect, of course (fairly religious Ireland is #7), but I suspect there will be a negative correlation: the least religious countries will rank highest in their ability to create “positive effects” and vice versa.

A correlation isn’t a causation, of course, but it may mean something, and I’m thinking of the thesis that the well being of a country is negatively related to the religiosity of its inhabitants. That theory isn’t mine, but has been suggested by many sociologists. The underlying premise is a Marxist one: that people turn to religion when their circumstances are bad and they can’t get much succor from their government. In countries that take care of their citizens, like the ones at the top of the list, people don’t need a god to importune for help.

At any rate, a negative correlation among nations between position on the Good Country Index and religiosity would at least help dispel the old canard that religion in general tends to make countries healthy, moral, and viable.


  1. Ariel
    Posted December 12, 2017 at 9:10 am | Permalink

    I’m an economist, these measures are of great interest in the field (see for example HDI – human development index). The “problem” is that all of these are *extremely* correlated with GDP per capita, and thus don’t really capture something significantly different and also, contrary to popular belief, reaffirm that GDP per capita is sort of a “sufficient” metric.

    Unfortunately, the site for the good country index doesn’t allow to easily download the rankings/measures – so I cannot calculate the correlation myself.

  2. Mark Reaume
    Posted December 12, 2017 at 9:11 am | Permalink


  3. Posted December 12, 2017 at 9:21 am | Permalink

    Of related interest – How does Denmark have better healthcare than the US for less money?

    • Ken Phelps
      Posted December 12, 2017 at 10:26 am | Permalink

      Thy don’t have hordes of insurance execs rewarding themselves with bonuses.

    • darrelle
      Posted December 12, 2017 at 11:19 am | Permalink

      Because they are a bunch of commie-pinko-scumbags. Obviously.

    • rickflick
      Posted December 12, 2017 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

      It seems to me the most critical difference hurting the US culture (and thus healthcare) is the two party system with its focus on winners and losers rather than a multi-party system that encourages compromise and long-term thinking. Constitutional convention anyone?

    • Posted December 12, 2017 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

      Every Western democracy has better healthcare than the US for less money. It’s because the US system is really really bad.

    • Mark R.
      Posted December 12, 2017 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

      The main reason is the US healthcare system is for profit.

    • Posted December 12, 2017 at 5:23 pm | Permalink

      Most European countries have better healthcare than the US for less money. So much in the US gets wasted on the overheads of insurance companies accountants and middle management which aren’t needed to anything like the same extent when the government provides the bulk of healthcare.

    • dallos
      Posted December 13, 2017 at 3:24 am | Permalink

      What do you mean, “good”?

      “It certainly helps that every major religion teaches the same truths: that it’s our responsibility to look after the planet, and that all men and women are our brothers and sisters. “

      • dallos
        Posted December 13, 2017 at 3:29 am | Permalink

        Sorry, this was not supposed to be an answer to your question.

  4. Heather Hastie
    Posted December 12, 2017 at 9:23 am | Permalink

    There’s another one of these that takes multiple indices to rate countries and also weights them according to importance. (I don’t know how importance was decided.) It was developed by Harvard and started 3-4 years ago. I remember because NZ was #1 in the first year, though I’m not sure what happened after that or where we stand now.

  5. DutchA
    Posted December 12, 2017 at 9:31 am | Permalink

    Wow, this is a surprise. Not sure what ‘we’ did to deserve it.

    I wonder what the regressive left in The Netherlands will make of this…

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted December 12, 2017 at 10:34 am | Permalink

      I think Oliebollen put it over the top. 😀

      • DutchA
        Posted December 12, 2017 at 10:56 am | Permalink

        True. Together with the stroopwafels!

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted December 12, 2017 at 11:13 am | Permalink

          Once I kept buying those at lunch at a nearby shop. I ate so many I gained weight. They are so good though.

        • gravelinspector-Aidan
          Posted December 12, 2017 at 11:51 am | Permalink

          They’ve started making stroopwafels in Scotland as well now. Another nation gone to the Dark Side.

          • Posted December 13, 2017 at 11:29 am | Permalink

            Is that why Scotland wants to remain in the EU even after Brexit? 😉

            • gravelinspector-Aidan
              Posted December 15, 2017 at 11:13 am | Permalink

              No, it’s because we’re not insane, and we’ve never had any doubt about the predatory nastinesses that stalk the streets of London in pinstripe suits.
              None of our politicians have a mandate to respect the opinions of the electorate of England, just that of their electorate in Scotland. Cue “awkward squad”.

