The World’s Best Countries, 2018: Small is beautiful in a turbulent world

As traditional powers such as the United States, France and the United Kingdom struggle through another year of dysfunction, those looking for a better way of doing things would do well to look at some of the world’s smaller countries for inspiration. So suggests this year’s estimation of the world’s best countries.

This estimation is based on four popular indices of national performance: the UN’s Human Development Index, the International Institute for Management Development’s World Competitiveness Scoreboard, Vision of Humanity’s Global Peace Index, and Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index. The goal of this exercise is to identify which of the world’s countries could credibly claim to be the world’s best at providing a high standard of living in a safe and peaceful setting, while enjoying the benefits of a robust economy and the trust that others can be counted upon to be fair and honest.

Since each index assigns scores differently, I’ve standardized the scores by comparing each country to the best performer in each given index, with the best-performing country having a score of 100.

If one assumes the best country to be the one with all four scores closest to 100, then this year’s winner is a bit of a surprise: Austria. This small Alpine country of less than nine million people scored consistently very well, if not perfectly, right across the board, with all four scores being greater than eighty. Similarly strong performers included New Zealand, Iceland and Denmark. Canada finished a strong fifth.

COUNTRY HUMAN DEVELOPMENT INDEX WORLD COMPETITIVENESS SCOREBOARD GLOBAL PEACE INDEX CORRUPTION PERCEPTIONS INDEX ALL SCORES EQUAL TO OR GREATER THAN…
Austria 95.3 87.3 86 84.3 84.3
New Zealand 96.2 83.9 91.9 100 83.9
Iceland 98.1 83.2 100 86.5 83.2
Denmark 97.5 96.4 81 98.9 81
Canada 97.2 94.3 79.9 92.1 79.9
Singapore 97.8 98.6 79.3 94.4 79.3
Japan 95.4 81.3 78.8 82 78.8
Ireland 98.4 92.1 78.7 83.1 78.7
Switzerland 99.1 97.1 77.9 95.5 77.9
Australia 98.5 87.1 76.4 86.5 76.4
Sweden 97.9 95 73 94.4 73
Finland 96.5 88.4 72.8 95.5 72.8
Norway 100 95.4 72.2 95.5 72.2
Germany 98.2 88.8 71.6 91 71.6
Portugal 88.9 76.2 83.2 70.8 70.8

If one looks instead at the average score, which favours those countries with the lowest overall deviation from a score of 100 even if there is a shortcoming in one area, then the order changes slightly. By that standard, Denmark can claim to have been the world’s best country in 2018, an honour it wouldn’t be claiming for the first time, but hampered slightly by a slightly weaker Global Peace Index score. New Zealand again claims the number-two spot, followed by… Singapore.

Singapore’s strong performance is an interesting case, in that it can at best be called an illiberal democracy: critics of the government can and do find themselves sued for defamation, and even use of the city-state’s Speakers’ Corner is carefully monitored. Yet it scored very well in human development, economic competitiveness and lack of corruption, and on par with Canada in terms of peace and safety. If you’re in the market for a system of government that runs things with a very firm hand, yet delivers results, Singapore sets the standard.

But don’t give up on liberal democracy just yet: the rest of the list is full of quite liberal places, with Canada finishing just a bit behind Switzerland and Iceland, and just ahead of Norway and Sweden. The Nordics are still very much on-the-ball when it comes to doing a good job of running a country.

 

COUNTRY HUMAN DEVELOPMENT INDEX WORLD COMPETITIVENESS SCOREBOARD GLOBAL PEACE INDEX CORRUPTION PERCEPTIONS INDEX AVERAGE SCORE
Denmark 97.5 96.4 81 98.9 93.45
New Zealand 96.2 83.9 91.9 100 93
Singapore 97.8 98.6 79.3 94.4 92.525
Switzerland 99.1 97.1 77.9 95.5 92.4
Iceland 98.1 83.2 100 86.5 91.95
Canada 97.2 94.3 79.9 92.1 90.875
Norway 100 95.4 72.2 95.5 90.775
Sweden 97.9 95 73 94.4 90.075
Netherlands 97.7 97.5 69.6 92.1 89.225
Finland 96.5 88.4 72.8 95.5 88.3
Austria 95.3 87.3 86 84.3 88.225
Ireland 98.4 92.1 78.7 83.1 88.075
Germany 98.2 88.8 71.6 91 87.4
Australia 98.5 87.1 76.4 86.5 87.125
Japan 95.4 81.3 78.8 82 84.375

 

The year 2018 was a less happy one for traditional great powers. Based on the first measure further above, the United Kingdom finished 29th, France 30th and the United States 37th. The average score method used immediately above delivered happier results, with the U.K. at 16th place, the U.S. 19th, and France 24th. They could all use a little more of whatever it is Austria, Denmark and New Zealand have going for them; as could much of the rest of the world.

Advertisements

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)