Simon Anholt (What makes a good country)

In this episode of the Judgment Call Podcast Simon Anholt and I talk about:

  • How Simon has helped dozens of government entities over the years and how it shaped his ‘view of the world’?
  • How governments and citizens define their ‘country mission’? What is a country for exactly?
  • What should be the right balance between competition and collaboration between nation states?
  • Are humans now being perceived as pieces on a chessboard?
  • How manipulated are we currently? And a surprising results of Simon’s index building.
  • How travel shapes the image of countries (in other people’s eyes and yours).
  • How Simon got to start a ‘virtual nation’.
  • Why it is so strange that ‘Community Service’ is a punishment.
  • Where does progress actually come from?
  • and much more!

You may watch the episode on Youtube – The Judgment Call Podcast Episode #41 – Simon Anholt (What makes a good country).

Over the last twenty years, Simon Anholt has advised the Presidents, Prime Ministers, monarchs and governments of nearly sixty countries, cities and regions. Simons’s TED talks have amassed millions of views on and on Youtube. Simon Anholt is the (co)-creator of the Nation Brands Index and the Good Country Index.

Simon has written six books about countries, their images and their role in the world. His latest book, The Good Country Equation: How We Can Repair the World in One Generation is now available on Amazon.



Torsten Jacobi: So, I, I’ve been reading a chapter from your book, and I’ve been watching your TED Talks, and I find it really interesting the way you, you look at the world. And I think we’re quite a bit kindred spirits in this. And I think what comes out in the book and also in your TED Talks is how you use your experience being out there in the world, traveling to a ton of countries, and observing what’s going on in these countries. And then I have something very similar, and I talked to James Wilcox last week about that. When I go to a new country, even a country I haven’t been in a while, my first thought is usually, how can I jumpstart economic growth, right? And it’s obviously not necessarily something that necessarily wipes through the locals, but it’s something where I immediately, my minds, my mind jumps to when I’m in a new country. And I think you use that experience brilliantly, and came up with a way of thinking, and I want to learn more about this, that’s given you millions of views on YouTube and on the TED Talks. Tell us a little bit about it, and how did you get to the central tenets of these new ideas that you’ve got?

Simon Anholt: Well, I’ve been advising governments for 20 or more years, and I’m a generalist. I’m not a specialist. What I advise governments on is very broadly engagement, how their country can engage more productively with other countries, with the international community. So depending on circumstances, and depending on the country, and depending on who I’m talking to, that could be something fairly commercial. It could be tourism, or foreign direct investment promotion, or trade. It could be something a bit softer, it could be about cultural relations, or public diplomacy. It could be something quite hard, it can be about security and defence, but basically it’s all about how countries can take better advantage of the opportunities that globalisation throws up, and the international system throws up, so that they can ultimately offer a better life to their own citizens, treat their own territory in a more responsible way, whilst at the same time providing benefits, or at least doing no harm to the world outside their borders. So for a long time, I’ve felt that the gold standard of good governance in this age of advance globalisation has to be the ability to harmonise your domestic and your international responsibilities. And that’s something that most countries don’t even think about, let alone do well. So in the first few years, when I was advising countries on this kind of stuff, the subject that I found coming up over and over and over and over again, and it was also something I’d written about, because I was interested in it too, was the whole question of national image. What was this country perceived in the community of nations? And this kept on coming back, and it kept on turning out to be not a superficial issue at all, but a really fundamental one. And the reason why it’s so fundamental is basically because image is really all that countries have got. It’s such a busy, crowded world, when we’re looking at this age of advanced, complex, interdependent globalisation, the stuff that you buy, the people you deal with, the people you hire, they could come from almost literally anywhere on earth. And because nobody is an expert on 200 plus countries, we make our decision on the basis of prejudices that we’ve held probably for most of our lives. The kind of place we think Germany is, the kind of place we think America is. And on those simple childish prejudices, we base our decisions about where to go, where to invest, what to buy, who to hire, and so forth. So you end up with this really curious situation where the flows of billions, if not trillions of dollars, are actually governed by ill thought out, out of date, probably inaccurate prejudices. And that was why, ironically, I coined this term nation brand because I said that the images of countries are a little bit like the brand images of products. They’re a sort of shorthand for what we believe about that product, and they guide our decisions. The trouble is that, obviously, the consequences for a country can be very serious. And if you’ve got a weak or a negative image, everything is difficult and everything is expensive. It’s a structural deficit.

Torsten Jacobi: I really like the idea that how you set up the good country index. So for me, it was a bit like the Skytrex, maybe that’s the wrong comparison, but a bit of Skytrex of the country industry, so to speak. And from what I understood, you question individuals all over the world who had a certain idea about that country, that either are travelers, frequent travelers, or people who had business in a specific country, and then you compile that image, right?

Simon Anholt: No. What you’ve just described is something different. What you’ve just described is another survey, which I published, which is called the Nation Brands Index, which I do in partnership with Ipsil Samori, who are a big international research company. The Nation Brands Index is, in fact, as you describe, it’s an opinion poll. So we speak to thousands of people around the world, and we use their perceptions to measure the images of countries. The Good Country Index will maybe come on too later. That’s something completely different. It’s not a measurement of perceptions or opinions, it’s a measurement of real behaviour, a measurement of reality. So the Nation Brands Index, yeah, it’s a poll, and we end up with this kind of ranking of which countries have the best, most powerful images, but in an enormous amount of detail. So I sometimes call it the Index of Ignorance, because perceptions not experience.

Torsten Jacobi: Well, one thing that is one of those things that always occurs to me when I go to a country a new or I haven’t been in a while, is kind of this concept of a USP, you know, that’s a marketing term. It’s a unique selling proposition. So that is partially a marketing argument, and it’s partially an argument where you say, what are the intrinsic advantages of this particular economy that could either be its culture, it could be its people or any combination of this. It could be sometimes luck, you know, we perceive the richness of many places in the Middle East with sheer luck, right, because there’s so much oil, they literally, they only have to do is call BP and live up, they do more than this, but they can just literally, without any technology investment, they wouldn’t be rich anyways, when you think of Qatar. So that’s for me, that that’s kind of what I’m immediately thinking, and I keep asking people in each individual country, kind of as my own informal doorway. And sometimes I feel some countries don’t have enough identity, they’re too random, they don’t really know what is the USP, they don’t know what is a comparative advantage, and they also don’t know how to appear to others. Just some economic terms, but often, you know, politics play an even bigger role.

Simon Anholt: I think that’s right. I think the majority of countries have very little sense of mission. They just adopt, the politicians tend to adopt just a kind of standard repertoire of things that politicians have to do, which is to keep their people reasonably happy, reasonably secure and reasonably well fed and reasonably prosperous. And it seems to me that in this age of advanced globalization, you really need to be a bit more strategic than that. And so the kinds of questions that I always ask of governments that I’m advising are rather different. I ask them questions like, what is your country for? You know, if the hand of God should slip on the celestial keyboard at 3 a.m. and accidentally hit delete and your country was no more, who would miss it and why would they miss it? Why should people feel glad that you exist if they’re not your citizens? And I think those are the kinds of questions we should be asking in the 21st century. And this is my modern interpretation of the rather old fashioned idea of grand strategy. How do you fit in? What’s your purpose?

Torsten Jacobi: I think this is this is marvelous and I just talked with Marcy Powell last week and we talked about education. And we both agreed that the question everyone should ask themselves, you know, how can I make the world a better place just by myself? You know, what are the things I can influence from my point of view where I think I have enough leverage and technology gives us a ton of leverage, one YouTube video is going to have 200 million views and can change the world literally.

Simon Anholt: Although if I may just jump in just for a second, there’s a slight difference in emphasis here because one of the things I’ve started saying to countries is don’t try and do this on your own. Because the kinds of challenges that we’re talking about, why would somebody feel glad that Slovakia exists? Well Slovakia may well feel that it’s got a particular expertise in tackling climate change, for example. But the thing that I spent a lot of time trying to argue the government out of is this idea that they then have to try and fix climate change on their own. Because that’s stupid and wasteful and they’ll overlap with other countries and the end benefit won’t be as good. So I say to them, look, remember, this is not you against the world. The first thing you do is decide what you want to fix. Okay, you want to fix climate change. The second thing you do is say, who are you going to do it with? Who it’s this kind of agile collaboration, I think is the way the world ought to work. I sometimes call it entrepreneurial multilateralism, but it’s such a shit expression that I stopped using it. But you know what I mean.

Torsten Jacobi: I haven’t heard that one yet. It’s interesting. I think you’re really onto something there and I think it’s fascinating to see your thought process there. One thing that I immediately noticed, and I think you should get a little deeper into what your core mission is, but the good country index. But one thing I immediately noticed is there is this one side, and maybe we can call it a dualism, but I think there’s more factors. But I feel on one side, we have this competition, we have the individual nation state who tries to do the best they could. It’s kind of Adam Smith’s idea. Everyone just does what they want in their own private interest, but eventually works out to something good. And on the other hand, we have this big idea of collaboration, which I think in economic terms is we take technology that someone else invented, or we have this now in software a lot, where we basically copy the best solution possible, work with as many people as we can align and then create something with way better leverage, but it needs way more coordination. So we have to think on these two layers at the same time. And I think this is where we are, when I understood your TED talks, I think this is what you wanted to encourage.

Simon Anholt: Absolutely. I mean, I think the progress of humanity, the story of humanity is basically one of three ages. The first age was the age of conflict, when we were basically nation states were fighting each other for blood and treasure, for territory. And then mercifully, after the experience of the first and second world wars, we moved into the modern age, which is the age of competition. So we’re still fighting each other for advantage, we’re still trying to have winners and losers. At least we don’t kill each other in such large numbers as we used to. But that’s progress. However, it’s not sufficient for the age of the grand challenges, climate change and pandemics and all the rest of it. We now need to move into the third age, which is the age of collaboration, which doesn’t mean we don’t compete anymore. It just means that we’re wise about how we mix collaboration and competition. As I often say, competition is only a problem when it becomes the only altar at which we worship. And that has been the problem for the last 60, 70 years. What we need to start doing now is to figure out how to make the fundamental culture of governance a culture of collaboration, collaborate first and then figure out how you compete on top of that. It works perfectly well. The industry has been doing that for decades.

