The World’s Best Governments

Politics might be little more than background noise to most Canadians, but you might be surprised to learn that Canada is one of the world’s 10 best-governed jurisdictions. So suggest numbers published online by the World Bank’s Worldwide Governance Indicators Project.

Since 1996, the Worldwide Governance Indicators Project, headed by Daniel Kaufmann of the Brookings Institution, Aart Kraay of the World Bank Development Economics Research Group and Massimo Mastruzzi of World Bank Institute, have been tracking the performance of the world’s countries and autonomous regions in six areas of performance: giving citizens a voice in how the place is run and in being accountable to them, political stability, overall government effectiveness, quality of regulation, rule of law and control of corruption.

In each of these six areas, the Project assigns each country or autonomous region a score of up to 100. As the following table of the world’s 25 best-governed nations shows, Canada ranked 10th overall as of the Project’s latest update on the state of the world’s governments, released in 2009. Nordic countries — Finland, Denmark and Sweden — dominated the top three spots while the rest of the top 10 spots were dominated by other smaller northern European countries, aside from New Zealand in fifth place.

World's 25 best governments, 2009 (Click to enlarge)

World's 25 best governments, 2009 (Click to enlarge)

For simplicity, numerical scores have been converted into letter grades as follows:

  • A+ (97-100)
  • A (93-96)
  • A- (90-92)
  • B+ (87-89)
  • B (83-86)
  • B- (80-82)
  • C+ (77-79)
  • C (73-76)
  • C- (70-72)
  • D+ (67-69)
  • D (63-66)
  • D- (60-62)
  • F (below 60)

Canada’s only significant shortcoming was in government stability, though even here we finished with a respectable 85 out of 100, still good enough for a ‘B’ grade.

Britain — on whose model of government Canada’s is based — also faced shortcomings on political stability, scoring only 55 out of 100, earning it an ‘F’ in this regard and preventing it from enjoying a higher rank given its excellent scores in other areas.

The United States was also held back by a poor score on political stability (59 out of 100, which earned it an ‘F’), causing it to fall just short of the Top 25 with a 28th place finish despite earning more respectable Bs in most other aspects of government and one A-minus on rule of law.

The worst-governed countries included Somalia, Myanmar, Afghanistan, Congo and Zimbabwe, all of which earned average scores of less than 5 out of 100.

Of the 213 jurisdictions measured, only the top eight percent — home to a mere three percent of the world’s population — merited an overall grade of A- or better. Sixty-two percent of jurisdictions earned a failing grade overall, and 43 percent of places failed in all six areas measured.

Lesson learned: If you’re lucky enough to live in Canada, you’ve got it pretty good. But if you ever want advice on how to run a really good government, call Finland.

About theviewfromseven
A lone wolf and a bit of a contrarian who sometimes has something to share.

14 Responses to The World’s Best Governments

  1. John Dobbin says:

    Am I to take the meaning that they believe majority governments makes for better governments?

    As for Finland, they are about to have an election where the True Finns could make gains and they have a reputation for being xenophobic and anti-Europe.

  2. theviewfromseven says:

    The findings seem to suggest the contrary: the top of the list is dominated by countries with legislatures elected in whole or in part by proportional representation at fixed election dates. It’s easy to see how this can be beneficial to governance: the assumption that two or more parties will have to share power keeps the ideologues in check. So does the minimal effect of a two- or three-percentage point shift in the vote in those countries compared to Canada, the U.S. or Britain, where even small across-the-board shifts can mean big differences in seat counts, thus empowering the ideological base vote. A fixed election date can also reduce tensions by removing the threat of an early election as an intimidation tactic.

    The True Finns, distasteful as they are, can be contained. Their latest polling numbers would give them about 15 percent of the vote, which might make them a coalition partner but still only give them by one estimate only about 20 out of 200 seats, given the way their support is spread out among Finland’s 16 electoral districts. Election dates are fixed — the third Sunday in March of every fourth year — so they cannot use the threat of an early election as leverage.

  3. John Dobbin says:

    I wonder if removing confidence votes, fixed elections and proportional representation would actually make things more stable. It is possible given our diversified population that it would make thing more unstable.

    The very quick rise in the True Finns popularity seems to indicate they will have a greater influence than just how many votes they win in this election. Most certainly it will affect the relationship with Europe, immigration and most likely the stability that saw them at the top of the world chart.

  4. theviewfromseven says:

    I doubt that we’ll see much movement toward electoral reform in Canada over the next 10 years unless there is a government so polarizing that electoral reform becomes a tool for punishing that government. Right now, the political mood in Canada can be best described as “meh” — people care more about hockey, reality TV and mundane local issues than they do about what the smarter President Bush called “that vision thing”.

