Germany: The World’s Most Liked Country

According to the latest Nation Brands Index (NBI) published last December, Germany has the best “brand image” of 50 surveyed countries, unseating the previous titleholder, the United States. As reported in DW:

The Nation Brands Index (NBI) survey, carried out by German-based market research firm GfK and the British political consultant Simon Anholt, measured public opinion around the world on “the power and quality of each country’s ‘brand image.'”

Germany moved up to first place after coming in second in 2016. The US dropped from top to sixth, with France, Britain, Canada and Japan taking spots two to five.

The study calculated the final NBI score by researching how well people viewed a country across six categories: its people, governance, exports, tourism, investment and immigration, and culture and heritage.

The land of sausages, Merkel and “Made in Germany” was in the top five in all but one category. Only in “tourism” did Germany fall outside the top five, coming in 10th.

German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel welcomed the results, saying: “Germany’s image no longer rests on our economic strength. People think we’re capable of much in the world.”

Germany’s overall score improved partly because of better perceptions among Egyptians, Russians, Chinese and Italians. This suggests the country has widespread appeal for its various achievements in areas like governance, economic growth, and quality of life — all the things most governments would want to emulate.

Coming in behind Germany is France, which has also seen its star rise precipitously, climbing three places since last year. This is due mostly to better performance in “governance” and “investment / immigration”, which in turn reflects the high-profile effort of its new president to make the country more economically competitive and attractive. (Perhaps unsurprisingly, France remained No. 1 in culture.)

The United Kingdom remained steady at third place, dispelling fears that Brexit would cause a significant dint to its image. Its firm position reflects the continued potency of its culture, heritage, and diplomatic influence.

Canada and Japan both tied at fourth place, each performing well in governance, culture, and immigration / investment. (Notice a pattern here?) The U.S. dropped to sixth place, a respectable yet greatly diminished position. The reasons aren’t difficult to glean:

Foreigners’ views of the US worsened considerably compared to 2016, particularly in the category “governance,” where it slipped from spot 19 to spot 23.

The “Trump effect” explains the fall, according to Anholt.

“The loss of the US’s image in the governance category is indicative of the Trump effect, which was triggered by President Trump’s policies and his ‘America First’ message,” he said.

Americans themselves nevertheless viewed their country more positively than in 2016.

What are your thoughts about these results?

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Canada, Finland, and Others Unveil Basic Income Experiments

Having been one of the first countries to test out a guaranteed basic income back in the 1970s, Canada is once again planning to experiment with this idea, via a proposed pilot program wherein low income participants will receive an average of $1,320 monthly without conditions.

The project, which is to be launched in Canada’s largest province, Ontario, in fall of 2017, is laid out in a paper authored by Hugh Segal, a former senator and now special adviser to the province. According to the official proposal, the program’s aim will be to answer the most common questions and concerns regarding a basic income, including:

  • Can basic income policies provide a more efficient, less intrusive, and less stigmatizing way of delivering income support for those now living in poverty?
  • Can those policies also encourage work, relieve financial and time poverty, and reduce economic marginalization?
  • Can a basic income reduce cost pressures in other areas of government spending, such as healthcare?
  • Can a basic income strengthen the incentive to work, by responsibly helping those who are working but still living below the poverty line?

Continue reading

Wasting Humanity

Stephen Jay Gould was an influential American paleontologist, evolutionary biologist, and science historian whose contributions to science and culture earned him recognition as a “Living Legend“. Like many scientists, he often weighed in on matters of ethics, philosophy, and the human condition, of which the following observation is, to my mind at least, his most powerful:

15822888_682070245306647_250360003780435884_n Continue reading

An Effective Ebola Vaccine Has Been Developed

Following a horrific epidemic in West Africa that claimed the lives of over 11,000 people — the deadliest the world had ever seen — we finally have a breakthrough vaccine against Ebola. As Vox.com reported:

Today, the same researchers — who hail from the World Health Organization, Guinea’s Ministry of Health, Public Health England, and other international partners — have unveiled their final results in the Lancet, and they’re just as remarkable. The vaccine was tested in a trial involving nearly 12,000 people in Guinea and Sierra Leone during 2015 and 2016. Among the 5,837 people who got the vaccine, no Ebola cases were recorded. By comparison, there were 23 Ebola cases in the control group that had not gotten the vaccine.

“This trial, confirming the 100 percent efficacy of the rVSV Ebola vaccine, is a simply remarkable outcome”, Dr. Jeremy Farrar, the director of the Wellcome Trust, said of the research. “We’ve shown that by working collaboratively, across international borders and sectors, we can develop and test vaccines rapidly and use them to help bring epidemics to an end”.