Torsten Jacobi: Yeah, I mean, it’s quite a white topic and one thing that that is just my gut feeling and that’s just that’s a personal note. You know, I grew up in Eastern Germany, which was basically governed by the Politburo in the Soviet Union, far, far away. There were a couple of decisions that Eastern Germany was allowed to make, and there were a couple of decisions that citizens were still allowed to make, but generally, it was a very top down system. And the idea of the Soviet system, and we can talk about the execution, which was way less than perfect. It was generally thought of as an idea, and that’s the Karl Marxan idea, that you take something that is something better for everyone involved, so you get rid of certain political divides that are clearly there. And then you institute a system that seems better, and was mostly carried by the intellectuals early in the times in 1920s, 1930s, irrespective of where you were in Russia or in the US. But then there was this white, I think it came out after the Second World War especially, that you felt like there is a lot of policies that were instituted to do something positive, but actually created the opposite. And somehow, there wasn’t enough flexibility in any of the system involved that it could change. And I think the idea was still to work together, I think the execution was quite different. But I always felt it’s one of those cases, and I lived through it just a few years in my life. So I’m certainly not an expert per se, but I always felt it had so many downsides, especially because it lost all this flexibility of competition, nobody had an incentive to do better than they already did, right, on paper. Everything was good on paper, but nothing was good in practice. And I felt like, and I think this is the experience of the last 100 years, it’s not something I wouldn’t prefer, let’s put it this way, for all its faults, I think this idea of competition has given us so much flexibility, and we are able as citizens, but also as countries to kind of choose the model that we want. And I feel like now we’re going the other way, right, so we’re going, well, we need more of a League of Nations, we need more ideas that are seemingly more efficient from the, on a UN layer, right?

Simon Anholt: Yes, I don’t see the culture of competition going away anytime soon. I mean, politically at the moment, there is undoubtedly a rising number of countries that are framing international relations as a game of winner takes all, as a sprint to the finish. I mean, you know, Donald Trump with his America first was by no means the only leader who was insisting on the idea that the national interest is the only significant interest. I don’t know. It’s very, very difficult to say broadly speaking which way things are going. But it seems to me that to try to measure the respective merits of competition versus collaboration is futile. They’re both fundamental instincts of the human species. They both have their qualities. They both carry their risks and wisdom surely consists in us being able to mingle them in the most effective proportions. And as I say, industry, the automobile industry back in the 1970s pioneered this approach. They even had a name for it. They called it co repetition, where auto manufacturers would work together and share supply chains, but they would end up being fierce competitors in the showroom. And that works. I just think that that kind of experiment is long, long overdue for nation states. I think we should give it a try. And to some extent we do. But we are fighting against the fundamental culture of governance, which as I say is basically one of achieving ascendancy over each other. And it’s been that way since the Treaty of Westphalia. I mean, the operating system that the planet works on hasn’t had a major upgrade since about 1912. Actually since about 1684.

Torsten Jacobi: Yeah, that’s definitely a very European idea. So the idea with the small little states, the little, I think it was originally born out of the feudalism, so it was even smaller and then it moved up to the nation states. Let’s go back for a second. And I think you start with a slightly different thesis is that we have these massive issues that we feel like we grapple with and they seem to overwhelm us, climate change is one of them, migration, modern slavery, there’s a bunch of things that either have been existing before as a threat or relatively new, at least as a major threat, terrorism. And what would you think would help? I mean, there is the idea that people work together more and that they think about other people, right, that they are looking outside the box. Where would you put the next level? Do you think we should abolish the nation state or should we transfer powers from the nation state? How does this go on? Like what is the political solution for some of those problems?

Simon Anholt: To be honest with you, I never had very much enthusiasm for those conversations about how to reshape the world system. Well, that’s not quite true. I used to have a lot of enthusiasm for them and like many of us who are interested in these things, I spent in fact wasted many, many hours in intense discussions with people where we mapped out a new future for the world, we talked about different forms of governance, making the United Nations more democratic and more accountable, abolishing the Security Council doing this, doing that. And it took the longest time before it eventually dawned on me that all of this is just a waste of time. Because in the end, at this level, at the planetary level, there is no sufficient authority to impose a new system. We still operate on the basis of national sovereignty. And above the level of the individual state, there is no authority, apart from violence, which is luckily, as I said, going out of fashion. So you can come up with the most brilliant idea for replacing the United Nations, but if you haven’t got the power to impose it, then what’s the point in having a conversation?

Torsten Jacobi: Well, we convince people eventually to sign up to it, right? That’s kind of voluntarily signed up to it. I like the European Union.

Simon Anholt: Yes, eventually. But experience shows that this takes centuries and we don’t have centuries. So I pursue the real politic approach. I think we have to work with the system that we’ve got. And it’s not so very wrong. It’s the way that we consider the nation state that’s really the fault. We still, as ordinary people, I don’t mean as policymakers, but as ordinary people, we still regard the nation state as being the ultimate tribe to which we feel our ultimate loyalty. And that’s the problem. Somehow humanity has to transfer its sense of belonging to the entire planet, otherwise we’re screwed. And that’s the challenge.

Torsten Jacobi: I like this analogy a lot, and I think you… I saw you speak about that. The way we have this idea of that we belong to one single nation state as a passport, right? And like I myself have a couple of different passwords, and I know some of my friends have four or five different citizenship. So they get really confused. And for one of my friends, he told me, you know, I grew up in eight different countries. I have four different citizenships. I have a bunch of different passwords. I really can’t say it, but someone asked me, where do you belong? What nationality are you? You know, I can give them the list, but I can’t pinpoint this to one point, which is a default answer, typically, right? So it’s typically, you belong to one nation state, and that’s… People want to put you in this box and say, okay, this is the typical experience of a German, someone from the Netherlands, a bread, and then they want to use this. And I think this is very helpful tool on average to use this as kind of the overlay, the typical experience that they know from this country, so they are more prepared for what you’re going to say next, right? But this is a very outdated system.

Simon Anholt: It’s a very lazy system. One of the things I say in the book is that most prejudice or racism is not so much the product of ignorance as people often claim. It’s more the product of simple laziness, because it’s so much easier to categorize, to generalize people than it is to particularize them. And I think most of us these days, and it seems to be getting worse, typically regard the human species, we reduce it to the level of a game of chess, where we’ve basically got six different pieces and two different colors. And the type of play, the type of piece that you are defines your role in the world and your attitudes and your behaviors. So if you’re a castle, you move this way. If you’re a queen, you move that way. If you’re a pawn, you move this way. And it’s so much easier to have to deal with six stereotypes than it is to deal with eight billion individuals. The reality of the matter is if you’ve been alive for more than five minutes, and you’ve observed humanity for more than five minutes, you will realize that there are as many types as there are people on the planet. It’s much, much harder work getting to know people individually and understanding their individual character and their individual motivation. And it’s so much quicker to say, hey, you’re like that because you’re black, you’re like that because you’re white, you’re like that because you’re male, you’re like that because you’re LBGTQ plus. And we resort to these stereotypes out of pure laziness.