    That indifference to the parties and to how governments are elected will likely increase over the next decade as the ’80s and ’90s generation — the Me Generation on steroids, who are more interested in joining a customized mix of interest groups instead of a package-deal political party, if they’re interested in politics at all — make up a larger percentage of the voting age population.

    As for Finland, we can only wait and see. However, Switzerland, Austria and Denmark have had good success at minimizing the impact of populist outbursts. It probably helps that most individual European countries aren’t large enough to support entire industries dedicated to ideology and campaign battles as is the case in U.S., and that strict broadcast regulations have prevented cable/satellite television and talk radio from becoming the open sewers that they’ve become in North America.

  5. Reed Solomon says:

    It doesn’t really speak so much about Canada as speak poorly of most countries of the world.

  6. theviewfromseven says:

    You’re right, it does speak poorly of how much of the world is run.

  7. Latifa says:

    What about the United States…?

  8. theviewfromseven says:

    @ Latifa: The U.S. ranked #28

  9. Iggy says:

    I’m a bit confused by what is meant by Political Stability. Just because one party is capable of staying in power doesn’t necessarily make it a good government.

    I am assuming, based on what you seem to say, is that until recently most of the Arab nations would have ranked highly for political stability. Further, I imagine North Korea is ranked close to no. 1 for this, along with perhaps China and Cuba.

    Political stability should take into account smooth changeover of power following an election, related to the number of (fair) elections and also the number of parties involved in the process. If a new party is able to take over without huge changeover problems, then surely that is also a measure of political stability.

    As to voice and accountability, coming from Singapore I feel that there is also something wrong there too. Much of Singapore’s governance is at grass roots level, with a comprehensive system of councils, who channel viewpoints through to higher government. Since it is such a small nation, this actually seems to work very effectively. I am sure that there are many things wrong with the governance here in terms of voice and accountability, but hardly a fail.

    Just to clarify: are you saying that United Kingdom ranks alongside, presumably, most West and Central African nations in terms of political stability. Also, presumably way below China, North Korea, Cuba? Further are you saying that Singapore has less accountability than many of these nations as well?

  10. theviewfromseven says:

    @ Iggy: The World Bank’s World Governance Indicators tend to show smaller countries having an advantage over larger countries in terms of stability, and low-corruption countries having an advantage over more corrupt ones.

    There is one factor that is probably more important than political longevity or the peaceful transfer of power here: the lack of surprises.

    An open society like Sweden is stable because people know what changes are coming well in advance. These changes come after widespread consultations, and everyone is given time to prepare for them. Less stable countries tend to have less consultation, and changes can come as a total surprise.

    As for accountability, there are concerns from multiple sources about Singapore’s political system:

    – Reporters without Borders wrote an open letter to the Prime Minister in 2010 to complain that the Singapore Government “has repeatedly displayed a disturbing inability to tolerate foreign journalists.”

    – Amnesty International’s 2010 report noted that “laws were tightened to limit freedom of expression and assembly, and used to intimidate and punish increasingly outspoken critics and opposition activists” in Singapore.

    – Human Rights Watch notes that “government authorities still curtail rights to freedom of expression, association, and assembly” and uses “contempt of court, criminal and civil defamation, and sedition charges to rein in critics.”

  11. Iggy says:

    Yes, that may be so. However, in both cases you gave an ‘F’. That presumably is the lowest grade for both countries in those categories. I can tell you that Singapore does have problems with its political system, but it doesn’t ‘disappear’ or torture its political prisoners (if indeed it has any), falsify election results, or indeed have a population who are basically dissatisfied with their government (have you seen the Singapore economy lately? Not to mention the various studies on ‘best places to live’). Okay, so it doesn’t like foreign journalists – looking at the standard of journalism at places like News International, I would be inclined to agree with them. However, whatever way you look at it, your ratings are skewed. I’m sure something like a C rating would be more appropriate than an F. The same with the UK for stability.

  12. All governments of countries of the world must be good equally in Governance and Administration! Bad and corrupted governments must be punished legally and socially !

  13. F for British stability?

    Of all the things Britain may or may not be I don’t see how anyone could begin to say they’re unstable they’re so stable they still have a monarch as head of state their political system has been relatively unchanged for roughly 130 years.

  14. Reef says:

    I don’t believe in a system that believes inequality is essential to encourage innovation and economic development. I don’t believe in the USA and have dreams of taking a boat, food, water and an oxygen tank. Going into the sea and diving into shark infested waters when I get into chartered territory.

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