What Ireland truly excels at is topping indices

Is Ireland really the goodest country in the world?

Ireland was declared top of the newly created “Good Country Index”, a measure of  how countries help others

Ireland was declared top of the newly created “Good Country Index”, a measure of how countries help others

Sun, Jun 29, 2014, 17:58

Ireland, it’s fair to say, punches above its weight in many respects, and there is one area in which it truly excels: international indices.

After topping or bothering the summit of various quality-of-life lists, happiness quotients and where-to-be- born indices, this week Ireland was declared top of the newly created “Good Country Index”, a measure of 135 countries’ overall contribution to humanity using 35 indicators in seven categories, with an emphasis on how countries help others.

That’s an achievement we can all be proud of, surely. However, if there’s another area in which Ireland truly excels, it’s cynicism, so the news was met with more than a few raised eyebrows and barbed scepticism.

The Good Country Index is admittedly an unusual ranking, in that it is attempting to recognise those countries that make a positive global impact.

In the words of its creator, Simon Anholt, the index is designed “to start a global debate about what countries are really for. Do they exist purely to serve the interests of their own politicians, businesses and citizens, or are they actively working for all of humanity and the whole planet?”

Anholt is described as a policy adviser and is a recognised leader in the field of “nation branding”, which sounds like a ham-fisted euphemism for “propagandist”, but there is a certain elegant idealism to his ambition.

That said, nothing is likely to irritate us here in Ireland as much as having, say, our standard of governance praised by a foreigner who doesn’t actually have to endure it. Anholt maintained the findings were sound.

‘Hold heads up high’

“The message to the Irish people is that they can hold their heads up high. No matter how much they are suffering in the last number of years, they haven’t forgotten their international obligations and neither has the Government. They still can feel proud of where they come from,” Anholt said after being “deluged” by correspondence from sceptical Irish people.

Ultimately, however, there is something facile about such rankings. Not only is the task of quantifying national levels of qualities such as happiness or optimism notoriously difficult, but they are also an attempt to project human characteristics on nation states.

Do “countries” do good or ill? Do “nations” have personalities, or persistent character flaws? Do “states” suffer happiness or sadness, or even possess morals? Of course not – people do good or ill, and while people may act in concert towards certain national aims and within certain national traditions, that’s not the same thing.

Of course, if we truly must pit one country against another to determine which one is the greatest, well, there’s a certain global event taking place in Brazil at the moment that’s doing a pretty fine job in that regard. For what it’s worth, I’m rooting for Costa Rica (position in the Good Country Index – 22; position in the Economist’s Where-to-be-born Index – 30; position in the New Economics Foundation’s Happy Planet Index – 1; impressing the globe at the World Cup – priceless.)