  6. Graham Head
    Posted December 12, 2017 at 9:39 am | Permalink

    I’d bet on the UK dropping a few places over the next five years. To be honest I’m surprised we’re as high as eighth after seven years of disastrous tory government.

    • Richard
      Posted December 12, 2017 at 10:42 am | Permalink

      As opposed to thirteen years of Labour government when they spent like there was no tomorrow and damn-near bankrupted the country?

      Let’s not forget that note left by Liam Byrne, the outgoing Labour chief secretary to the treasury, to his incoming Conservative replacement: “I’m afraid there is no money.”

      • Graham Head
        Posted December 12, 2017 at 10:48 am | Permalink

        You mean where they spent billions bailing out the corrupt financial institutions?

        • Dave
          Posted December 12, 2017 at 11:26 am | Permalink

          Ceiling Cat forbid, but if Corbyn ever makes it to No. 10 we’ll be jostling for position with Venezuela.

          • gravelinspector-Aidan
            Posted December 12, 2017 at 11:52 am | Permalink

            Well, let’s find out.

      • bric
        Posted December 12, 2017 at 11:35 am | Permalink

        I assume you refer to the UK National Debt? @Bankrupt seems an odd word to use in the circumstances –

    • Posted December 12, 2017 at 1:13 pm | Permalink

      If the data relates to the Obama era then it is presumably also pre-Brexit.

      Anyway, your premise is faulty. If position is related to good governance, the conclusion you should be drawing is that the Tory government up to the time the data covers was not disastrous.

  7. mikeyc
    Posted December 12, 2017 at 9:40 am | Permalink

    It’s a list and lists don’t tell us much except rank order. It doesn’t give any indication of the range, scale or variance. How far apart are, say, Finland from the Netherlands than they are from the UK? Is that spread the same as between the United States and Slovenia? Where is the mean? Median?

    I once finished 9th in a bicycle race out of about 50 competitors. I came in 1 second behind the winner (meathead had thighs as big around as my torso – sucked my wheel for 20k then blew my doors off in the last 200m) while l0th place finished more than a minute behind and the stragglers more than 5 minutes. On the sheet those guys were right behind me. But not on the road they weren’t.

  8. Randall Schenck
    Posted December 12, 2017 at 9:46 am | Permalink

    Have a hard time making sense with some of the rankings – prosperity & equality. One does not necessarily go with the other. The study ranks the U.S. 62 out of 163 countries. The opposite of equality would be inequality so how does that stand against prosperity? The Philippines ranks much better than the U.S. here? They must have different ideas about these terms than I. One does not seem to have much to do with the other. But I saw a ranking recently that shows the U.S. is just about the worst in economic equality of any place in the world. Three guys at the top have as much wealth at the bottom 50% of the population in this country. Since the 80s the income of the wealthy has increase times three while the income of the rest has remain stagnate.

    • Posted December 12, 2017 at 1:38 pm | Permalink

      Thoughts about this. It could be some states score very high in equality etc perhaps even on par with the top 10 but the low scoring ones drag the rest of the US down.
      California’s economy outstrips a lot of small nations including us (NZ) IIRC.
      But what it does with it’s wealth i have no idea.
      So is it not that you’re wealthy, it is how you spread what wealth you have around the population, which would give individuals a sense of being cared about, included, hence wellbeing for one indicator.
      What i wonder about if the Scandinavian countries are the benchmark, is, what is that benchmark? is it good enough? it obviously does not suit all first world countries because, would we not all be following their lead. Why is it we’re not?

  9. Ken Kukec
    Posted December 12, 2017 at 9:49 am | Permalink

    The underlying premise is a Marxist one …

    The premise is of course congruent with the views of Karl Marx, who is the source of the locus classicus referring to religion as “the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions … the opium of the people.” But I wouldn’t consider the premise necessarily “Marxist,” which is historico-economic at its core.

  10. Rita
    Posted December 12, 2017 at 9:57 am | Permalink

    Canada would probably rank higher if it weren’t for it’s proximity to the Us, which manages to export some of it’s craziness over the border.

    • Mark Reaume
      Posted December 12, 2017 at 10:07 am | Permalink

      Looks like we got dinged for; tar sands (CO2 emissions), weapons exports and apparently international violent conflict.