I agree. This is, I think it’s a default mechanism though, and it stems from the desire to reduce complexity. And I think our ancestors did relatively well with this because otherwise we wouldn’t be around. So we probably wouldn’t have made it until the 20th century because it does give you an advantage because you don’t have to talk to anyone. You can just use your limbic system that’s basically right there and doesn’t cost you any processing power to figure this out. But I think the complexity of the world has gone up at least seemingly. And what’s interesting to me, and I’ve been discussing this on prior episodes, what happened, I think since 2015, since Facebook mainly changed the algorithm to instead of a following algorithm, we have an engagement algorithm. And it seems that there’s a very small number of, like you say, the chessboard types that actually are supported by the algorithm. And the algorithm looks at engagement. Engagement is either very positive or very negative reaction to whatever you see in front of you. And it seems like it has tremendously, it has accelerated how we put, but this is my observation, maybe overall, we see in a fraction of a second, we look at the headline, we react to it. And only these articles, a relatively small number of actual publishers, they create in our minds and they accentuate these stereotypes. And I think, I don’t want to blame just social media for it, but I think social media has made it worse in the last five years. And it wasn’t much of an issue 30 years before that. That’s kind of my gut feeling. But part of the problem with humanity is that we’re victims of our own curiosity. We have a very, very powerful inbuilt tendency to assume that every experience we undergo and every message we receive is learning. And we absorb things as if they were learning. And we all too often don’t distinguish between sources of information that wish us well and wish us harm. And so everything that reaches us in the outside, from the outside world, and it’s a lot of stuff these days, we absorb as if they were lessons. And we learn things even if we stop to think for five minutes, we’d realize these are things we shouldn’t be learning. These are models we shouldn’t be adopting. These are values we shouldn’t be absorbing, but we adopt. We like sponges. We’re walking sponges and we adopt and we absorb everything, which is why we’re such easy victims for deliberate manipulators like some of the social media giants. We don’t know how to resist information. Yeah. Well, they say this about entrepreneurs, and I think now what happened the last two years, I think it’s just getting a little better now. Last two or three years, especially in the US, is that we’re stuck in this echo chamber. So people were literally not interested in any other opinion, just the one that confirmed their own opinion, which they obviously only had of Twitter, right? It’s not something they came up with their own and did some research, no, it was something they read and then they forgot about almost six months ago, and then they just seek confirmation for the same thing. But that’s just the pleasure principle, isn’t it? I mean, that’s one of the main drivers. You go for the stuff that makes you feel good. I love the endorphins that come out of it. I mean, even knowing that this is manipulation, I still love the endorphins when I go to Twitter. I had trouble getting withdrawing from Twitter much better now, but I must say that that is a tough process. These endorphins really, they’re like coffee, if not better. I mean, when I read the views of people who have very different opinions from mine, different value sets, it causes me a great deal of discomfort. It makes me feel unwell. I have to force myself to do it. It’s not really surprising if the vast majority of people just stay away from it. They do the stuff that reinforces their prejudices and therefore makes them feel good. Yeah. Well, we have on the other hand, as you say, this huge sense of curiosity, right? And it seems in times of when we have enough to eat, when we feel our children will be better off than we are, in times of where we feel like things are improving in the world, when they’re people very optimistic and I felt that was a strong period like 2009, 2015. We go out and explore the world. We’re curious. We want to see as many opinions as we can get. And we want to see where the opportunities to be a part of this new world, right? And then we go back into these pessimistic phases where we are kind of like this chimpanzee mother and everyone who is not from our tribe, we just bite them off and try to kill them. And I think we have both of these things in our genes. And it seems like we go through these many, many depressive phases. And I think we just came out of a very depressive phase. I think it’s just getting better now. I feel to see in San Francisco where everything was shut down obviously because of COVID, but people got extremely depressed. And I feel they’re just seeing the light again, so to speak, right now, and they want to be part of the community, they stop outside and talk to someone else with a dog, and they talk to other people in the coffee shop. That hasn’t happened in years. I’m really surprised it’s finally getting better. Yeah. I mean, that’s a pretty simple principle, isn’t it? If you deprive people of one of their most fundamental pleasures for a long time, they’re going to cheer up when you give it back to them. I think that we do on the whole, the planetary mood does vacillate. And I see this in my research. What I think I’m measuring is people’s perceptions of other countries. But actually what I see tells me far more about the mood of the human population than it does about what those countries are doing or failing to do. Some years, everybody feels more positive about all countries. Other years, everybody feels less positive about all countries. But that’s quite a surprising result. You would sort of imagine that if you were measuring how people regard countries that they would all go all over the place depending on what they’re doing. And if a country’s behaving itself, it’ll get more popular, and if it’s being aggressive, then it will get less popular. That’s not it at all. The images of countries move as a cohort. They move together. So it’s actually got nothing to do with how they’re behaving. It’s to do what I’m actually measuring accidentally is the mood of the human population. And the most interesting thing about the mood of the human population is that over time it gets better and better and better. And ever since I’ve started measuring this back in 2005, there’s been a continuous gradual movement uphill. Everybody on average likes all countries slightly more than they did the year before, year after year after year. Sometimes it goes down, but then it always goes up again. And the general tendency is always upwards. That’s the trend. Now that’s fascinating. It’s one of the things that makes me feel unfashionably optimistic. That’s extremely positive. Yeah. That’s great to hear. Yeah. I mean, I don’t know. I’d be interested to know what you think. My hypothesis is that this is simply the effect of globalization, that as a result of us getting more information, being more aware every year of the fact that we share the planet with a bunch of other countries, we’re more used to them. And it’s human nature that as you become used to things, you trust them more. It’s survival. You know, something that’s been sitting in your room for a few years and it’s never killed you. You learn to trust it. And so I think year after year after year, we’re learning to trust other countries. I never heard about the statistic. It’s fascinating. I haven’t published it. I really should do. Yeah, you should. You should put it in Steve Pinker’s book. I think that’s one of the things he’s missing on that global scale. He talks about a lot, you know, on vaccines and the way our life gets better. We don’t really appreciate it. I think that’s a bit of a problem because we adjusted a new level, kind of like the new generation. We were using whatever we achieved as a base level and as grumpy about our failings. And I think what I talked about before on the show is what I really feel is such helpful. So helpful to people. It’s just crossing national borders. And that’s even true in the European Union today where it seems to be, let’s use the pre COVID European Union where everyone thinks it’s one domestic market. But actually it’s 25 or 30 different localities and even Germany where I was born, you know, every state is quite different. They even have different languages and they have different customs and you can’t just, you’re not the same like Berlin is not the same as Munich, not by any means and people behave different, different social standards. But once you get to travel, and this is why I think travel is really the solution to world peace. Once you experience all these, these places and you don’t have to go to all the places you can start small and go to like 20 or 30 different bonds. You will never come back and say, and I think this is your experience too, you don’t come back and say, oh, I went to Afghanistan and these people are terrible, all we have to nuke them off the planet. This is never going to, it’s never going to happen, right? So I mean, there’s exceptions, you know, you can go to Iraq and maybe you’re, but even the veterans and I had James Wilcox on and, you know, he’s like, we do this towards Afghanistan and to Somalia and you know, who’s a really strong group who wants to go to these places. It’s just the average traveler, but it’s also a lot of veterans. So even if you, if you’ve fought there, if you’ve been injured, if you’ve seen the other side and they tried to kill you, you still, a lot of people develop an appreciation for something different that, because you go, wherever you go, there’s something you hold close to your heart. And it’s often especially outside the tourist economy. And I feel if people go through this process and it’s gotten much cheaper, they’ve always come back and slowly, slowly appreciate other countries more and appreciate other cultures, other ways of solving the same problem. And you, it’s almost impossible to come back and make enemies when you go out there on a, it’s a little bit open. I mean, there’s, there’s other examples, but I think this is a process that you can’t reverse it. Two things I would say about that on the whole, I agree with you and I have always subscribed to the old idea that travel broadens the mind. One of the things I remember writing in a previous book of mine is we, we grow up wearing a shirt that has a different pattern from the wallpaper in our room. No, I’m sorry, I said that wrong. We grow up wearing a shirt that has the same pattern as the wallpaper in our room. And so when you look at yourself in your own room, it’s very difficult to see where your own outline is because you merge into the wall and you can’t see where your shirt begins and where the wall ends. So you identify yourself within the culture as part of the culture and it’s almost inseparable. The moment you walk out of that room into an unfamiliar room, suddenly you’re wearing a flowery shirt and the wallpaper is striped and suddenly you can see your own outline. You suddenly realize who you are because you don’t match the culture. I’ve always felt that that’s one of the reasons why travel broadens the mind. I wish it were invariably true, but it’s not invariably true. And one of the interesting things is that a certain number of people, I think it’s a minority, tend to be made even more narrow minded by the experience of travel. We all know people who are expats, who have lived perhaps all of their lives in another country and become professional haters of that country. The British are quite good at this. You find British expat communities all over the world. It’s a British German experience, I feel. And they’ve been living in this country for most of their lives and it suits them to live there because it’s cheap or whatever. And they even speak the language rather aggressively and they eat the local food rather in a state of constant irritation, but they become hardened racists as a result of it. So there’s some complexity, some mystery going on there. It’s not simply that travel always broadens your mind. It broadens the mind for most people, but there’s a chemical mixture going on there, which is something to do with your character before you travel and the impact that the travel has on you afterwards. What I can confirm from my own research is that it’s definitely true that people on the whole like countries more after they visited than when they haven’t. Looking at just tourism numbers from my research, you can find that if anybody visits a country generally speaking, it doesn’t matter. Even if they have a bad experience there, they will generally rank that country higher after that point as far as I can tell for the rest of their lives. And that’s simply because it’s turned from being something imaginary to something real. When you can only imagine a country and you’d never been there, your imagination tends to make it look rather fuzzy, a little bit weird, a little bit gray. You’re just sort of vaguely picturing things. And there’s a thing called negativity bias, which tends to make you afraid of the things that you can’t see. It’s a little bit like a nightmare. You know, sometimes you’re falling asleep and you wake up with a start because you know you’re having a nightmare, even though nothing bad has happened. You know that the axe murderer hasn’t even appeared, but you know you’re having a nightmare because you can’t see properly. And that’s the nightmarish aspect of it. So when you’ve never been to a country, it looks like a nightmare. The moment you actually get off the plane and you step on the tarmac or off the train or whatever it is, and suddenly you realize that the colors are there, that the sun is in the sky, that you can smell things if you’re lucky enough to be able to smell. I’m not, but I understand it’s a wonderful thing. Suddenly you realize you’re in reality. And from that moment onwards, it’s real people. It’s a real place. And of course, people are lovely wherever you go. In fact, the more desperate a country is, the more troubled, the more war torn, the more corrupt on the whole, the nicer the people are. Yeah. Well, I agree. I agree. I call it positive PTSD. You know, it’s this, this, this, and I think this is also where the minority comes from that doesn’t take trouble so well. And I think the problem is you learn about yourself things you wouldn’t have known before and maybe you didn’t even want to know about those things. And a lot of times I think it’s very positive. But if you, especially if you go to the edges of your own experience, if you, if you’re trapped in a tourist economy, I think, yes, there’s no newer experience, but even that is good if you’re like 16 year olds and do a go on your solo trip, 18 years old. Maybe you’re right. If you’re a