On top of the world

On top of the world
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Photo: Karin Beate Nøsterud / norden.org

The Nordic Region is on top of the world in more than just a geographical sense – the Nordic countries also come top in a number of international surveys. Although our region’s geographical location is not something we can take credit for, our performance in international indices is the result of decades of hard work across political divides. The Nordic countries are getting a lot right, but we should be careful not to become complacent. It’s all too easy to get bored of hearing that the Nordic countries are at the top of one international index or another. I came across this headline in an article on Slate.com: “Will everyone shut up already about how the Nordic countries top every global ranking?”

International indices are lists ranking countries in a variety of different areas, such as inhabitants’ happiness or economic competitiveness. The number of indices and the attention they attract have increased markedly in recent years, acquiring a significant degree of authority and legitimacy. They have become important. The Nordic Council of Ministers’ policy analysis unit has studied how the Nordic Region would be ranked in some selected international indices if the region were one country. The report “Is the Nordic Region best in the world?” looks at twelve recognised indices in six different areas: happiness and welfare, corruption and freedom of the press, gender equality, economic competitiveness, innovation, and the environment. Without wishing to wax lyrical, the Nordic Region as a whole ranks in the top ten of all twelve indices, and in the top three of seven of them. The notion that the Nordic Region would fare well is confirmed if we compare the region with Continental Europe, Southern Europe, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The region would fare especially well in indices measuring prosperity, corruption, freedom of the press, equality, and happiness.

In other words, the indices show that life in the Nordic Region is good. The region’s inhabitants are among the most prosperous in the world. There is considerable freedom of the press, and the region is one of the world’s least corrupt. Men and women enjoy greater equality than anywhere else on the planet. And the region’s inhabitants are among the world’s happiest.

At the same time, we are not in denial that the Nordic Region does not top every index. For instance, the region would rank a little lower in the two indices measuring aspects of the countries’ economic competitiveness. That said, it is important to stress that the lowest ranking the Nordic Region would achieve is eighth, which is by no means bad. International indices must nevertheless be taken with a pinch of salt as even small methodological changes may affect the countries’ rankings.

The report has also attempted to explain the Nordic Region’s results. The policy analysis unit has reviewed reports and analyses of the twelve indices in an attempt to identify any possible patterns. Three potential explanations for the Nordic countries’ good rankings were identified: governance, social capital, and relatively egalitarian and equal societies. Moreover, it is likely that many of the conditions measured in the indices have a great influence on each other. A good performance in one index results in a good performance in another. Everything is intertwined. This provides an important explanation for why the Nordic Region as a whole would rank highly in the indices.

It is not a given that the Nordic Region will retain its good rankings in the indices in the future. Like all other countries, we face considerable challenges. For life in the region to be good even in the years to come, the Nordic countries must work to ensure that the countries continue to be well governed, that we continue trust each other, and that we continue to have relatively equal societies with only small differences. But if we behave as if we are world champions, all of the above will come to an end rather quickly.

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