      • Ken Phelps
        Posted December 12, 2017 at 10:32 am | Permalink

        Well there was the Pig War thing on San Juan Island. Although strictly speaking we were still a colony in 1859.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted December 12, 2017 at 10:35 am | Permalink

        Yeah Canada exports a lot of small arms to very naughty people.

        • Posted December 13, 2017 at 11:31 am | Permalink

          Like Saudi Arabia, which has basically flattened Yemen.

  11. Posted December 12, 2017 at 10:11 am | Permalink

    I would expect a negative correlation, but I see many problems with safely inferring much from it. As you say, correlation does not imply causation. Second, it is a ranking, so we have no information on the magnitude of the differences between countries. Also, it is an index and the weighting of the components is typically subjective. Finally, the countries have vastly different populations. Should huge China count as an equal observation with tiny Suriname, etc.

    • darrelle
      Posted December 12, 2017 at 11:58 am | Permalink

      “Should huge China count as an equal observation with tiny Suriname, etc.


      I am not sure entirely what you mean here, but if you mean, even in part, whether or not China and Suriname should be assessed using the same criteria I’d say yes.

      If, that is, this kind of exercise is supposed to be a tool for trying to figure out how some societies manage to do better than others and maybe point to some key factors that correlate with different outcomes.

      Size may very well be a key factor. It seems pretty darn likely to me anyway, though I’ve no studies to point to. Taking a quick look at a list of countries by population and comparing it to this list, there is only one country in the top 20 of both lists, Germany.

      • Posted December 12, 2017 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

        I am not talking about judging countries, I am talking about the meaningfulness of the correlation coefficient. The population of China is equal to 280,000 Surinames. It makes little sense to consider them as equal observations in a correlation analysis. Imagine breaking up China into 280,000 countries the size of Suriname but with China’s characteristics. It would completely change the correlation coefficient but nothing real would change with respect to the relationship between religiosity and “goodness.”

  12. Mark Reaume
    Posted December 12, 2017 at 10:29 am | Permalink

    I’m curious if one could make any conclusions from data like this regarding the impact of certain factors like: Country size relative to population, cultural homogeneity.

    For example; Canada has a huge landmass relative to its population similar to Russia in this sense. Canada has roughly the same population as Poland, Morocco, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia and Iraq but a larger landmass than all of those countries combined. Canada also has a fairly diverse population compared with these other countries.

    I’m not sure where I’m going with this other than to say that I’m not sure how valuable these indexes are.

  13. BJ
    Posted December 12, 2017 at 10:30 am | Permalink

    Lists like this are always highly suspect and based largely on the tendencies/biases of the list’s compiler. For example, if the person who created and weighted the various criteria believes CO2 emissions are close in importance to how the government works for its people, a country like Italy will come out ahead of the US. Italy may not have a big impact on the world, but its broken government has a big impact on its people. I’d really like to see the methodology used before taking anything too seriously.

    Additionally, while religiosity could be a factor here, a country’s size also seems to correlate with rank in this list. I’m sure there are other correlations we could find.

  14. Posted December 12, 2017 at 10:31 am | Permalink

    Ok. This intrigued me (and I should be marking) so…
    I used Spearman’s Ro (rank order correlation, 1 tailed) to compare the answers given to a Gallup poll in 2009 (Question “Is religion important in your daily life?”) with the rank order of the countries in the good country index. The match-up was not perfect (n = 130) as not all countries completed the poll (list of exlcusions at bottom).
    Correlation co-efficient was .649, p< .001
    Thats a pretty strong correlation and in the expected direction.
    (Data set available on request)

    Exclusions: Iceland, Mauritius, Barbados, Fiji, Oman, China, Samoa, Timor-leste, Grenada, Brunei, Dominica, Seychelles, Mongolia, Marshall Islands, Swaziland, Antigua and Barbuda, Cape Verde, Bahamas, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Lesotho, Saint Lucia, Guyana, Tonga, Guinea-Bissau, Suriname, Sierra Leone, Gabon, Papua New Guinea, Equatorial Guinea, Libya

  15. Diana MacPherson
    Posted December 12, 2017 at 10:37 am | Permalink

    I also notice another trend – the countries in the top tend to be colder countries and in the northern hemisphere, with the exception of Australia and NZ.

    • Posted December 13, 2017 at 11:32 am | Permalink

      People do speak of “the global south” for a reason, I guess.