crap person and you go to another country and you learn as a result of going to the other country, what a crap person you are, that will cause you to hate the country because it’s made you feel bad about yourself. Yeah. I think that’s what it is. And then, you know, the problem is with PTSD, it’s not necessarily what you see. It is what you are capable of doing in light of whatever people, other people force you to because they put you in a dangerous situation or they put you in a new situation. You have to deal with newer experiences. I think this is, this is where this comes from. You did something very interesting and I want to learn more about this. You said you started a new country. How did that work? And does it still exist? It was an experiment, which a pilot project, which, which ran its course. So it’s, it’s over now, but it was a very, very interesting experiment when it lasted. Basically what happened was this. In 2014, I launched the good country index, which we may or may not have time to talk about later on. Very, very quickly, the good country index tries to measure what each country on earth contributes to the world outside its own borders. So irrespective of how it treats its own people or its own territory, this exclude, excludes all of that and just looks at whether a country is a good global citizen or not. And I, I launched the first edition of this index at a TED event in Berlin. And to everybody’s astonishment, the TED talk did really well. It went viral. Now this doesn’t normally happen with talks about international politics. I actually saw today that that TED talk from 2014 is the number one all time most viewed TED talk on the subject of government. Congratulations, that’s hard to pull off, extremely hard to pull off. Yeah. It’s, it’s, it’s had over 12 million views. And the more interesting thing was that the moment it went out, I started getting hundreds and hundreds and then gradually thousands and thousands and then eventually tens of thousands of emails. I always put my email address on the internet in case people want to write to me and I always answer them. And they were all basically from people describing themselves in the same way that I would describe myself. They were basically saying, I think I’m a citizen of the world first and a citizen of my own nation second. I love my country, but I love being human more. I feel I have something in common with everybody on the planet. I love diversity. I don’t suffer from racism. I get fed up with domestic politics because it seems trivial compared to the big issues that we’re all facing. And as they were describing themselves, I thought to myself, these people are just like me. This is almost like a character type. I wonder if this has ever been studied before. So I started researching and I couldn’t find any description of this character type. So I thought, okay, I’ll give it a name and I called them natural cosmopolitans. These are people who are just born believing that they owe their allegiance to a bigger tribe than their own nation. And I did some research together with my colleague Robert Govers and we eventually managed to put an estimate on the number. We discovered that these people, these natural cosmopolitans, are definitely no less than 10% of the world’s adult population. China is over 700 million people. So I found myself thinking, wow, 700 million people, that’s too big to be a startup, that’s too big to be an NGO or a charity or whatever. That’s a nation. In fact, if it was a nation, it would be the third largest nation on the planet after India and China. And a nation of natural cosmopolitans, the third largest nation on the planet, could really be a force for good. It could really, really kick some ass in the international community and encourage countries to work together and to focus on the stuff that’s really important instead of focusing exclusively on their own interests. So that was the point at which I decided that it would be a really cool idea to create a virtual nation for these 700 million natural cosmopolitans. And together with my then cofounder, we created this virtual country and we ran a pilot for just under a year to see how many people would sign up. We asked them to pay $5 each per year as their taxes because we calculated we didn’t need more than $5. The point about it being a virtual nation is it has no territory. And that’s good because territory is a nuisance. Once you have territory, you start needing to get an army to defend it and things become complicated. But we didn’t need to offer these people a society because they were already nationals of another state. And $5, if we’d got all 760 million citizens, would have given us the GDP of Sierra Leone to play with every year, which is quite a substantial war chest. And we’d have been able to do some serious work. You could have been king of that country. That’s the very, very last thing I wanted. Most of the – in fact, one of the really important things about the project was that we devised a method of using artificial intelligence, which actually enabled this to be the first state in history that was self governing. It didn’t need a government and it didn’t need leaders because artificial intelligence enables you to have basically collective decision making with a group of infinite size. Yeah, a lot of people – I find this super interesting. A lot of people talk about this from the crypto community where they say, you know, our cities are basically broken, especially in the U.S. They seem to go through these cycles of extreme depression and we just had a really big one. Why don’t we take the people that we actually love, people, other people on the Internet and the crypto. We take crypto money and we stake it against it. We build a virtual community first, a virtual country, so to speak. I don’t know if you can issue passports, but there’s been cases like the order of St. John from Malta, right? So they used to have a territory in Malta and then they lost it, but they still a country and they don’t have a territory anymore, but they’re still recognized as a country by many other countries. And we also recognize the Vatican with a very minimal territory. So the idea is, can you actually institute, say, take a million crypto users, they would set up their own country maybe far out and see if the territory is easy to defend or a little island. Do you think you can just start it and put that money against it and they get citizenship and they get, say, ultra liberal or non liberal, whatever policies you want to enact. They just kind of go off to that island, but they obviously never really go there. It’s all virtual. Yeah, the problem that I have with pretty much every single other start up nation that I’ve ever seen is that they are fundamentally tribalist in principle. What they’re trying to do is they’re trying to get together the people that they feel are the right people. And this was absolutely not the, in fact, that was the opposite of what the good country was about. Sure, we were going to start with those 700 million natural Cosmic Policies, but not because we wanted to exclude everybody else, but because we felt that we’re starting with those people who already shared the dream. It would be the easier way to then build and build and build and eventually get perhaps a majority of the world’s population signing up to those values of collaboration. The problem with all of these other start up nations is they’re always running away from things. They always want to, because in many, many cases they feel in some way either explicit or sort of hidden, that they’re in some way superior to the rest of society. And very often the person or the people who run it want to run something. They’ve got a power mania and they want to be the president of somewhere and they figure that the only way they’re ever going to be the president of somewhere is by starting somewhere and getting a bunch of dumb people to pay obeisance to them. So it seems to me that all of these things are devised in exactly the opposite spirit to the one that’s really required here. You’re not supposed to be running away. The whole point of the good country project was that we were running towards the grand challenges, running towards humanity, engaging with it, not trying to escape. Yeah, I mean, that’s a very philosophical distinction. I don’t know if I know enough to really go down deep into this, but it’s a bit like the promised land, right? So the promised land is you define something other people want where everything is the way God designs it. So obviously there’s challenges in order to get there and it’s theoretically open. It’s very open and it’s less open, you know, changes over time in the Old Testament stories. So I think this is how usually, how marketing at least has found and usually works. You define something other people want. You tell them this is the price. This is how you get there. This is your challenge. And in that process, you become a better person. That’s at least the idea, right? You become a better person in the eye of the person who designed it in the first place. And I think this is also the idea of a chapter city that are kind of keep floating from time to time. And then you don’t hear about them anymore, that you design something that works so well like a new Dubai and say the Congo, that it works so well that it would make everyone want to live there. And this is the only reason you get it off the ground because people are excited about it and they put their money to it. Yeah. I think that’s right. I mean, there are an awful lot of these experiments going on at the moment and it’d be interesting to see if anybody does actually make critical mass. I think the idea of building new cities is very interesting and I’m aware of a couple of groups who are doing things like that. Sometimes it’s ecologically driven. They’re floating cities that are resilient to rising water levels. Sometimes it’s to solve a particular problem. There’s a group I’m associated with, an NGO called Andan, who are looking to build cities specifically to house migrants. Now, that’s a really interesting question. It’s, in some senses, the opposite of a refugee camp. It’s a place where they can actually make a life if they choose to. But of course, this is a really, really, really controversial idea because there’s a moral hazard attached to it. If you create a wonderful city where all of the stateless persons and the refugees can go and live where they’re safe, isn’t that then relieving ordinary societies of their duty to take in migrants? Isn’t that like just saying, okay, we accept that human beings in rich countries are never going to feel a sense of duty towards people in less fortunate countries. So we take away that obligation by creating a super ghetto where all of these poor refugees can go and live. And there are some uncomfortable ideas associated with this that still need to be worked through. But I like the fact that there are big, bold solutions being debated at this point in history because this is surely the point where we should be doing that. Yeah, I’m with you. There’s one idea being floated here in the US. It’s not very realistic right now, but it’s definitely a big idea that we’re going to have like a 10 year, 20 year master plan to go to 1 billion citizens in the US. And the way we go there is basically open the borders and let everyone in who delivers stories within the criteria we want, if you can even determine this that far. I really like that plan. But I still… What’s the advantage of having such a large population? Well, the idea obviously is that we have to compete with China, right? So China is soon going to be around 1 billion because the population is decreasing. It’s not falling apart. How depressing. So it’s basically in order to… It’s very nation state, yeah, very nation state. But what I wanted to get at is, you know, isn’t… Can you pull this off without borders, right? What I’m trying to say, even if you let anyone in who wants to come to the US, literally you let anyone in, there’s no restrictions. But once they’re inside you, or you can do this with the European Union, any major big state out there, but can you… If you just say there’s no borders, there’s no restrictions, the United States basically doesn’t exist anymore. There’s no cities, but the United States doesn’t exist anymore because we are all citizens of the world, right? If you take that that far, do you think that can work? Because it seems to be that there is… You need to define something that you want to dangle in front of people as a carrot, right? So that’s what we talked about just earlier. If you don’t define it, if you don’t say, okay, this is the border, this is where we can’t protect you anymore, then it seems like the nation state basically stops existing, but also your carrot stops existing, and the carrot can be really good because I feel these modern institutions of the state, they’ve moved us to where we are, right? They brought us this enlightenment over time, and a lot of people I think are not aware of this. They see how the state works, but they don’t know why it is designed that way. There’s certainly an issue with the size of many, if not most, modern nation states. My day job is, I’m a policy advisor, I advise governments on how they can run their countries better. And one of the things that I’ve observed is that most states over a population of, I don’t know, three, four million are quite literally ungovernable. It’s just too many people. And countries like Mexico or the United States, where you’ve got hundreds of millions of people, albeit federalized, that makes it ever so slightly easier to manage, but these are basically ungovernable territories. The group of people is simply too large for any central government to really have any idea what it’s doing. And so I have no doubt whatsoever that governance is effective in proportion to its closeness to the governed. You can do a better job if you’re closer to the people that you’re governing, which is one of the reasons why this old bugbear, which haunts Americans to this day of one world government, is such a terrible idea. Americans who don’t listen to what I’m saying often assume that that’s what I’m pitching because they know that’s what bad people pitch, and it’s the worst idea in the world. Can you imagine anything worse than a government in New York or anywhere else dictating the lives of people thousands of miles away? I’m glad you say that. Yeah, I’m glad you say that. That’s one thing people need to understand. How is that a recipe for good anything? That’s a recipe for tyranny at best and chaos at worst. So I feel quite nostalgic about the medieval European city states. I think that Florence or Siena, those are pretty good jurisdictions, those are a human size. Many times during my career, I’ve looked back at the way that citizens, prominent and otherwise, behaved in those medieval city states and the relationship they had with them. It’s impossible not to notice how pathological our relationship