• Opinion
  • July 12, 2018
  • 9 minutes
  • 0

Why I’m founding a virtual country

Opinion: Countries that collaborate create better solutions and improve their brand

This opinion piece was written by Simon Anholt, co-founder of The Good Country


This is the age of grand challenges: climate change, violent conflict, pandemics, nuclear proliferation, mass migration. Each of these problems has been made more dangerous and pervasive by globalisation, and each is now too big and complex for any individual nation to resolve on its own.

Yet nations don’t collaborate nearly as much as they should, because their leaders are so often fixated on competition, locked in a destructive struggle to gain more money and power for their country, businesses and voters.

“Each of these problems is now too big and complex for any individual nation to resolve on its own”

Today, leaders must recognise what I have called their “Dual Mandate”: they are responsible for their own people and for every man, woman, child and animal on the planet; for their own territory and for every inch of the earth’s surface.

The response of politicians to this proposition is often a prosaic one: they have enough trouble reconciling the interests of their own cabinet, let alone seven billion people who can’t vote for them. But such a response suggests that they have too eagerly embraced the cynical old lie that what’s good for the world is bad for the nation.

My unusual job has allowed me to work for more than 20 years with leaders and governments of more than 50 countries, shaping and trialling real policies, seeing what works and what doesn’t, what the administrative system will and won’t permit, what voters do and don’t like.

This has prompted the idea of a gold standard of good governance for the age of globalisation, based on the Dual Mandate principle: an approach to making policy that harmonises the national interest with the wider needs of the planet and international community.

People often frame collaboration between countries as altruism or a moral duty — but this misses the point. Of course a head of government is expected to consider his or her own population’s needs first — but the underlying assumption that coming first necessarily means that everyone else must come last is limiting.

“The medium- and long-term gains of working together will often vastly outweigh the short-term gains of purely self-interested behaviour”

Even though pure Dual Mandate policies are quite hard to find (some examples are listed below), there are plenty of examples of cooperation and collaboration between countries. The problem is that these tend to be sporadic: they turn up, often reluctantly and late, when there’s a disaster, or sometimes an immediate economic return.

Yet the medium- and long-term gains of working together will often vastly outweigh the short-term gains of purely self-interested behaviour.

More collaborative behaviour can provide tangible and immediate benefits, thanks to cultural cross-fertilisation. Your cultural background determines, to a great extent, the ideas you come up with, and one of the most effective ways to stimulate innovation is to widen the pool of participants in the creative process. Policymaking is a creative challenge. The process of teaming up with others facing similar problems to find and implement shared solutions is almost always more productive than tackling those problems alone.

Another striking example of the potential for enlightened self-interest in international relations comes from the study of national image and its role in stimulating economic growth. Each year since 2005, I have been polling a sample of 25,000 people around the world to measure their unprompted perceptions of 50 countries and 50 cities.

The Nation Brands Index (NBI) and City Brands Index have now accumulated over 400 billion data points. Analysis of the NBI database reveals that the countries which are perceived to contribute more to the common good of humanity gain the most trust and approval worldwide, and in consequence tend to get the most tourists, talent, investors and consumers for their goods and services. If a nation wants to do well, it has to do good.

“One of the most effective ways to stimulate innovation is to widen the pool of participants in the creative process”

There are at least six distinct levels of collaborative behaviour for nations, from the lowest level (where a government simply benchmarks its policy efforts against other countries, a simple and useful exercise that few governments do consistently), to the highest and most productive level of full cooperation and collaboration on shared problem-solving and collective implementation.

It would be remarkable if, rather than collaborating sporadically and reluctantly, a country should decide to run all of its policies through a Dual Mandate filter: to determine that no policy should be passed unless, at the very least, it can be shown to produce no harm outside the country’s borders. Preference would be given to policies produce benefits both domestically and internationally. The first country to embrace such an approach might well find that it achieves a real competitive advantage in image terms.

In the longer term, cultural change should extend further. The traditional roles of the foreign ministry and service should change from being the people in charge of keeping the foreigners at bay, to being the people who throw open the nation’s windows to new ideas.

“Countries which are perceived to contribute more to the common good of humanity gain the most trust and approval worldwide”

The Dual Mandate and its associated policymaking concepts are part of the ultimate aim of the Good Country, the project I am launching with my co-founder, Madeline Hung: to change the culture of governance worldwide from one that is fundamentally competitive to one that is fundamentally collaborative.

The Good Country will be a virtual country, run on a platform of AI-driven digital technology. Its population will be motivated by cosmopolitan, internationalist, tolerant values and an impatience to run towards this century’s existential global challenges, rather than away from them.

The evidence from four years of research since I launched the first edition of the Good Country Index in 2014 is that 10% of the world’s population naturally shares these aims and values. A country with over 700 million like-minded citizens, whose national interest is the international interest, is a country with the power to bring about real change. By levying annual taxes as low as $5 per citizen from developed countries — and less from others — the Good Country, with no territory to defend or society to manage, will also wield significant economic hard power.

By modelling these kinds of approaches ourselves, by encouraging other countries to do so, by mapping and stimulating this new landscape of policymaking, we hope to help bring about a change in the way that countries work, and above all work together, to start making some real headway against the huge challenges of our age. — Simon Anholt 

(Picture credit: Pexels)

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