Is America a Great Country? What Makes a Country Great?
Donald Trump raised the question of America’s greatness in 2016. He chose “Make America Great Again” as his campaign slogan. His slogan implies that America was great in the past and he will help America become great again.
As seen by Trump, the policies of Obama and Democrats caused the Great Fall. The bad guys allowed the Chinese to steal our technology. They gave away too much of our tax money to our allies who should have paid more for their defense. The U.S. signed too many terrible agreements with the World Health Organization, the Paris Climate Agreement, the Iranian nuclear agreement, North American Free Trade Agreement, all of which Trump repudiated. The U.S. let its companies move abroad and kill the number of U.S. jobs. The country has let in too many immigrants and Trump needed to build a Great Wall to exclude them.
Trump chanted that he would make America great again. Trump slowly moved to the idea of “America First.” “America First” is an old isolationist idea of not getting involved with the problems of other countries. However, America First slowly leads to the idea America Only, an America that only cares about itself. America, once the world’s superpower, the country that most other countries looked to for guidance and democracy, decided to give up this role. Today, our major allies now hold meetings without us to develop their own plans and solutions. Many leaders of foreign governments have moved from admiring America to pity for America.
Where Things Stand Today
The Social Progress Index, begun in 2011, reported in September 2020 that three countries out of 163 countries were actually worse off today than in 2011.[i] The three outliers were the United States, Brazil and Hungary. The index collects 50 metrics of well-being such as nutrition, education, health, safety, and the environment. The countries in the index that stand highest for their quality of life are Norway, Denmark, Finland and New Zealand. The United States, which ranked 19th in 2011, slipped to 28th. Countries such as Estonia, Czech Republic, and several others stood higher than the U.S. Michael Green, the C.E.O. of the group behind the Social Progress Index said: “Societies that are inclusive, tolerant and better educated are better able to manage the pandemic”… among other things.
The fact that the U.S. ranked 19 in 2011 established that America’s decline preceded the Trump’s presidency. However, it is also clear by the U.S.’s 28th rank in 2020 that Trump has accelerated, not reversed the decline.
The U.S. is still at the top in some areas, such as the quality of its universities, in its medical technology, and innovativeness. At the same time, its kids do poorly in math and science compared to many other nations. The U.S. health care system costs twice as much as top quality health systems abroad without performing much better. America’s rank is at 100 in the metric “discriminating against minorities.”
Can America Became a Great Country Again?
The question of what makes a country great is not open to a simple answer. I know of two studies, both published in 2016, that extensively addressed this question.
· The Best Countries study. This study ranks 60 countries according to their present and future economic performance and brand image appeal.[ii]
· The Good Country Index. This study ranks 163 countries according to how much they care about helping the whole world become a better living human community.[iii]
The United States ranked very differently in the two studies. It ranked 4th in the Best Countries study and 20th in the Good Country study.
The Best Countries Study
The “best countries” study was jointly sponsored by the U.S. News & World Report, WPPs BAV Consulting and the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business. Professor David Reibstein of the Wharton Business School took a leadership role.
The researchers examined 60 nations and gathered data on 65 factors including sustainability, entrepreneurship, economic influence, adventure, and cultural influence. More than 16,200 business leaders, informed elites and general citizens supplied data and their views.
The researchers sought to determine where each country stood in economic performance and brand image appeal. The 10 best countries were: 1. Germany, 2. Canada, 3. United Kingdom, 4. United States. 5. Sweden, 6. Australia, 7. Japan, 8. France, 9. Netherlands and 10. Denmark.
The Best Countries researchers carried out several separate studies. For example, the three best countries for raising kids are Sweden, Denmark, and Canada. The three best countries for comfortable retirement are Costa Rica, Ireland, and Canada.
Professor Reibstein pointed out that the best way for a country to improve its overall best country rank is by identifying its weak areas and improving them.[iii] He identified the indices where the U.S. was weak and said this is where the U.S. political parties need to focus their efforts.
The Good Country Index
In 2014, Simon Anholt published a Good Country Index that ranked countries by the extent that they contribute to the common good, relative to their size. Large countries may contribute more dollars to good causes than small countries but he corrects this by size.
His study asks whether a country is primarily focused on serving its own businesses and citizens, or actively working for all of humanity and the planet? Anholt uses 35 datasets grouped into seven categories: 1. Science and Technology, 2. Culture, 3. International Peace and Security, 4. World Order, 5. Planet & Climate, 6, Prosperity & Equality, and 7. Health and Well-Being.
Simon Anholt believes that countries are not unconnected islands; they are all part of one system. Here are the 10 top countries in the Good Country Index: 1. Sweden, 2. Denmark, 3. Netherlands, 4. United Kingdom, 5. Switzerland, 6. Germany, 7. Finland, 8. France, 9. Austria, and 10. Canada.
Some Observations in Comparing the Countries in the Two Studies
The first thing to notice is that seven of the ten top countries are in both studies: Germany, Canada, United Kingdom, Sweden, France, Netherlands, and Denmark. These seven countries can rightfully claim that they are Great Countries. They not only rank high on economic performance and brand image appeal but they also care about other countries and the planet. These world citizen countries can serve as role models for other countries to emulate.
Second, several major nations who should be caring about other countries and the planet do not stand as high as we would expect. These countries have the resources to show caring but not the behavior. They are Australia (18), Japan (19) and the U.S. (20).
Third, some other major countries score quite low on “Goodness.” They are Brazil (47), India (61), Mexico (62), China (64), and Russia (78). These countries are very self-involved and have tough internal problems.
Fourth, the following countries rank poor on their level of “Goodness”: Saudi Arabia (89), Pakistan (111), and Iran (130).
We acknowledge that in classifying countries as being “Best” or “Good,” we are operating at a high level of generalization. A country is a complex entity with a special history, containing many different cities, and carrying on many different activities. It is too easy to stereotype countries using a few observations.
At the same time, both studies relied on a huge amount of country data. Both research groups stand ready to make their methodologies known and examined. They expect some countries to be upset with their ranking who may ask for further analysis if not revision.
We hope that U.S. citizens acknowledge the U.S. decline in its “Greatness.” Trump’s approach to “Make America Great Again” only worsened our standing. We need the political forces in our country to come together and restructure our systems and policies to Make America Great Again.
[i] Nicholas Kristof, “We’re No 28! And Dropping,” New York Times, September 9, 2020.