is to our nation states today compared to the relationship that say Cosimo de Medici had towards Florence. I mean, okay, he ran the place, so he was a special kind of citizen. But it was obvious that for almost all the citizens of Florence in the Middle Ages, there was a relationship of mutual love, trust and understanding between those people and their city. And that’s been replaced in the modern age with a relationship of prostitution. We throw a handful of coins at our administrations, at our governments, and say, here, run the place for me. And you won’t hear from me again unless you screw up, in which case I’m going to call customer service and I’m going to protest. This is pathological. This is not a good relationship. And there needs to be a way of correcting that. That correction, I think, inevitably involves running things on a smaller scale. Yeah, I think you touched a really important point. I think you all feel this. It’s like the Florence was kind of the Singapore of the days or Dubai, and you go to these places and you see how closely people are aligned. And there’s nothing to do with their nationality, right? Because Singapore is now at least half South Indian, or maybe one third. And there’s a 20% occasion. And the original Chinese founders were a few Malays. But the original Chinese founders, original ethnic group, they’ve done a really good job of integrating everyone. I think you can feel the love for their nation state and for their common project, at least until like 10 years ago, it was very visible. And I think this is even true in Dubai, which couldn’t be further in ethnic lines than any other place. And I think the problem is, and I think this is coming from the crypto community a lot, how can we instill this sense of we are in this together, we have an impact on society, an impact on that nation state. And it certainly must be bigger because nobody has an impact on China as a single entity, or even as a few hundred or a few thousand people. But how do we fix that level where we clearly need some borders? Or it’s some kind of, okay, this is where it ends. And then we have this, the superstructure around us, right? And I’m glad you said that earlier. You don’t think of this one government policy. But how do we make all these little things entities? And I think there’s a lot to say about that. To say like a Miami could be their own city or San Francisco, they are their own city, but it could be their own semi nation state. How do we integrate all those different, that’s kind of the idea of competition, right? How do they all work together? Well, let’s look at how they work individually first. And I think a very, very important part of that journey has to be developments, advances in self governance. Getting citizens directly involved in the way that their communities are managed, because this is the thing that we’ve lost. And there’s no better evidence for this than the fact that community service in many, many countries around the world is actually a punishment. Yeah? Yeah, that’s true. I never thought about that. Yeah, absolutely fucked up is that, you know, it should be an honor to serve your community. In fact, I think it should be an alternative to taxation. I think you should be allowed to sweep the leaves in the park instead of paying taxes if you can’t afford your taxes. That to me would make sense, contribution to your state. And I think that there’s an awful lot of good work being done these days at the local level, at the domestic level, by organizations like the Alternative Party in Denmark in particular, and their UK cousins, Alternative UK, who are all about getting citizens actively involved in the way that they are actively involved in the management of places. And then a lot of these issues about where does the authority lie just sort of vaporized because there isn’t really authority. If people are totally, genuinely wholly committed to participating, or at least if they’re not committed, they have the ability to pass that on to somebody else through a single transferable vote, liquid democracy, all of this kind of stuff that’s so often in the news these days. So that’s the first thing. I think the other thing that we really do need to have to look at, very, very carefully, is the question of people’s sense of loyalty to their tribe or unit or whatever it is. Where does the point come where that benign nationalism or benign city feeling crosses a boundary and becomes malignant? Most citizens of medieval Florence would have gone around noisily claiming that their city state was better than any other city state. You could argue that that’s fine. That’s just high spirits and that’s decent pride. But then when you take another step and they’re starting to say, we’re so much better that they shouldn’t exist. Or we’re so much better that their citizens would be better off if they were under our jurisdiction instead of their jurisdiction. There’s this dividing line where loyalty to the tribe turns malignant, becomes arrogant, becomes superior, and eventually becomes hostile. And that’s the thing we need to look at. I think benign nationalism, benign patriotism is natural and fine. I love my country. I love its landscape. I don’t love my nation state. I don’t love its leaders. I don’t love its institutions. I don’t love its army. I don’t love its president. But I love my home. So these things all need to be carefully sorted out and catered for. Yeah, what this reminds me of, and I think it’s still one of the best books I’ve read on that topic. And I’m curious what you think. Jared Diamond’s book, Guns, Germs, and Steel. And I think we’re talking about the same topic. We’re just looking at states and we’re looking at the level of entity. And what he was basically saying, why is that that the 15th, 16th century Europeans were light years ahead of everyone else and literally 100 Spanish could sub to, I don’t know, 10 million Southern Americans with the East, basically. And how is it that there’s still, and his example was Papua New Guinea, how there’s still a lot of people in the world who live in similar concepts like Europe lived 2,000 years ago or 2,500 years ago as hunter and gatherers. And he never moved beyond that. So it seems to be something that is, it doesn’t come necessarily natural. It doesn’t come with our DNA, the way we are organized. So there’s several layers you put on top of it, several software upgrade layers. I traced them back to the Old Testament, but I’m curious about your opinion. And we put these layers on top of it and they really give us the compounded results, especially in the last couple of hundred years. But the question is a little bit, well, I think, and Jared wasn’t really answering this in his book. He didn’t say, you know, and that’s kind of a spoiler. He said, he runs you through all this history and in the end says, you know, it was all an accident. And whoever is not part of this development, you can learn from it, but it wasn’t never your fault. And maybe he’s onto something, but I always felt that isn’t the answer I was looking for. I was kind of looking for a way to tell me, how do we advance? How do we build these civilizations? How do we make the better planet? And he wasn’t really answering that question. I don’t know if you have a better answer for me. Well, I have to admit, first of all, that I haven’t read Jared Diamond, so I can’t fully join you in that conversation. I probably should, shouldn’t I? It’s a good book. Yeah, it’s very revolved, very well researched. I don’t like the conclusions, but I think the facts are fantastic. Yeah, there are so many good books out there. You never have time to read all of them. Anyway, I prefer to read fiction at my age. I find, I find these kinds of books on macroeconomics or history or sociology to be quite heavy going, most of them, which, by the way, is one of the reasons why I wrote my latest book, The Good Country Equation, The Way I Did. I wanted it to be more like an adventure story than a textbook, so that actually it’s a book written in color, so that there would be characters and locations and episodes and fun. I mean, there are things in there that I’m meant to make people laugh. I’m grieved to hear that you’ve only read one chapter. I hope that your attention span is capable of… Because I didn’t order it early enough, I would have read more. So usually I make a big effort diving into reading the books and listen to a lot of talks from… No, I didn’t want to put you on the spot there, Torsten. I’m very curious to read it. I think there’s a lot of truth in it, and then I can already hear that, of course. So the basic question is the oldest question of all. Why do some nations develop and others not? What’s the, where does progress come from? Well, I don’t know. There was a very interesting book I read many years ago by David Landis called… Called… What was it called? You know the one I mean. I don’t know him. No, I don’t know him. David Landis? I don’t know him. Landis, if I hadn’t paused then, I would have The Wealth and Poverty of Nations. Oh, yeah. And that’s a book which attempts to answer the same sort of question. And although, again, it is an absolutely fascinating read, I had a somewhat similar response to the book at the end, as you did to Jared Diamond, in the sense that the final conclusions just seemed to be a little unsatisfactory. David Landis is very good on climate, for example. And a lot of the stuff that he says about the climate that people live in has an influence over the economic activities that they engage in, and therefore the amount of growth that they develop. I’m also very interested in unpicking this sort of hidden assumption in the question that the economic development is necessarily, A, a good result, and B, the only good result. That’s a very good question. But the obvious answer is, and that’s the 14th, 15th century right there, you can think whatever you want about economic development, if you’re not ahead of everyone else, you’re going to die. That’s almost guaranteed, right? So you better develop your ancestors, the next generation is not going to make it, because it seems, and that seems to be true for all of human history, and I’m not sure we are really in a post conflict society. I don’t see it, to be honest. I think you’re still wired in the same ways. And I think we have different conflicts now, and the last huge conflict was the most deadly ever, right? So that the Second World War killed enough people for, I don’t know, was it what, 40 million people? That’s where we didn’t kill that many people in centuries before altogether, right? So it finally gave us a pause, because it was such a massacre. But I think I’m not, the current generation has no memory of this, and has no fear of a war. I hope we’re in a post conflict society. I don’t think we are. I think there is something bad brewing up there. And if you don’t outcompete your neighbor, and I think this still holds true, then you stop existing, and your children stop existing. I think that’s the danger that people don’t see that. Well, yes. I think you perhaps go too far, because there are exceptions to that. And on a planetary level, there is room for society’s civilizations to move at different speeds, and even to pause at certain levels of development. I mean, Papua New Guinea, for whatever you may say about it, does still exist. And they’re not dead. But what’s the exception to the rule, right? So the whole of Africa was really colonized. South America was colonized early on, was decimated by all the diseases on North America. Every continent where white people put their foot on, they never really left without some way colonizing it. I mean, I’m open to put this in perspective, but on the other hand, they colonized themselves. They were kind of oppressed in where they came from. They were usually outsiders in society. They wanted to venture out. They wanted to make money. They were entrepreneurs. Whatever people who were like in the case of Australia, they were prisoners. They would have been executed otherwise in Britain. So they had their own problems, and they used their skills to oppress other people, we can say that way. Yes. Do I buy that? I mean, certainly the troops, the soldiers in British India, for example, were not well off. They were private soldiers, and a great many of them were probably fighting or earlier on working for the East India Company because they needed the money. But the generals and the administrators, the policy makers, the Viceroy of India, and all the rest of it, these were the upper elites. And so even if the strategy wasn’t implemented by privileged people, it was certainly devised by privileged people. And the example of Australia is, Australia was a penal colony, but that’s not the norm. The norm was that colonisation was carried out by people who were rather well off, and fancied being in a place where they could have lots of cheap labour and lots of cheap land, basically. So I don’t know. I get into a lot of arguments about the impacts of colonisation on the good country index. Yeah, I’m curious about that. Yeah, what do you think is the impact? How do people perceive this? Because I know when I go to India, when I go to many African colonies, it is on everyone’s mind. This is not a topic that people are over with. It’s on people’s mind, and it really impacts their day to day policies. Absolutely. And I very regularly get emails from people often in what we call developing countries, saying it’s outrageous that you put our country so low in the index. It’s not our fault. It’s because you bastard colonised us. So just sort of peel away the rhetoric. I slightly resent the automatic assumption that it was me that did it, or even my ancestors that did it. You carried a passport. Yes, you’re guilty. Guilty as charged. What do you think from a British perspective? I always felt that Brits as the ones who were kind of the best coloniser out there, usually British colonies do the best economically, right, not necessarily in human rights. But there’s also tons and tons of countries that the Brits started with or without the help of the locals. Sure. I think it’s an interesting question, and I think it’s a very valid and very important question. Would India rank where it does on the Good Country Index today if it hadn’t been colonised by the British? And so my colleague, Robert Govers, and I actually tried to carry out a decolonised version of the Good Country Index where we removed the structural advantages that certain Western countries enjoy as a result of having pillaged poorer countries in their past. And it did make some interesting differences to the ranking, but they were not enormous. Obviously, this is not a precise science because you’re doing a lot of guessing there. But India was so far ahead, right? It was like the one of the highest GDP in the world 150, 160 years ago. Right, and I think that this question of where these countries were before colonisation is also a critically important part of the conversation, not in any sense to try to evade the