The World’s Best Countries, 2017 Edition: Denmark, Made Great Again

It has been more than two years since the last time I compared countries across four indices — the Human Development Index, the Corruption Perceptions Index, the World Competitiveness Scoreboard and the Global Peace Index — in search of the world’s best countries. So, I decided that it was time to do so again to see if anyone has moved up, or down, in the world.

This is particularly timely given that the White House is currently occupied by a bizarre new president who has vowed to “make America great again”. Just what does “great” look like? To be a contender, by my standards, a great country needs to provide its citizens with an exceptional quality of life, an honest form of government and judicial dispute resolution, economic opportunity, and protection from harm. Thus, it should rank highly across all four of the indices noted above.

As I did last time, I converted each country’s raw score in each index — not its rank — into a new score showing the country’s proximity to the best performer in that class. Then, I calculated the average score across the four indices

Last time out, Denmark emerged as the world’s best country, followed closely by Switzerland, New Zealand, Finland and Norway. Canada’s average score of 91.6 was good enough for a seventh-place finish, just behind Sweden.

This year, not much has changed. Denmark, Switzerland and New Zealand repeat their first-, second- and third-place finishes, with Sweden and (surprise!) Singapore rounding out the top five — even though Singapore performed relatively weakly in the Global Peace Index. Iceland, Norway and Canada tied for sixth place with a score of 91.5, while Finland and the Netherlands round out the top 10 with another tie at 90.1 each.

COUNTRY HUMAN DEVELOPMENT INDEX (2015) CORRUPTION PERCEPTIONS INDEX (2016) WORLD COMPETITIVENESS SCOREBOARD (2016) GLOBAL PEACE INDEX (2016) AVERAGE
Denmark 97.5 100.0 93.6 95.7 96.7
Switzerland 98.9 95.6 100.0 87.0 95.4
New Zealand 96.4 100.0 87.3 92.6 94.1
Sweden 96.2 97.8 94.2 81.6 92.5
Singapore 97.5 93.3 99.6 77.7 92.0
Iceland 97.0 86.7 82.2 100.0 91.5
Norway 100.0 94.4 91.9 79.5 91.5
Canada 96.9 91.1 91.9 85.9 91.5
Finland 94.3 98.9 83.7 83.4 90.1
Netherlands 97.4 92.2 93.2 77.4 90.1
Germany 97.6 90.0 90.4 80.2 89.6
Ireland 97.3 81.1 93.4 83.2 88.8
Australia 98.9 87.8 86.0 81.4 88.5
Austria 94.1 83.3 81.8 93.3 88.1
Japan 95.2 80.0 80.3 85.4 85.2
Belgium 94.4 85.6 82.3 78.0 85.1
United Kingdom 95.8 90.0 85.0 65.1 84.0
United States 96.9 82.2 99.9 55.3 83.6
France 94.5 76.7 74.9 65.2 77.8

What if we calculate each country’s standing a bit differently by looking not at the average, but at the weakest link — the point at which the country deviates the most from the perfect score of 100? In this case, Denmark still remains number-one, with a score of 93.6, followed by New Zealand and Switzerland. Canada, meanwhile, breaks out of its tie with Norway and Iceland for a fourth-place finish.

COUNTRY HUMAN DEVELOPMENT INDEX (2015) CORRUPTION PERCEPTIONS INDEX (2016) WORLD COMPETITIVENESS SCOREBOARD (2016) GLOBAL PEACE INDEX (2016) “WEAKEST LINK”
Denmark 97.5 100.0 93.6 95.7 93.6
New Zealand 96.4 100.0 87.3 92.6 87.3
Switzerland 98.9 95.6 100.0 87.0 87.0
Canada 96.9 91.1 91.9 85.9 85.9
Finland 94.3 98.9 83.7 83.4 83.4
Iceland 97.0 86.7 82.2 100.0 82.2
Austria 94.1 83.3 81.8 93.3 81.8
Sweden 96.2 97.8 94.2 81.6 81.6
Australia 98.9 87.8 86.0 81.4 81.4
Ireland 97.3 81.1 93.4 83.2 81.1
Germany 97.6 90.0 90.4 80.2 80.2
Japan 95.2 80.0 80.3 85.4 80.0
Norway 100.0 94.4 91.9 79.5 79.5
Belgium 94.4 85.6 82.3 78.0 78.0
Singapore 97.5 93.3 99.6 77.7 77.7
Netherlands 97.4 92.2 93.2 77.4 77.4
France 94.5 76.7 74.9 65.2 65.2
United Kingdom 95.8 90.0 85.0 65.1 65.1
United States 96.9 82.2 99.9 55.3 55.3