  16. Kosmos
    Posted December 12, 2017 at 10:38 am | Permalink

    “In the age of advanced globalization … we’re all part of a massively interconnected system,” he said. “And what goes on in one country invariably has an impact on people in other countries. It’s a closed system, it’s a zero-sum game.”

    That’s a strange statement. The world is certainly not a zero-sum game.

  17. Blue
    Posted December 12, 2017 at 10:40 am | Permalink

    Rankings as this one = are to me incredulous.
    Stats within this one through y2013 / USA !

    In what century are we all breathing and,
    by now, of science and of evidence … … ?

    “Hospitals are .b e g i n n i n g. (huh ?!)
    to implement .s t a n d a r d. approaches to
    managing obstetric emergencies so that, wherever a woman gives birth, she receives appropriate .e v i d e n c e. – based care.”

    beginning ? standard ? evidence ?
    As I asked, what century is this one ?


  18. Craw
    Posted December 12, 2017 at 10:48 am | Permalink

    Looks like a lot of traditionally Protestant countries near the top. I bet they would have been at the top 60 years ago, when they were all much more religious.

  19. John Taylor
    Posted December 12, 2017 at 10:53 am | Permalink

    The Netherlands is second in it’s contribution to global culture? I wonder how they came up with that??? Nothing against the Netherlands. Just curious.

  20. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted December 12, 2017 at 10:54 am | Permalink

    I tend to think the nature of the religion (if any) is a factor.
    Various sociologists have distinguished between dogma-oriented religions vs. ethics-oriented religions, authoritarian religions vs. humanitarian religions.

    Instead of countries today, look at colonies of the pre-1776 United States. I suspect that Quaker Pennsylvania and secular New York (part of Holland at the time) would score far higher than Puritan Massachusetts. Anglican Virginia and Catholic Virginia somewhere in between.

    In the 2 centuries after the Protestant Reformation, Protestant countries were significantly always more economically prosperous than Catholic ones, and in the Middle Ages, Greek Orthodox Byzantium was more economically prosperous than Catholic Europe. (Though not Russian Orthodox Russia.)

    Religions are not static in this way. There was a period in Japanese history in which Buddhism was entangled with the government in a way that had a hugely corrupting effect on the country.
    (I often identify as a secular Buddhist, but deplore the romanticization of Buddhism as a pristine religion by many of its Western practitioners. Western Buddhists are deplorably uninterested in the history of Buddhism!!)

    Countries 1 and 3 and 4 (Netherlands, Denmark, and Finland) on this list are extremely secular, but #2, Switzerland, and #5 Germany are still fairly religious, both having 75% of the population identify as Christian.

    • nicky
      Posted December 12, 2017 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

      well, many Swiss (and Danes) identify as Christian, but when asked for details they turn out to be not really. Is a self-identified Christian, doubting whether Christ died on the cross for atoning our sins a real Christian? Much of Cristianity in Europe is only that in name, methinks.

      • JonLynnHarvey
        Posted December 12, 2017 at 1:56 pm | Permalink

        Some argue that the only criterion for being Christian is the belief that in one way or another Jesus was anointed or gifted by God to lead the world and deliver it from bondage to evil.
        (Plus no Greek Orthodox Christian understands the death of Jesus in this way.)

      • Pierluigi Ballabeni
        Posted December 12, 2017 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

        According to the Swiss Federal Statistical Office, 37.7% of the country’s population identify as Catholics, 25.5 as protestants, 23.1 as without religion, 5.1 as Muslims, 7.4 as having a different religion than the above (data from 2015). 25 out of 26 Swiss cantons have no complete separation between state in religion.
        According to different polls the least religious country of Europe is not a Scandinavian country but the Czech Republic with consistently over 50% atheists.

  21. Eduardo
    Posted December 12, 2017 at 11:04 am | Permalink

    Uruguay is number 49, not bad I guess. Probably would have been higher if judges would have tried milanesas napolitanas there. And also if there weren’t so many Luis Suárez haters…

    • Pierluigi Ballabeni
      Posted December 12, 2017 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

      What does milanesa napolitana mean? It sounds like saying madrileña barcelonesa.

      • Eduardo
        Posted December 12, 2017 at 5:39 pm | Permalink

        A “milanesa” is very similar to a wiener schnitzel. The “napolitana” version has a slice of ham and one of cheese and tomato sauce on top. By the way, I always thought “Neapolitan from Milan” didn’t make sense either but that’s what it’s called.