blame for undertaking these colonial adventures, which today would be, one hopes, unthinkable. But I do think that there’s… Today we call it Hollywood. Well, that’s empire by permission. I think that’s different. If you sell people things and they voluntarily buy them, then America is an entirely new kind of empire from that point of view. It’s very subconscious too, this permission, right? I mean, the manipulation and the subconsciousness of it is like another layer. Nobody, I think, really gives conscious permissions to these American ideas many times, but they still manipulate people by their limbic brain. Yeah, well, that’s a long, long discussion. But I have to admit that I do sometimes get impatient with people lecturing me on the basis of a history that conveniently stops at the point just immediately before they became a vassal race. So why don’t you include the British Empire in your evaluation of India and the Good Country Index? Well, because it would be impossible, it would be entirely subjective because the data doesn’t go back that far, because it would take me the rest of my life to do the calculation. Those are the obvious reasons. But the other question I ask in reply is, okay, fine, let’s just pretend that I could do that, and let’s just pretend that I could go back as far as that. Why stop there? Or take the example of Germany. I get a lot of people writing to me and lecturing me about narcissism, and they say, how can you justify ranking Germany so high in the Good Country Index? Have you never heard of Adolf Hitler? Don’t you know what the Germans did? And I reply, yes, I know exactly what the Germans did. But if we’re going to go back in our imaginations, because it can only be in our imaginations, and do this analysis historically, why would we stop in 1939? Why would we not go back much further? And where would we stop, and where would we draw the line? And it doesn’t matter where you draw the line, it’s always random. And you’re deliberately cutting off history at a certain point because you deliberately want to exclude what came before. So back to India, why don’t we go back another 600 years and look at the various empires that India had over other territories? Is that somehow more trivial than the British Empire just because it happened a long time ago? Were the deaths somehow less valuable because they’re forgotten? I don’t think so. I think if you’re going to care about the crimes that people perpetrate against each other in the past, then it has to be throughout human history. And you’re actually left with very few countries that have never done any harm to anybody else. Now, that is absolutely not an argument to say that the British Empire was fine because everybody does it. That’s not my point at all. My point is simply that it’s enormously difficult to make proper allowances for that because it’s the beginning of a very, very, very long thread that you start pulling out of history and it never stops and it never ends, and by the time you finish pulling it, you’re naked, you’re not wearing a sweater anymore at all because you pulled the whole skein of wool out of it. I don’t know the answer. The cradle of humanity, I think this is as old as humans exist that they go through these cycles and there is unfortunately some violence in there. And I always feel, and I’m curious, you know, this plays into it, you make that argument that you’re hopefully in a post war society but also that the good country basically gives people the impression, but on a country level, how many people are doing the morally good, right? So how many of them are able to oversee these little nitpicking of everyday nation life and look into bigger issues? But what I feel, and that’s just my gut feeling, I don’t have any good data, you’re way better with the data you’ve got, I feel there is a price for morality and most of the time, the morality, there’s a positive and negative, right? So I feel like the old testament, and that’s why I’m saying this, like the software upgrade to humanity, and most of these things have proven true. That’s why it’s still around after such a long time and maybe derived it in different sub sectors. So Christianity obviously is part of this and Islam but other nations are now influenced by that too, indirectly, even if they don’t have this as a majority religion. What I’m trying to say there was a negative price on that morality because it actually paid off, it was easier to bring the next generation along, it was easier to feed them. But there’s other morality that seems to have a price attached, so you can follow this, but it might be, and we don’t know from any new things that we think are moral now, they might have a price, right? So it might be pretty difficult to actually keep going because it reduces your GDP by 50%. What I mean by this is climate change, right? We want to save the climate, but if we reduce our GDP by 80%, I don’t think we’re going to be around anymore. Tostan, if the only arguments that I had for countries being good were moral arguments, I would never have written a book. See, I have to read the book. That’s the problem, yeah. I don’t trust moral arguments at the level at which I work. When I’m dealing with nation states, morals don’t count. The nation state is not a moral entity. And as a consequence of that, the majority of the people who make policy decisions at the upper level in nation states are not moral beings. They bloody well ought to be, but they’re not. And that’s because the calculations they make are calculations of national self interest, and that is unavoidable. The nation state is designed to be selfish. Our whole principle of the sovereign states, which are responsible for their own internal affairs and nothing else, is the problem. So there would simply be no point in me going to the government of any nation, even a quote unquote good nation like Finland, and saying, you should be emitting less CO2 because that’s the moral thing to do. It would be pointless. They would answer me politely and then forget about it immediately. The reason I felt that I was able to justify adding yet another book to the far too many books there are on the planet is because every argument in the good country equation is based on enlightened self interest. It clearly demonstrates that there are good reasons, self interested reasons why nation states should behave themselves better. At one level, it’s a very, very simple argument which is actually very similar to corporate social responsibility except in the public sphere. One of the things that I’ve proved by measuring the images of countries is that the only sure way of getting a better image and thereby getting more trade is by doing good. If you simply brag about how beautiful or rich or successful or powerful you are, nobody cares. It doesn’t make any difference at all. But if you’re a country that’s perceived to do good outside its own borders, is a committed and principled member of the international community, people will like you more. And if they like you more, they will buy your products, they will hire your people and invest in your economy. So this is pure self interest. And this is the argument that I found over my career actually does make a difference. There have been a few occasions when I’ve been able to go to a head of state or a head of government and say, look, you should increase the amount of foreign overseas development assistance you’re giving because. Or you should reduce the amount of pollution you’re creating because I can demonstrate that ties directly into your country’s brand image. And if your country has a better brand image, you will make more money. So there are other mechanisms within there, but there’s not a single thing in there that’s played from a moral point of view because I know it won’t go anywhere. I’m not a cynic, but I just know how countries are wrong. Well, yeah, no, I mean, I feel, well, if you ask me, if a moral, if a moral, and I think we’re on the same, on the same site there, I think we both have slightly different terminologies. If you make a moral argument and it increases your likeliness to survive the next generation with more money than otherwise, then I think this moral argument is very well founded because this is something defendable since the beginning of civilization. But it’s a moral argument. Sometimes it takes a while to find the real, the real. It’s not clear when you make the argument if it will pay off, but it’s worth a shot. I think that’s the entrepreneurial journey. Right. But again, you see, one of the things I’m very careful to do is to minimize the longterm payback arguments. Again, it’s a similar reason because the governments, at least the elected governments of democratic countries, know that they’re only going to be in office for four years or six years or whatever it is. And therefore, trying to sway them by longterm benefit arguments is equally pointless. Yeah, that’s true. So, you know, they’re going to be out of office before the benefits are felt. So they’re, by definition, not interested. I understand this. I won’t say I respect it, but I understand it. And therefore, all of the arguments I make to governments, and this is what the good country equation is, is this set of arguments, this set of mechanisms. Yeah. Not only are they deliberately about enlightened self interest, national self interest, but they are also deliberately short to medium term. So there’s a set of arguments that says, you know, do this because if you do good, you will do well. As I said, it’s identical to corporate social responsibility, except what the data shows is that that same mechanism works at the level of the nation state. And that’s important because corporate social responsibility has and continues to revolutionize the commercial sector. The fact that corporations now fully understand that they have to pursue their ESG goals, that they have to be good citizens if they want to earn the brand loyalty of their consumers. That has changed business almost beyond recognition and will continue to do so. All we needed was the same revolution at the level of the nation state, and I’m arguing that we now have it. That’s a very interesting way to look at this. I got to think a little more about that because, you know, I think I’m more interested in the long term goals, but obviously you have to sell it and that’s you’re doing it extremely well. One thing that you also mentioned is the trouble with economic aid and the way we can help nations, and maybe there isn’t a way to help them, but I’m curious how you think for better solutions, how can we institute help from a richer country perspective to a poorer country perspective? And it’s something like challenges, like adopted challenges or what the gates are storing, which is focusing on a different layer, just on the health layer especially. What do you think is the future of economic aid or economic development that we institute in other countries? Well, I leave this to the experts. I’m not an expert on overseas development assistance. I’ve had a lot to do with it over the years. I know as much as any careful up to date reader on the topic will know, the basic fact being that most of the billions given away in aid by rich countries to poor countries have not produced the desired effect at anything like the necessary scale, and that we are beginning now to understand much, much more clearly what the sources and therefore the remedies of poverty are. It’s a lot to do with fixing institutions. Surprisingly, counterintuitively, it may have more to do with giving people cash than we ever let ourselves believe. Certainly, the conventional donation based overseas development assistance has many desirable side effects, some of which are as bad if not worse than poverty. It tends to put local businesses out of business by providing products and services at zero cost or very low cost. It tends to encourage corruption because by feeding enormous amounts of foreign cash through administrations, the temptations for some of that to disappear down the wrong channels is enormous. All of this is relatively well known. But I think that I have a bigger issue here that is that this whole question of poverty reduction overseas development assistance via charitable means at a very, very deep level defines the West’s perception of all the problems in the world. This Victorian notion of charity, as I often say, this simplistic idea that all that’s wrong with the world is that you’ve got this line around the middle of the planet called the Equator, and above that line the problem is that countries have got too many dollars, and below the line the countries don’t have enough dollars. And if we can only find mechanisms for transferring enough of the spare dollars from above the line to below the line, then all the problems of the world will be solved, and it is astonishing to me how if you spend a day looking at NGO websites claiming to cure all the problems of the world, whether it’s a lack of education, a lack of sanitation, a lack of whatever, underneath it is always this archetypal subtext that it’s about too much money above the line, not enough money below the line, we need to transfer more of that money. Only a civilization, like the American civilization that has such an immoderate worship of money could make the mistake of believing that this is all and only about money. It’s much more complicated than that, and one of the things that I try to get across in the good country equation is that these are not arguments about charity, these are not arguments about philanthropy, this is not the white man’s burden, this is about all the nations of the earth taking equal responsibility for the planet that they have a part of, and even very small countries acknowledging, their leaders acknowledging, that if you become the president or the prime minister of a country, however small, you join the team that runs the planet, and you have influence, and you have responsibility, and you have agency beyond your immediate sphere of jurisdiction. And if we carry on allowing ourselves to get lost with arguments of historic blame, and all the rest of it, the longer we put off the ultimate fact that all nations are equally responsible for the planet and the civilization that we’re part of, the longer it’s going to be before we start improving things. So we’ve got to get past that. I don’t mean ignoring the crimes of the past, I don’t mean putting a lid over it, I don’t mean stopping discussing these things, I don’t mean getting to a stage where we stop having these two tiers, where you’ve got poor countries who are innocent of every crime, who don’t have to play any part in making the world work better. One of the most satisfying things that happened in the Good Country Index in the first edition was the fact that Kenya came in the top 30 of the countries that on balance contribute more to the world outside their borders than others. And this proved better, more elegantly, than any arguments I could have used, that it is actually fundamentally