This is a highly subjective question. But it’s one I hopefully should be well-placed to answer. While I haven’t been to around 40 of the world’s countries, it’s unlikely that one of these will take this crown. Have a look at my map and you’ll probably see why. To be clear, I’m not talking about the country that I feel is the number one place to visit (Japan), rather the best place to live. The best country to have been born in, making you a clear winner in the life lottery. So, any guesses?
If you’re like most of the people in the world, your gut instinct will be to think, “My country of course!” Wherever you were born just so happens to be the best place on Earth. Phew. You only have one life and you were lucky enough to spend it all in the greatest place. What a nice thought. You and everyone in your country can continue reaffirming the greatness of your nation to each other in a never-ending echo chamber. This is what’s more commonly referred to as patriotism.
It’s hard to choose a winner. But it’s easy to rule a few nations out. If you live in the US, Australia, Russia, China, or in fact anywhere where nationalism and patriotic fervour is this strong, this probably counts your nation out. A patriotic devotion to one’s nation is, above anything, usually used as a smokescreen to blind the population to any deficiencies in a nation. Anyone who questions the notion that your country is the best is swiftly reprimanded and branded a ‘saboteur’. In the democracies listed just above, you will suffer trial by Twitter. In the autocracies, well, the reprimands will be state-driven and far more sinister.
Norway Leading The Way
It was almost always going to be a Scandinavian nation, but Norway for me pips Sweden, Denmark, and Finland to the post of the best country in the world. Why? For starters, Danes are too rude, Finns are weird, and Swedes think too highly of themselves. At least according to stereotypes which Scandinavians themselves appear happy to proliferate when you speak to them.
While the same stereotypes imply that Norway is full of country bumpkins, I can see why it would be. The country’s beautiful fjords and outstanding forests would turn anyone into a nature lover. Norway is also impeccably run. It has a robust democratic system of governance, as well as very low levels of corruption. It’s one of the most gender equal societies on Earth. If you live in Norway, you’re also likely to enjoy high standards of living and average wages, as well as much lower levels of inequality than most comparable Western nations. Norway regularly tops global quality of life surveys.
Norway, like many Scandinavian nations, is also often at the forefront of social issues. What happens here is often replicated in some form or another across the world. While unpopular in some quarters, the country has the lowest rate of prison reoffending of any country (around 20%), with the focus of jail time on rehabilitation rather than punishment. Critics moan that inmates have it too easy. Norway also has more electric vehicles per capita than any nation (50% of new sales are electric). Healthcare and education are also very competitive globally. Put simply, if you were born in Norway, you have a strong probability of living a secure and comfortable life. It’s clean, people are friendly, and everything just seems to work. Well done indeed.
Perfection Doesn’t Exist
Like all nations, however, Norway is far from perfect. Quality of life indices always seem to act as if cold weather and long winter nights don’t impact on one’s existence. They do. And to the many people who use ‘the Norway example’ to justify why a radical socialist economic model would be successful if implemented in any nation, regardless of their macroeconomic comparative advantages, stop reading. While Switzerland – also one of the best nations on Earth – has built its prosperity on its morally dubious political ‘neutrality’, Norway’s has been based upon black gold. Norway is one of the largest exporters of oil on Earth.
Wisely, the government keeps the proceeds from oil in its sovereign wealth fund, the exceptionally boring-sounding ‘Government Pension Fund’. Its financial figures are less so. The fund is the largest on Earth, valued at a staggering US$1.1 trillion, three times the size of Norway’s economy. To put this in perspective, if the fund split its riches between all of Norway’s citizens, each person would receive a cool US$250,000. Put simply, it’s very easy to run a country when money is no object. Norway has certainly made the most of its geological endowments, at least. You wouldn’t complain if you lived there, I’m sure.