        • Posted December 13, 2017 at 11:34 am | Permalink

          Food names are often geographically clueless.

          A while ago one could get “Chinese spaghetti” in some restaurants in Quebec, which was a local pasta made with a brown sauce similar to HP sauce, IIRC.

  22. Posted December 12, 2017 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

    As much such ratings usually are not meaningful, this one seems particularly strange. For example, Ukraine rated #1 in Science & Technology Global Contribution. How does that make any sense?

  23. Posted December 12, 2017 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

    We beat Greece! We beat Greece!

    • Curtis
      Posted December 12, 2017 at 3:39 pm | Permalink

      Greece has an unemployment rate of 20% (v.s. 4%) and they are supposedly more prosperous than the US. And they are better in Science and Technology. Yeah.

  24. nicky
    Posted December 12, 2017 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

    Can’t be the stroopwafels, as great as they are, are they really better than American brownie cookies or the Brussels ‘wafels’ with cream?
    In the culinary realm, despite ‘maatjes’ and smoked eel, and stroopwafels and sprits cookies, I think Belgium beats Holland hands down.
    I think the Dutch regressive left is still kind of, well ‘reasonable’ would be exaggerated, somehow ‘engageable’.
    Sweden at no 6 is probably derived from data before the ‘feminist government’ condoned ‘rape epidemic’. Rank 66 would be more realistic IMMO.
    I also note that Canada is the highest ranking non-European country at no 14!
    NZ at no 17, ten places below Ireand appears weird too.

  25. Curtis
    Posted December 12, 2017 at 3:38 pm | Permalink

    This is a joke. Greece and US are basically tied. Take a look at why.

    Greece has an unemployment rate of 20% (v.s. 4%) and they are supposedly way more prosperous than the US.

    Greece is better in Science and Technology as well.

    • BJ
      Posted December 12, 2017 at 7:26 pm | Permalink

      Seriously. If you just think for a moment about where some countries are on this list, it becomes obvious how ridiculous it is.

  26. phoffman56
    Posted December 12, 2017 at 5:58 pm | Permalink

    His website, at a cursory glance, seems very unhelpful as to the detailed method, and even less about this Simon Anholt, who seems to have single-handedly selected which rankings, from U.N. for example, to use. Does anyone here have any info about anything worthwhile this guy has done?

    Without more info, I’m extremely skeptical about whether this particular ranking has any real value whatsoever.

    At the same time, the idea of promoting good things being done to benefit the future of homo sapiens as a whole is clearly admirable.

    But, e.g. Ireland and U.K. ahead of Norway and Iceland??? Take a look at U.N. rankings with respect to all sorts of things: % spent on foreign aid, treatment of children, ditto women, healthcare, education, refugees, etc. etc.

  27. eric
    Posted December 12, 2017 at 8:16 pm | Permalink

    Netherlands, Denmark, Switzerland…I guess they don’t factor weather into “good,” do they?

    I say that only partially tongue in cheek. It makes a certain sense that the social safety net and thus average standard of living will be strong in countries where having inadequate housing would result in a quick death.

  28. dallos
    Posted December 13, 2017 at 3:35 am | Permalink

    It seems to me that this was not clear
    for many of us.

    “The Good Country Index doesn’t measure what countries do at home. This isn’t because we think these things are unimportant, of course, but because there are plenty of surveys that already measure them.”

  29. KD
    Posted December 13, 2017 at 11:27 am | Permalink

    Interesting to me is the competition between the institutions of state and institutions of religion.

    In the old days, there was no monopoly of violence in the hands of the state/crown. Nobles could make wars against each other, and clearly, as in the case of the Crusades, the Church could make war.

    The modern nation-state, and its accoutrements, like flag worship, patriotism/nationalism, veneration of dead patriotic warriors, can be viewed as a substitute religion. The more extensive, and well-developed the state, the more we would find a displacement of religion, such as in our former atheist regimes in the Eastern Block.

    Most of the “very religious” countries don’t have much of a functioning nation-state.

    Of course, the above leaves out the possibility of state co-option of institutions of religion, which is important in places such as Saudi Arabia, and was present in the early modern state churches of the West.

  30. Posted December 13, 2017 at 11:35 am | Permalink

    “But you can thank your lucky stars we don’t live in Paraguay!”
    – Homer Simpson

  31. Posted January 27, 2018 at 11:59 am | Permalink

    To me, the high position awarded to my dear little Bulgaria makes the whole ranking a joke.

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