not about money. One of the reasons why Kenya ranked well in the Good Country Index was because it receives quite a lot of aid. Aid is a transaction. It doesn’t matter which side of that transaction you’re participating in, whether you’re a donor or a recipient, you’re participating in a useful flow of currency, a useful global flow of currency, which, when handled, leads to a better world for everybody. Kenya is as responsible for making that chain work by receiving the aid and spending it well as is the United Kingdom or wherever else for donating the money. So I think these are arguments that say… I fully agree with you. I think maybe we are not yet there to really spell it out, but I feel a lot of developing countries, especially in Africa, they know exactly what’s going on in their investment, right? So I think aid is a weird idea. It’s basically just… To me, it’s like giving someone whose homeless money, which is great, but you don’t know if this person is going to buy drugs with it and they’re going to die tomorrow or if they’re going to buy a better shelter, right? I don’t know that. If I give them $20, there’s not enough drugs, but if I give them $2,000, I don’t know if they’re going to be around tomorrow and if I’m indirectly or directly responsible for that person not making it. I think it’s a really good thing to do in the Asian state and what I think is the answer to this but it’s equally hard to really pull it off is what the Asian tigers have done. That’s the example of my generation. Obviously, there’s just prior examples all over history. And if you create a situation where other people are interested that have enough money because we should be credit donations to U.S. but most rich countries are credit donations. They export their money because returns are better somewhere else and then they repatriate the profits eventually. Those are typically the higher growth rates are when you have a low GDP, right? As higher your GDP is, as harder it becomes to get high rates of interest, at least in theory. It just changes over time. And so all the money should go to the debt donations. Fully voluntarily, there’s no aid required in my book because when in economic theory suggests that they have the better investment opportunities now, a lot of countries have good investment opportunities might be overlooked, but in general, I think the marketplace functions along those lines is really important. Ruby Alcantara on this. She said, you know, the darling was Tanzania for the longest time, attracted a lot of external investment. And then Tanzania, basically all this investment in new companies if someone came around and said, well, give me 50% of whatever investment you received or you’re not going to make it until tomorrow. You literally was like a mafia and she said, it went from being a darling to being the last country to invest because politics destroyed everything in a heartbeat. That’s a real issue, right? The government you deserve. It might take a while, you know, but even the Soviet Union, finally all the republics got the government they deserve. It took a while, right? It takes 30, 40, 50, maybe 100 years, but usually within a generation you get the government you actually deserve. I just want to say one step back, your analogy of giving aid to least developed countries and giving money to a drunk in the park, I think could easily be misunderstood. Yeah. We got to be careful there. So it’s just an analogy in what’s right to do in that moment. Obviously charity on donations is extremely important to keep society alive and it’s a very vital part. What the question is, how do you set this incentive between giving money away without any attachments and then other investment which is different from that where you want to return, right? So both things are absolutely needed. But I think the investment part could be way bigger. It could be trillions and we don’t have to even worry about it. The people would do it voluntarily way more often. Well, arguably China is showing the way. Yeah. Although as I describe again in my book, I talk quite a lot about this comparison between the traditional aid, the aid industry of well meaning western nations in Africa and the rather newer model offered by China and how in some ways, some circumstances, it’s quite difficult to decide who’s doing more good or more harm. Very often China has a long way to go, I think in the way that it invests in and thereby assists African nations. But most African leaders prefer the Chinese approach because it’s not so demeaning. There are no strings attached. They’re treated like a business partner and that’s the intention and that goes down better. But then so often the Chinese don’t follow through, for example, they don’t train or hire local employment. And so the gift of investment is a gift that’s half given and half taken away. But in some circumstances that’s still better than the worst kind of of western charity. But I just wanted to say that from my point of view I will sometimes compare some African politicians politicians in Africa to the people who you’re not quite sure where the money is going to end up if you give it to them. But certainly not the populations. I think the populations generally speaking can be better trusted with the money than the governments who are supposed to distribute it. And that’s because in Africa, as in most of the world we have a very, very serious problem about recruiting good people as our politicians. It looks slightly different in the west to the way that it looks in Africa, but basically it’s the same fundamental problem. We still haven’t figured out how to get the governments that we truly deserve. And we still haven’t quite figured out how to ensure that the really good people are properly incentivized to want to become politicians and to want to run countries. I mean, I have to say that throughout my professional life I’ve worked with politicians and my view of them is generally more positive than the view of people who haven’t worked with politicians. Most people say to me how can you stand it working with those evil people all the time. I haven’t found them evil. I’ve found that I think I’ve worked in 60 countries now and the overwhelming majority of the politicians I’ve worked with have been good principled people who are doing the jobs they’re doing under exceptionally difficult circumstances. Generally speaking out of a very, very proper sense of civic duty, they become politicians in the first place overwhelmingly because they want to do the right thing for their country. The trouble is that the jobs are almost impossible and they’re becoming harder and harder and harder by the day. The incentives are all wrong. I still don’t understand why it is that we don’t require a certain set of skills and knowledge from our politicians. Why there isn’t a bar that they have to get over. Just a technical bar that they understand something of economics. They understand something of international relations. They understand something of society and statistics and how things work. Because we end up with a bunch of rank amateurs who really, really don’t know the first thing about the job they’re supposed to be doing. And it seems to me to be extraordinary that the most important jobs in the world, how our countries are run, are the only jobs where no vetting, no qualification, no previous experience are required. All you have to be able to do is to have sufficient friends to pay enough money to get you elected. I find that shocking. I love that question and not a lot of people are looking at this the right way I feel. What would we have gotten in the US, especially we have basically paid actors. They could be CEOs, they could be politicians, they could go to Hollywood. It’s kind of the same job description. You have a certain role, you play it out, you don’t stumble too much in public speaking. And that’s it, right? And you need a bunch of money by your benefactors who actually buy the TV ads. This is how you win elections. What do you say and what the policy is about? In the end, nobody really cares. That seems really dangerous, right? But on the other hand, there is a separate idea of the philosopher king, the person who is so wise it can make better decisions under laws. And the person that is like King David or King Solomon. But we kind of felt that didn’t really work out so well because of these people, sooner or later, that are that wise to have all the knowledge that did not just go through the minimum requirements, but are the smartest philosophers on the planet. They kind of become these arrogant beings of upstanding above what’s right. At least a lot of them are affected by it. And they don’t seem to be doing a better job than the ones who are paid actors and kind of do random stuff. That’s kind of my learning from history. Maybe I’m wrong. Absolutely. Well, I mean, you only have to look at the modern history of Europe as a result of the negative experience of having several European countries run by charismatic ideologues, Hitler, Mussolini, Franco and so forth. The European tide has turned very firmly in the direction of dreary bureaucrats. The European Union is all about, you know, let’s not have any more dangerous men or women running our countries. Let’s have competent bureaucrats in suits who know how to govern. And that’s worked very well for us. But as you said earlier, the moment you get a generation who don’t have personal memory of what an ideologue, a despot, a demagogue looks or sound like, then they fall straight into the same traps again. In the same way that you’ve got kids in the United States getting all excited about fundamentally socialist or even communist ideas. Because even though there’s still an enormous amount of antisocialist propaganda within American culture, nonetheless, there’s no personal recollection of the Soviet Union. And in the same way you have people voting for politicians all around Europe who people of my generation cannot possibly mistake. These are tyrants in the making. These are illiberal demagogues who want to rule by decree, who want to increase their power, who want to curtail the freedoms of their citizens in order to promote their own cursed ideologies. But I’m surrounded by people who are not old enough to remember that. And so the pendulum goes back and forth and back and forth. One thing that really helped me understand that a little better, or be less worried about all the politicians is Peter Zien’s work. I don’t know if you’d listen to him. What he basically says, he makes an argument that’s older than his work. But his argument is, you know, there’s way bigger forces out there. So basically there is this globalization that was driven by America. And America builds these allies up that are usually the enemies and then these allies become the enemies again. And he has a lot of historic evidence. What he’s been saying is, you guys all worry too much. What happens is America is withdrawing from extreme globalization that America had pushed out. You know, it secured the trading routes. It secured the American standard. It gave everyone plenty of U.S. dollars to trade in. We’ve had a reserve currency. But this is over. Nobody cares in the U.S. anymore. So we are trying to find a way to contract to get out of these things like the NATO. We let others fight or squabble. And America is just going to be America and domestic. That seems to be a strong trend. He says since 1994, nobody worried about foreign goods in the U.S. anymore. So this is all about being a different America. And he says, you know, what’s interesting is that America, if it just has to live with what it has, literally it’s land mass and the existing facilities and the people it has, nobody could emigrate anymore. They say it’s still these forces will play out quite interesting because Europe has he has a set of arguments. He says, Europe will look more for their own way and they will suffer because they can’t protect the trading routes as much and Japan will do well. So he kind of has a whole set of arguments how each country will do. And he says it’s completely and that’s the important part. It’s pretty much, it doesn’t really matter what politicians say. It doesn’t matter which Taiwan comes up where. It doesn’t matter the climate change which might be a big impact on society. But he says these things are pretty predictable that they happen this way and he has a lot of history to prove that. And I find this interesting is sometimes a little bit once you once you create an economic success story, you have something to go on. And that was at least true in history and part of history. Most of the time you win the wars if you have an economic success story. If you don’t have it, you’re in shaky footing. You’re going to be in trouble in the next 50 to 100 years and this is what anyone should really focus on and obviously with the subset of additional morals to make life in other places better. But really we should focus more about a domestic economic success. This is what in the end pretty much decides every war. Yeah, but it depends on what your objectives are, doesn’t it? I mean, you know, America is the richest country on earth, the richest country in history, the richest country there has ever been. So arguably by that set of criteria, it’s played that game better than any other nation in history. Is it happy? Are its citizens fulfilled? Is it a stable just and peaceful society? Doesn’t look like that from the other side of the Atlantic. It looks to us as if it’s falling apart. And so certainly on the way up if you’re experiencing growth from a low base, then those economic flows can easily be identified with national success stories. I entirely take the point that the politicians are a kind of secondary detail. I do by that. But what I’m not sure that I buy is that the ultimate objective, the aim in all of this therefore, is to produce as much wealth, to accumulate as much wealth, to be more wealthy by as wide a margin as possible than other countries, because therefore you’re doing better. It seems pretty clear that beyond a certain point you don’t do better. And the consolation that you’ve got a higher GDP per capita than other countries is a rather meager consolation if it doesn’t ultimately provide any benefit or any stability or anything else. The difficulty, the problem with all of these economics based arguments is that they do, as Adam Smith himself and many others pointed out, they do leave out many of the fundamental currencies of what make us human. The fact, for example, that as any FMRI scanner will tell you, we get more pleasure from helping other people than we get from pleasing ourselves. And we get more satisfaction from living in peace with our brothers and sisters than we do from being the victors in a conflict. And so that’s the reason, it’s not because these underlying economic flow arguments are untrue. It’s not because they don’t present a credible account of how the world works, but it’s because they assume an endpoint that no rational being