Improving in one area can help a country improve its performance in all four areas. For example, corruption can take a toll on a people’s well-being, stifle economic growth and spark a desperate struggle for mere survival that can rob a country of its peace. Likewise, improvements in education — a “human development” issue — can reduce tolerance for corruption, open up additional economic opportunities and calm the overall social environment.

Some countries, including Canada, have done a good job in that regard, and have the excellent quality of life to show for it. But for now, the Danes can justifiably pat themselves on the back for a job well done — and grin broadly at how jealous the Swedes, their traditional friendly rivals, will be.

The world’s best countries

Earlier today, The Economist declared Somalia the unfortunate winner of the British newsmagazine’s ultimate booby prize — The Worst Country on Earth. Previous winners Afghanistan and Turkmenistan would undoubtedly have been relieved to be rid of the title if they weren’t preoccupied with all their other problems.

At the same time, The Economist’s writers put out a challenge to readers to nominate the best country on Earth.

Naturally, I’d be inclined to nominate Canada — but I decided instead to open up a spreadsheet and do a quick calculation of where the 20 highest ranking nations in the latest United Nations Human Development Index stood in three other widely consulted indicators of good government: Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index, the Switzerland-based Institute for Management Development’s World Competitiveness Scoreboard and Vision of Humanity’s Global Peace Index.

There are three things I should note here. First, I was forced to drop Iceland and Liechtenstein because of incomplete information. Second, in the Human Development Index rankings, I treated two countries with the same raw score as being tied, which is something the Wikipedia article does not do. Third, countries that did not finish in the Human Development Index Top 20 were excluded as not meeting a vital minimum standard for being considered as one of the world’s 10 best-run countries.

I calculated each country’s average ranking across the four indexes. Wherever there was a tie, I used each country’s worst score — its weakest link — as the tie-breaker. As the countries were ranked from best to worst, the closer a country’s average ranking came to ‘1’, the better.

Keep in mind that this is just for fun, and something I had no intention of working all night on — other people might have other methodologies and criticisms of this one.

Without any further ado, here is a countdown of the world’s ten best-run countries.

Luxembourg

#10 -- Luxembourg, average rank 11.5 (Copyright © Albert Nagy; from Panoramio)

The Netherlands

#9 -- The Netherlands; average rank 11.0 (Copyright © yo-rafael; from Panoramio)

New Zealand

#8 -- New Zealand; average rank 9.25 (Copyright © funtor; from Panoramio)

Australia

#7 -- Australia, average rank 9.0 (Copyright © Daniel Meyer; from Panoramio)

Switzerland

#6 -- Switzerland, average rank 9.0 (Copyright © wx; from Panoramio)

Finland

#5 -- Finland, average rank 9.0 (Copyright © picsonthemove; from Panoramio)

Canada

#4 -- Canada (yay!), average rank 7.0 (Copyright © Lukas Novak; from Panoramio)

Norway

#3 -- Norway, average rank 6.25 (Copyright © Matthew Walters; from Panoramio)

Denmark

#2 -- Denmark, average rank 5.75 (Copyright © KWO Tsoumenis; from Panoramio)

And now the grand prize winner as the world’s best-run country:

Sweden

#1 -- Sweden, average rank 5.5 (Copyright © Adam Salwanowicz; from Panoramio)

The others:

11. Japan (12.5)
12. Ireland (12.5)
13. Austria (12.75)
14. Belgium (18.75)
15. France (22.5)
16. Spain (28.25)
17. United States (29.00)
18. Italy (41.75)