Voting for Good

Having founded the Good Country Index on the principle that countries should compete less and collaborate more to respond to the challenges of our highly connected world, Simon Anholt launched the Global Vote this summer. For the first time in history, it empowers anybody in the world to vote in the elections of any country on earth. What is this new project trying to achieve; why do politicians now need a dual mandate; why does the culture of elections around the world need to change; and how is he going to enlist the support of at least one-tenth of humanity? Simon Anholt explains all in an exclusive interview with BRICS Business Magazine.

What is the theme behind the Global Vote?

The theme behind it is the theme of the Good Country. My simple diagnosis of the main problem facing humanity is this: We are facing a series of 21st-century globalized problems, like climate change, economic chaos, migration, pandemics, and terrorism, but the world is still configured as it was in the 17th century – as a collection of selfish, warring tribes called nations.

We urgently need to collaborate a lot more and compete a little less, but the whole system is based on the notion of competition. Yes, we collaborate when we absolutely have to and when we have a clear and immediate mutual interest in collaboration, but it is still the exception rather than the rule. And it seems to me this culture really has to change, or our problems are will continue to multiply and worsen.

The change will come from populations. If people around the world understand this and desire it, they will be able to influence the political culture, to influence their leaders. That is the basic principle of the Good Country: what I call the ‘Dual Mandate’.

Will you specify what the Dual Mandate means?

Traditionally, everybody in a position of power or authority has a single mandate: They are responsible for their own people and their own slice of territory. In order to get the best deal for their own people and their own territory, it’s considered perfectly fine for them to harm other people and other territories – in fact, this is often rather admired, but it’s obviously disastrous for the earth and for life on earth.

The dual mandate says, “Every person in a position of power or authority is responsible for his or her own people and for every man, woman, child, and animal on the planet; responsible for his or her own slice of territory and the whole surface of the Earth, and the atmosphere above it.”

Do you really think it’s realistic?

It’s realistic because it’s rational, and human history is a story of irrational behavior redeemed by reason at the 11th hour. I think we are well into the 11th hour, and I hope reason will soon prevail. I’m trying to give it a helping hand.

One obstacle to this essential progress in human development is the fact that so many politicians believe these two mandates to be conflicting. They accept, unquestioningly, that anything that’s good for your own people must be bad for somebody else, that countries are fundamentally selfish economic entities which have always and must always compete. I think this now must be challenged. We need to establish a new culture of government in which innovative combinations of collaboration and competition become the gold standard of good governance.

Another obstacle is the rise in explicitly selfish, localist politics. This is the predictable consequence of rising inequality, largely created by the dishonest and incompetent way in which countries and companies have responded to the forces of globalization. But the politics that encourages people to find comfort in looking backwards and inwards will soon make our problems far, far worse; we need to help people find hope in looking forwards and outwards.

Climate change is one global challenge that has begun to teach us how to do this, by showing that doing the right thing for the whole of the planet, for the whole of humanity, and for future generations can also be highly beneficial for your own citizens and territory, and for the present generation. We simply need to extend this new understanding to all areas of national behavior. It’s not an absurd hope that we might be able to achieve this, with the right levels of popular understanding and support.

It’s important to stress that I am not asking or expecting governments to become altruistic and self-sacrificing. This is about enlightened self-interest. Working with the governments of more than 50 countries over the last 20 years, I have often seen that thinking innovatively about how to benefit your own people and the rest of the world produces better solutions than planning from an exclusively domestic perspective.

Why?

Because it encourages cooperation and collaboration, which nearly always produces better results. It encourages governments to look at other case studies, which is inherently inspiring. Learning about – and, better still, helping with – other countries’ challenges gives you a fresh perspective on your own. Transferring solutions from one context to another can produce new and better solutions. Working together is more effective than working alone.

That is the first reason why I feel hopeful about this. The other reason is because I can see there are significant numbers of people around the world who would prefer to live in a world like the one I have been describing. And people have power.

I did a small research project two or three years ago to try to find out how many people in the world would agree with these basic principles, people who feel they are members of the human race before they are citizens of their own nations. These people don’t necessarily lack national pride, of course, but they feel it in a benign form; they don’t allow it to blind them to the bigger issues, or let it become belligerent. These are people who value future generations and present generations equally, people who spontaneously put the common good of humanity ahead of their own pride and self-interest.

Well, it turns out that at least 10 percent of the world’s population believe in these principles absolutely. Ten percent of the world’s population is around 700 million people, which is a very large number. There have not been many movements or organizations in history with that kind of following. So the Good Country is trying to locate, identify, and connect those people all over the world.

Changing the Culture

Is the Global Vote instrumental to reaching this goal?

The Good Country isn’t really a movement or an organization: It’s a philosophy, an idea, a way of seeing the world. The Global Vote is a product of that philosophy – one of a series of projects I’ll be launching over the next few years which are designed to reach out those 700 million people and provide practical and fun ways of implementing the principles of the Good Country.

The idea behind the Global Vote is to identify situations where a relatively small number of people make decisions that affect a much larger number of people, and to give the larger group a say. For example, in presidential elections, a relatively small number of people – the adult population of one country – makes a decision about who their next president is going to be. And that choice will affect, to some degree, the whole of the world’s population; yet the world’s population has no choice but to stand by and pray they make the right choice.

This is the case even if it’s a very small country. It’s obvious that Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton will be making policies that affect the lives of everybody in the world, one way or another. But I would argue that it is equally true of Zambia, or Uruguay, or Uzbekistan, of anywhere you can mention, because of the degree of globalization that we have achieved in the modern age. Every country is now linked.