could possibly share. That’s the problem with them. And I think you have to reset the endpoint and say, where is it we’re actually trying to get to? Well, I think when we talk about economic growth, it’s not you know, economic growth is not in my mind produced by just getting more gold, right? In a sense it is. And I think certainly it doesn’t matter if you have 38,000 GDP or 42,000, this is all very relative and very difficult to measure, but it doesn’t matter if you were 1,000 GDP, 15,000 and 50,000, right? So there’s certainly still the three worlds out there, the first, second and third world. Even if we think this is a little outdated and I think these classes really exist, but I think what in the core of it, and this is where I really tried to advocate for is this entrepreneurial idea that turns into innovation, right? So only the next thing, the thing that we innovate that makes our lives better and that’s introduced in a voluntary basis, so entrepreneurs commercialize it, then it goes through society and people adopt it and they all feel they’re all better off, right? It’s an idea. And that I think is the core of this and innovation almost always leads to like useful innovation that’s being adopted by everyone because then you really see the benefit going through the population. This is at the core of what makes the world a better place and what is this, you want to raise your GDP. I think the only real answer to me, for me, is you have to innovate and that innovation must be real innovation, not just, you know, we found a patent in the university, but it’s an adopted innovation and I think this is where my claim and I’ve been, I think Peter Thiel’s claim is so interesting when he says, you know, the last 50 years we were, we didn’t have outside of semiconductors, we didn’t have much innovation and that’s a real problem because it left a lot of people behind. It’s very steady in equality, right? If you’re in semiconductors of finance, you have too much money to play with and everyone else, not everyone, but most of the industries are in trouble and but that’s not what we saw in the 70s and I think this is where the crocs come from. If we get back to this innovative climate and get this transported anywhere on the planet that this is the highest ideal, how can I make the world a better place today, myself and my nation state, then I think we fix that if people really follow this mantra. Yeah, well the project that I’m spending most of my time on at the moment is an educational project called The Good Generation which I also describe in a certain amount of detail in the book certainly harmonizes with that view because one of the things that it argues for is that children need to be raised with the correct motivations to play the role in society that society needs them to play and one of those is emphatically learning and understanding the joy of coming up with new stuff solving problems inventing new ideas working with others who invent new ideas if you don’t do them yourself and so on and so forth. So it’s so interesting that almost we haven’t spoken about education and any conversation on these kinds of topics that doesn’t mention education is half a conversation because almost whatever challenge it is that you’re talking about almost whatever question you’re asking the answer is always education because clearly the challenges that we’re facing are all caused by the behavior of humans and clearly therefore if you want to change the world you have to change humanity and clearly the only reliable way of changing humanity is through education so you bring up a generation that’s different from the one before it I mean sure you can try your hardest to change adults but once you get past 30 it’s very very difficult whereas feeding ideas into children’s minds is scarily easy absolutely absolutely and then you know not just socrates and nudists obviously Lenin and nudists too and I think they both have been successful with that for better or worse and I think what’s taking over in education right now and I think this is it’s really difficult to see this happening in real time is that on one side there’s this encouragement of creativity is that we can personalize the curriculum extremely literally every single student has a very different curriculum online because they basically do their own YouTube curriculum so to speak but this is what they can do in their spare time right but if in school we still have this stuff from 100 years ago or 60 years ago and aligning those is really tricky because on one hand I’m kind of get upset when my children don’t get taught properly how to spell at least one language and I do this in four or five languages and I’m like go to the teacher and say well what’s going on you need to make you need to fix this right and they say yeah we can’t we don’t want to everyone is their own being and it’s like this princess I’m like okay this is really wrong but on the other hand if you really focus and want to focus on specialization then there is no way around the castle and spelling in the end isn’t a big deal in a world where we have gravity and we have tons of innovations we don’t we’re spelling nobody will ever write and ever again right so it is something I find tricky to wrap my mind around is yes we need a different change of innovation and that’s based on education but this education looks really weird to me it looks like people are lazy and this is really difficult for me to compromise on those well I think there’s a revolution in progress which is the best of the private sector in the educational ecosystem the most innovative the most inventive work is being done in the private sector and it’s growing and growing and growing and growing in size in effectiveness and in the amount of interest it’s generating and fairly soon that’s going to burst through into the state sector in country after country after country and some of those lessons will have to be learned by the state sector which in many countries is still lagging far behind parents and teachers that I talk to all over the world all complain about the same things they say that it’s all just about passing exams that there’s no there’s no emotional intelligence there’s no personal learning journey they don’t teach kids how to be happy they don’t teach them how to have good relationships they don’t teach them how to use money they don’t teach them how to be entrepreneurs they don’t teach them how to live in society and from my point of view they don’t teach them how to understand and tackle the grand challenges the existential challenges facing humanity so I think the revolution is a common and all of the innovation is there in the private sector and it’s about to burst through that dam because the really really really excellent stuff is being done there what you said just now about children tailoring their own educational experience is absolutely correct there’s a company in Silicon Valley who they’re partnering with called Guru who which was started up by one of the guys who designed Google Maps and he’s basically created this piece of software which is every child’s personal learning map and he basically asked you some questions to feed in where you are on your learning journey right now because how much you know already you set your destination which could be I want to pass this exam or I want to get this job or I want to know about this subject it does your it does your itinerary and you can take detours off and learn things on the way if something catches your eye just over the horizon and it also turns teachers classroom teachers into far more effective managers of their classroom because instead of just trying to remember who’s where and what stage they’re at and what their individual challenges or difficulties are it’s all there this is absolutely revolutionary so what I’m trying to do with the good generation project is I’m trying to see if we can come up with a global consensus on a minimal set of values, virtues, skill skill sets, learnings and principles but the whole world agrees would be what we really need our children to have in the next generation and if we can do that we’re going to be doing that via a big online global conversation moderated by AI which is quite useful for those I mentioned it before in the context of the good country experiment and then we turn this into some kind of global compact a little bit like Universal Declaration of Human Rights or the UN Charter that says we the world agree that irrespective of our religious, cultural, linguistic, historic geographical and topological differences we all agree that these fundamental 16 or 18 values, virtues and skill sets are all things that we approve of and that we agree that our generation, the next generation needs to learn so that when they leave school they run towards the global challenges instead of running away from them and then we have agreement on that and there we go so that’s the project. That’s very laudable I think this is awesome I think the do I feel and that’s my gut feeling and I have to learn more about it, you’re way more involved my gut feeling is that it’s relatively easy to, especially in today’s world of relatively abstract and I’m going to say it, virtual signaling and this is not virtual signaling, I’m just saying it’s relatively easy to find abstract goals everyone signs off on, it’s like the human rights chapter of the UN that’s run by Iran and you’re like really so this is relatively easy but breaking it down into what actually should my child know and I think self authoring is a wonderful tool and I think it’s so powerful the only problem is it’s really scary for the parents because your kids basically learn only about video games for six months because that’s what they want to learn about and you really think oh man, this predictability of what my child is going to be by the age 20 is completely out the window like everyone is highly customized and some kids are super smart by the age of 8 and they’re going to fall back and they barely say what until they’re 15 to a parent it’s extremely scary I have this personal experience and that’s what makes it so hard to make this switch, I think we all instinctively want it as parents but it’s really scary and it’s also very unproven right now so I’m all for it I think I would love to do it but I think it’s really scary to everyone and even I consider myself like an early adopter entrepreneur in Silicon Valley but lots of people outside will say well this is not what we want, we want a religious education for instance so we want my child to be brought up with these values that I trust even if I don’t understand them fully so it’s very tricky Absolutely, well just to clarify, there are a number of things here that we’re not doing first of all most importantly the thing that we’re not doing is creating new content that children are going to be taught I think when you’re looking at the kind of values and virtues that make a good society these are not subjects that can easily be taught directly there have been hundreds of experiments over the decades by UNESCO and others trying to teach topics like global citizenship or tolerance or whatever it doesn’t really work the kids know that it’s not a proper subject and they also find it quite boring because it’s indigestible, you’re just pouring moral values into their ears and human beings don’t learn under those circumstances they learn actively so I believe that the best way for most of these principles to be inculcated in children is within the existing, within real subjects within real school topics so the kids are still going to be learning what they have to be learning but we’re just going to try and put back in the value systems of which they are a part in defining so that’s the other thing I wanted to say I do understand what you mean about it being scary for parents and that’s why it’s so very very important that parents are major contributors to this whole thing the conversations we’re having are also with parents and the values and virtues are very very carefully selected because they reflect the fundamental same set of values and virtues that those parents will find within their religion we can’t endorse teaching religion because we are now a fully globalised society and there isn’t a global religion there are too many of them so this must by definition be secular of course within countries, countries are free to teach their state religion or religions if that’s what they want to do and we wouldn’t dream of interfering with it but you know of course because you’ve looked at these things as an intellectually curious person that if you open the hood on most world religions you will find the same set of values pumping away underneath as from one religion to the other so although people like to claim that there are massive cultural differences between races and nations and religions actually it’s a bit of an exaggeration I’m an anthropologist by training and one of the things that I’ve found during my life is that we have a tendency to exaggerate cultural differences for all kinds of reasons but fundamentally we kind of believe in the same basic things so that’s why this isn’t difficult you’re right to say that it’s relatively easy to get people to sign up to high sounding compacts then whether they actually stick to them or not is another matter indeed if we had another two hours I could explain exactly how we propose to do that I know we’re short on time and I think it’s already so illuminating to be covered so much it’s just one more thing that I wanted to cover maybe have a very brief answer I still have this hope for a matter of religion something we just talked about I feel this is my personal opinion after studying all the Abrahamic religions in really core detail and also looked into a few others but not as deeply I feel there is a matter of religion out there that we can all agree on literally we go back to as you just said, maybe 2030 a relatively small number of human aspirations so to speak and nobody has I’m sure people have done it but nobody has popularized it enough it never really took off but maybe someone can do it I still have that hope, do you think that’s possible? Have you checked out behind? Yes but only from the surface level Bahaí is one of the more successful experiments in trying to come up with a broad set of commonly accepted precepts and principles that don’t clash with any of the major other religions Not the very Buddhist, that was my knowledge so far, maybe I’m wrong Say again, sorry? I thought the very Buddhist inspired No, not really I mean there are some aspects of Bahaí which are recognizably similar to Buddhism but that’s not where it comes from That’s very interesting I want to check that out Simon, thank you for taking the time Thanks for doing this, it was very illuminating we covered so much, it was a really fascinating discussion I enjoyed it, let’s do it again Absolutely, same here I’m looking forward to it See you soon Bye now!

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