The importance of being ‘good’ in a selfish world

National problems require global solutions, which aren't going to be found by building walls and turning our backs on globalisation, argues Simon Anholt, creator of The Good Country Index

“Make America Great Again,” shouted Donald Trump. “Our Money Our Priorities,” proclaimed Nigel Farage. “Defend our colours,” demands Marine Le Pen. The message is clear: it’s our country and our people who should be first.

Denmark, too, is not immune from nativism. The Danish Peoples Party (DF) have employed slogans such as “Our Denmark – there is so much, we must protect”, “Give us Denmark back” and “More Denmark, less EU”.

An experienced policy advisor for more than 30 countries, he can empathise with politicians and the duty they feel to put their own citizens first. But he argues that it’s the wrong approach to take, if we really want to solve the problems the world is facing.

“Trump’s ‘America First’ is not a mantra I have a problem with. He’s the US President, so of course he should put America first. The thing I question is whether every other country has to come last?” Anholt asks.

He is responsible for the Good Country Index’, which ranks countries on their contributions toward the common good of humanity. With criteria that include international peace and security, planet and climate, and prosperity and equality, the focus is not on what each country does to help its own citizens, but rather what they are doing for rest of the world.

“The countries at the bottom of the index are not there because I disagree or disapprove of them. I just observe the fact that counties who have domestic problems don’t think much about the rest of humanity. Is that a good or a bad thing? I think it’s understandable.”

Global problems & solutions
Being good matters, not only because it makes the world a better place. Solving problems such as global warming and poverty can hinder terrorism and migration disasters. And if your country has a good reputation, people are more inclined to trade with you, Anholt points out.

Erecting a drawbridge to the rest of the world, and the problems we share, is therefore a short-sighted solution says Anholt, who argues that almost none of the big problems humanity faces can be solved by individual countries – we have to address the shared root causes.

“The problems are beyond the capacity of the rich countries to solve. America can’t fix the financial crisis alone, Mexico can’t fix drug trafficking and EU can’t fix migration. These problems are globalised and if you try to push it down in one country it’ll just pop up in another. The only way to resolve these big challenges is if countries work together.”

It’s not an issue of altruism or self-sacrifice, but rather ‘enlightened self-interest’, as solving domestic problems does not necessarily conflict with solving global problems, and vice-versa. But there is little incentive to pursue this approach, as politicians walk an incredibly narrow tightrope between taking international responsibility and maintaining domestic popularity.

“Germany Chancellor Angela Merkel tried to do the right thing by showing that Germany is open to all migrants. That was a wonderful thing to do and probably very good for the German economy in the long run, but it cost her an enormous amount of political capital,” says Anholt.

A world turning selfish
The election of Trump, and the UK referendum to leave the EU, demonstrate that voters in the West are attracted to protectionism. Anholt blames politicians for their poor management of globalisation, which manifested industrial decline and financial instability.

“They didn’t do enough to prepare the population for the loss of jobs and influence, which globalisation was going to bring. People could see this 30-40 years ago, that globalisation was going to cost jobs and growth if governments didn’t adapt to it. They failed and now we’re paying the price of it.”

Some of these problems could have been avoided if politicians had the courage to make structural changes to welfare systems, education and industries to prepare people for the effects of globalisation, he argues.

“A lot of governments have allowed big corporations to benefit enormously from the forces of globalisation. The gains of globalisation have not been shared very equally,” says Simon Anholt, adding that politicians are not as good as they used to be.

“They have been less honourable people, they have told the truth less and less, so it’s not surprising that people have decided that anybody who doesn’t look like a politician is going to do better.”

In or out
Tackling problems politically is made harder because the anti-establishment has been so successful at redefining the political rulebook. Young people especially do not relate to the traditional left and right wing spectrum, as they too are wooed by the narrative that it is possible to return to the days before globalisation.

It’s a plan that many Europeans agree with, according to a recent poll from BertelsmannStiftung for Reuters. They asked Europeans whether they see globalisation as a threat or as an opportunity and in Austria – where Norbert Hofer recently was close to becoming the first far-right leader of European country since WW2 – 55 percent responded that globalisation is a threat. In France 54 percent agreed, while in Germany and the Netherlands 45 percent and 40 percent also held a negative outlook on globalisation, respectively.

But you can’t press rewind on globalisation. There might be short-term benefits to withdrawing from international trade and cooperation, but in doing so countries lose the capacity to address global challenges such as global warming, terrorism and migration.

“You can try to pretend that you’re not part of the global world, but I don’t think it will do any good in the short or the long term,” says Anholt.

He thinks there is a need for a new political paradigm that is built around whether people look inward or outward, and want to move backward or forward.

“I think it’s better to look forward. Embrace globalisation and see it for what it is – an unstoppable and irreversible force that is mostly good. If only we can figure out to handle it better.” M


By Emil Staulund Larsen

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