At the moment, I’m focusing on the elections of heads of state. This is because in many countries, the head of state is, by convention, the chief diplomat, the person who is responsible for the country’s engagement with the rest of the world. Yet these elections often take place without any discussion of the world outside that country’s borders. Again the USA is an exception, as the candidates talk quite a lot about foreign affairs; they have to because, for better or for worse, America is very engaged internationally. But in most other countries, neither voters nor candidates nor media really talk much about the rest of the world. They talk in domestic terms, as if their country was an island, completely disconnected from the rest of humanity. The purpose of the Global Vote is to try to change that.

What is the practical way of achieving that?

What I’m trying to do is to put international affairs and international relations – humanity and the planet, in other words – onto the electoral and political agenda. When the citizens of a country are electing a new president, I want the rest of the world to be reminding the candidates and voters about the international issues. When we cover an election, I ask all the candidates the same two questions: “What is your vision of your country’s role in the world?” and “If you win, what are you going to do for the rest of us?”

My hope is that by asking those two same questions at every election, over and over again, they will eventually become expected. It won’t just be me asking them – they will become commonplace and will just sort of hang in air until they are answered.

What I am not trying to do is to distort or influence the outcome of any specific election, and I wouldn’t be able to even if I wanted to. I don’t even announce the result until after the official election has taken place, so it should be self-evident that producing a particular result is not my intention. I might vary this practice in the future, but so far, I’ve always published our results after the official polls have closed. The aim, in time, is to change the culture of all elections. And as you’ll see if you look at the www.globalvote.org website, the profiles of the candidates are scrupulously factual, neutral, and balanced: It’s very important to me that people vote exactly as their instincts and principles dictate. I have no particular interest in which candidate is elected – it’s the participation that matters.

Based on the results of your votes, are you doing a sort of scientific research?

No, this definitely isn’t research. I’m not trying to measure the world’s opinion of the candidates – there are plenty of opinion polls already doing that. It wouldn’t be good research anyway because my sample is biased. The majority of the people voting on the Global Vote platform are people who are attracted by the Good Country philosophy, so the results will be highly unrepresentative of the general population. Most of them will vote for the candidate they feel will do the most for the rest of the world, because that’s the explicit purpose of the exercise. (Our coverage of the Brexit vote produced 86 percent in favor of ‘remain’, for example.)

Anyway, you clearly tend to get more votes from bigger elections, which is more informative.

Yes, but it’s not really surprising. We had thousands of votes for Brexit, and if things continue to go well, we may get millions for the US election. I’m also getting a lot of votes for the next United Nations secretary-general (another case where a tiny number of people make an appointment that will affect the whole world).

Elections in Zambia or São Tomé and Príncipe attract smaller numbers, just the enthusiasts, the people like me who are attracted to countries precisely because they’re exotic, smaller, unfamiliar. But remember my ultimate target is the 10 percent of humanity who truly feel the importance of every single piece in the global jigsaw puzzle; if I manage to reach a big chunk of that target, there’s no reason why I couldn’t have hundreds or thousands of times more people outside each country voting on their elections than there are citizens inside that country participating in the official election. I’m pleased to say that the word is spreading very rapidly. In the US election, for example, we’ve had votes now from 112 different countries.

Through a Cultural Prism

Are you afraid of a risk that the Global Vote will be restricted by only educated people who live in developed countries – specifically, by those who really care about international agenda, speak English, and have reliable access to the Internet – while the vast majority, particularly populations in poor states or emerging markets, will be left disengaged?

I was rather expecting it to be like that, but I’m glad to say that it has turned out quite differently. For example, I started to get large amounts of emails from people in India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. This delighted but also intrigued me. So I did some polling among some of those people asking why they were interested and what attracted them to it.

What did they say?

A lot of them said the same thing: that the Good Country seems to stand for many of the same values that they were taught growing up as a young Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim, Sikh, or Christian. For example, the message that ‘all men are their brothers, whatever their nationality or religion’, or the idea that it is the responsibility of mankind to look after the planet and cherish the natural world. And many of them feel that their leaders seem to have forgotten these lessons.

Still, the majority of people I hear from are from richer countries, because they spend more time on the Internet, they are likely to speak English, and perhaps they have a bit more time to spend thinking about the bigger picture. But the indications are that the potential interest is very much wider. In the future, when I have more resources, some funding, when I can start doing this on a bigger scale, I am going to focus very hard on making sure the ideas are available to people in other languages and beyond the reach of the Internet.

Something that really excites me at the moment is using the Global Vote as an educational tool. I recently heard from a woman who teaches at a university in Bangladesh: She picks a country that we are covering in Global Vote like Zambia, which her students don’t know much about, and she teaches them about the country – its culture, history, geography, and economics. Then they discuss the forthcoming election, the candidates, their backgrounds, their manifestos. Then they look at Zambia’s results in the Good Country Index and see how much good or harm it does to the rest of the world. They evaluate all the candidates on that basis, whether they are likely to make Zambia a bigger or a smaller contributor to the world. And at the end of the class, they vote. And she says they are finding this incredibly exciting. She says one group of students actually stayed up all night to find out whether ‘their’ candidate had won the Zambian election.

So, I’m looking at expanding the whole educational approach, so that people can adopt it more easily if they agree with it. Because obviously we need to bring up a generation of children that has a more global, more positive, less competitive attitude.

Do you have ambitions to somehow institute the Good Country?

No, I am not ambitious about turning the Good Country into an organization. All I am trying to do is to spread the idea. I’d hate to find myself in five years’ time running some bloated NGO that depends on constant fundraising to conduct advertising campaigns. I just want to launch the idea, and then let it go.

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