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Opinion: We Need Good Countries

27 April 2017

Simon Anholt, Founder, The Good Country

Here’s a slightly different account of what happened in 2016, that fateful year for global democracy:

Hillary Clinton won the US presidential election by a landslide with 52% of the total vote. Jill Stein, the Green Party candidate, was the runner-up with 19%; Donald Trump finished third; and Gary Johnson was almost nowhere — he may well have spoiled his chances by letting slip that he’d never heard of Aleppo.

Of course, these results came as no surprise, following on as they did just a few months after the Brexit referendum when a massive 86% of people voted for the United Kingdom to remain in the European Union.

So, in which parallel universe did these events take place?

Actually, this is how the world voted. More than 150,000 people from 130 countries have taken part in the first 10 elections covered by the Global Vote (globalvote.org) since I launched the platform in June 2016. The Global Vote is a mechanism that allows people worldwide who are affected by elections and referenda to cast their vote, even if they are excluded by age or nationality from voting formally.

At the very least, it’s a way of acknowledging how deeply interconnected we all are; at the most, it could be the beginning of the globalization of democracy.

When you take part in a Global Vote, you're not thinking about what each candidate might do for their own population — those are matters purely for the citizens of that country. You're simply looking at their answers to the two key questions I always ask:

1. If you are elected, what will you do for the rest of us around the world?

2. What is your vision for your country's role in the world?

By asking each candidate about their international intentions, election after election, my hope is that those questions will eventually become accepted as part of the normal election process. No candidate will be able to stand without a clear policy regarding their country’s role in the world and a structured vision of how they will cooperate and collaborate with other leaders and populations.

For now the Global Vote is symbolic, but as soon as we have more people outside any given country voting in its election as there are inside the country, it becomes impossible to ignore. And leaders the world over might start thinking not merely about being good neighbors, but also about being good ancestors. They might start to understand that when you are elected to run a country, you also join the team that runs the planet.

I believe that all leaders today (and that includes the leaders of nations, cities, regions, towns, schools, universities, companies and other organizations) have a dual mandate. They are primarily responsible for their own people and their own slice of territory, but they also share responsibility for every man, woman, child and animal on the planet, for every square mile of the planet’s surface and the atmosphere above it.

In an age of constant crisis and terrifying global challenges, it’s very tempting to retreat into selfishness, tribalism, fear, and hostility towards the rest of our species. And in times like these we are never short of politicians who win support by echoing that fear and hostility. Since our problems are global and our challenges are shared, however, they’re heading the wrong way.

We need leaders with minds that telescope outward, not minds that microscope inward. A lot more collaboration and cooperation between countries, and a little less competition, is the only way forward.

The Global Vote aims to ensure that this critical attribute is never forgotten when we choose our leaders. Right-wing or left-wing, conservative or progressive, the politics are secondary to the main question: Are you with humanity, or against it? Do you offer the false comfort of looking backward and inward, or do you offer hope in looking forward and outward?

The Good Country

Each generation has faced its own challenges, and most are as old as humanity itself: poverty, intolerance, inequality, war, disease. But what’s unusual about our age is how communications and transport have made those problems more global, frequent and intractable. All are now beyond any single country’s power to resolve.

Humanity needs to work together if it’s going to survive. That’s challenging because we’re organized as we have been for centuries — as competing, inward-looking, self-serving tribes called nations. We must collaborate, but we’re still set up to compete. In fact, we are obsessed with competition. Competition is fundamental to human nature, and has produced much progress, but it becomes troublesome when it’s the only god we worship.

We’ve had enough of successful and unsuccessful countries, and we’ve seen what a desperately divisive and unfair contest that is. Now we need good countries. What I call a Good Country is one whose leaders combine their traditional responsibility towards their own people and territory with responsibility towards all humanity and the planet — leaders with minds that telescope, not microscope.

It might seem as if things are moving in the wrong direction. As conflicts and resource scarcity multiply, producing more migration (UNHCR’s 2015 Global Trends reports a quadrupling in the last decade, with 24 new refugees each minute), it’s not surprising that nationalism, tribalism and fundamentalism are on the rise, inflamed by a generalized anxiety about terrorism, climate change, pandemics and economic instability.

Opportunistic politicians are profiting (as they always do in troubled times) by echoing the fear and anger of voters, and peddling the old, old lie that all the trouble in the world is caused by foreigners, outsiders and unbelievers — and if only we can keep them out or destroy them, everything will return to its previous state of bliss.

However, localism usually self-destructs — most people prefer living in harmony to living in fear and anger, and populists often make poor administrators who don’t last long in office. Younger generations are more connected than ever; migration has existed long enough to make ‘unmixing’ most populations unthinkable; international institutions are robust; we depend on global trade, finance and communications; billions of us are addicted to travel and imports; and climate change is simply too pressing for us to diminish our collective efforts.

I could be wrong. Globalization has also made the past a less reliable guide to the future, so I can’t predict whether human progress will stutter and move on, or whether we’re facing a real reversal. But I can confidently predict the nature and strength of the counter-movement. My prediction for 2017 and beyond is that ‘good’ will start to replace ‘happy’ in constructive international thinking, and — for some of us, at least — nationalism and localism will at last begin to look as old-fashioned, offensive, stupid, and ultimately as taboo as sexism and racism.

 

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