What would Make America Great Again? The Battle Between Two Definitions of Greatness

I have long been a student of country studies. Back in 1997, I published Marketing of Nations: A Strategic Approach to Building National Wealth. One of my coauthors, Somkid Jatusripitak, is now Deputy Prime Minister of Thailand. Our book sought to identify how nations could improve their economic performance and raise their standard of living among other nations.

This is an important question. Citizens have deep feelings about their nation’s standing and aspirations. Americans profoundly believe that their country is the best country in the world. People in many countries view their country more favorably that outsiders do.

America’s greatness was recently challenged by Donald Trump who asserted that the U.S. had lost its greatness. His campaign slogan was “Make America Great Again.” He claimed that only he and his party could restore the country’s greatness. This raises the question: How can we define where a country ranks in its “greatness?”

All of us are defined by the nation in which we grew up and its strengths, values and reputation. But today, the citizens of many countries are unhappy and they would readily emigrate. People want to leave Syria and flee some other countries to get into Europe, especially Germany or get into the United States. For years, many Mexicans and Cubans have risk their lives to enter the United States which now has over 11 million illegal residents. Most immigrants are simply trying to improve their lives.

Nations that rank high as a “best nation” or “good nation” will need a strong and thoughtful immigration policy. The U.S., U.K., and Germany rank high as countries where many people would like to live. These countries have to define who they will accept. Japan has chosen to exclude most people from other nations in order to preserve its Japanese character. If the U.S. starts excluding certain groups – such as Muslims, Latin Americans, and Africans -- from emigrating to the U.S., it will move away from its multicultural “melting pot” “rainbow” image which gained respect from around the world.

Recent research can help us understand what makes a nation “great.” Two studies have been published in 2016 that take a contrasting view of how to define a nation’s “greatness.” One study, called the Best Countries study, conducted at the Wharton School of Business, ranks 60 countries according to their present and future economic performance and brand image appeal.[i] The other 2016 study, called the Good Country Index, conducted by Simon Anholt of the U.K., ranks countries according to how much they care about helping the whole world become a better living human community.[ii] A country such as the United States has been ranked very differently in the two studies, fourth in one case and twentieth in the other. Let’s look at the two studies and see how they differed in defining and measuring “greatness.”

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 such factors as sustainability, entrepreneurship, economic influence, adventure, and cultural influence. More than 16,200 business leaders, informed elites and general citizens became involved in supplying data and their views.

The researchers sought to determine where each country stood in economic performance and brand image appeal. They used sophisticated analytical tools to determine a ranking for the 60 countries. As a result, the study ranked the 10 best countries to be, in order: 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 went further and used the data to rank countries on 24 decision issues, such as which countries rank highest for starting a career, starting a business, investing in, for education, for raising kids, or for comfortable retirement. For example, the three best countries for raising kids, in order, are Sweden, Denmark, and Canada. The three best countries for comfortable retirement are Costa Rica, Ireland, and Canada.

In a recent article, 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 heU.S. political parties must focus their efforts.

The Good Country Index

In 2014, Simon Anholt published a Good Country Index, which was updated again in 2016. Instead of ranking a country by its perceived economic performance and brand image appeal, this study ranks countries by the extent that they contribute to the common good, relative to their size. He knows that large countries may contribute more dollars to good causes than small countries but he corrects this by size. If the U.S. and Canada each gave 1% to a good cause, Canada is giving proportionately more of their GDP and its contribution to a good world is higher.

He asks if the country primarily focuses on serving the interests of their own businesses and citizens, or is the country actively working for all of humanity and the whole planet? He is asking whether the country is a net creditor to mankind, or a burden on the planet, or something in between.

Instead of using 65 factors as in the Best Countries study, Anholt uses 35 datasets and he has grouped them 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 aren’t unconnected islands; they’re all part of one system. If it fails, we all fail. He started the Good Country research hoping to change how leaders run their countries. The Good Country isn't an organisation, an NGO, a charity or a company. It's an idea: an idea that needs to spread. He goes on to say: “Anybody can launch a Good Country project, start a Good Country Party, teach a Good Country course, write a Good Country book, make a Good Country speech, start a Good University, a Good School, a Good Company, a Good Village or even a Good Family.”

Where the Best Countries study only ranked 60 countries, Simon Anholt’ study ranked 163 countries. Here are the 10 top countries in the Good Country Index, in order: 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 7 of the 10 top countries are in both the Best Countries study and the Good Country Index. They are: Germany, Canada, United Kingdom, Sweden, France, Netherlands, and Denmark. These are the countries that we should admire. They not only rank high on economic performance and brand image appeal but they also care about other countries and the planet. They are good world citizens. These countries can serve as role models for other countries to emulate.

The second thing to notice is that several major nations who should be caring about other countries and the planet don’t stand as high as we would expect. These are countries have the resources to be caring but not the behavior. They are: Australia (18), Japan (19) and the U.S. (20).

The third thing to notice is that there are other major countries whose “Goodness” is quite low. They are: Brazil (47), India (61), Mexico (62), China (64), and Russia (78). We can say of these countries that they are very self-involved, have tough internal problems and a deficiency of resources.

The last thing is the poor standing on “Goodness” of other countries in the news: Saudi Arabia (89), Pakistan (111), and Iran (130).


We have to 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 of these studies relied on a huge amount of country data that were analyzed as carefully as possible by the respective research groups. Both research groups stand ready to make their methodologies known and examined. They expect some countries to be upset with their ranking who may want further analysis if not revision.

All said, I believe that both studies are pioneering new methods of viewing countries and ranking their contributions. As these studies become better known, we can hope that more countries will work hard to imagine policies and actions to improve their standing as a Best Country and a Good Country.

All this would be for the good.

What do you think? Join the debate. And please tell us what you think in the comments section below.

[ii] www.economicvoice.com/simon-anholt-launches-the-good-country-party

[iii] http://www.usnews.com/topics/author/david-reibstein

Philip Kotler is the S.C. Johnson & Son Distinguished Professor of International Marketing at the Northwestern University Kellogg School of Management in Chicago.

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