You can read the published study here. It was one of fifteen clinical trials for an Ebola vaccine conducted around the world in a single year, and is a vindication of what collective action and responsibility by the international community — including the U.N., NGOs, and national governments — can accomplish. It is a shame it took so many deaths spanning a nearly three year period to finally come up with a promising form of prevention, although the vaccine is far from ready to hit the market.  Continue reading

Beyond the Presidency

Remember that no matter who becomes president of the U.S., there is more to our political system than the person occupying the Oval Office. While the executive branch is indeed important and powerful, the federal system allocates a lot of power to Congress and the states: governors, attorney generals, state representatives, judges, etc. — as well as city and county officials — all play crucial roles in our lives.

Many of the great changes in history — the abolition of slavery, women’s suffrage, the Civil Rights movement — first emerged and succeeded at the local and state levels. These are the incubators in which new policies and ideas are tested. These are where many nationally prominent politicians and reformers often get their start. Continue reading

A Brief History of Coffee

Today is International Coffee Day, an annual observance first launched in Milan, Italy last year by the International Coffee Organization to promote coffee. (There’s an organization and/or celebration for everything these days!) Aside from some of the most obvious commercial motivations — the ICO is a trade bloc purposed with facilitating coffee productions and distribution — the occasion is also used to bring awareness to the plight of coffee workers, to advance the idea of fair trade coffee, and, of course, to enjoy a wide variety of deals on coffee.

For my part, I am going to use the short time I have available to give a brief overview of the history of this amazing beverage, which perhaps more than any other commodity, represents the long arc of globalization and cultural exchange that has stretched across the history of our species. Continue reading

The Newest and Largest Map of the Milky Way

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Scientific American has announced that the European Space Agency (ESA) just released the largest and most detailed map of our home galaxy (image pictured above).

Catalogued by the agency’s Gaia space observatory, which was launched into Earth orbit in 2013, it pinpoints the position of up to 1.1 billion stars, of which 400 million are newly discovered. Continue reading

The Kids Are Alright

Contrary to popular belief, this generation of Americans is among the most well behaved and law abiding in decades, according to Bureau of Justice Statistics cited by the Washington Post:

In absolute terms, arrests (like crime) are as expected consistently concentrated among the young at each historical time point. But surprisingly, the drop in the arrest rate over time is entirely accounted for by the current generation of young adults, who are busted 23 percent less frequently than prior generations were at their age. Remarkably, despite the national drop in overall crime and arrest rates, the arrest rate among older Americans is higher than it was 20 years ago. This holds for adults ages 40 to 54 (a 9 percent increase) and even more so for adults age 55 and older (a 12 percent increase). The baby boomers, who drove the American crime explosion in their youth, are apparently continuing to outdo prior generations in their late-life criminality.

[…]

…Presuming that like prior generations millennials carry their crime-related habits forward as they age, the country could soon see an acceleration of the recent trend toward reduced incarceration as millennials replace their more crime-prone elders in the population.

Meanwhile, the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Survey, conducted biannually by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) since 1991, has found a marked decline in various other social ills that were once prevalent among past generations generations of youth  — including the often Millennial-bashing boomers. Vox.com sums up the data thusly: “today’s teens smoke less, drink less, and have sex less than the previous generation. They are, comparatively, a mild-mannered bunch…”

Indeed, only 10.8 percent of teens smoke cigarettes, compared to nearly a third in the 1990; they are 46 percent less likely to binge drink alcohol compared to teens twenty years ago, and 21 percent less likely to have even tried alcohol; and only 2.3 percent of teenage girls become pregnant, compared to more than double the percentage ten years ago. They are also less likely to bring weapons to class, get into a physical fight, contemplate suicide, to forget to put on their seatbelt.

Yet despite such relative timidity and good behavior, today’s youth are commonly perceived to be among the most rambunctious, self indulgent and ill disciplined of any generation in American history. For example, teen pregnancy is widely perceived to be on the rise when it has in fact declined to historic lows. And I imagine most readers are familiar with the regular barrage of articles, opinion pieces, memes, and social media rants about the various alleged improprieties of teens and college students.

To be sure, it is not as if young people are without faults — no generation, young or old, past or present, has been perfect. But by and large the kids are alright, and whatever real or imagined moral or social failings they display must be looked at in the larger historical context: younger generations have always been overly scrutinized by their elders, and have always developed or embraced new ideas, habits, and lifestyles that cause some measure of anxiety and apprehension among the older folks who are unfamiliar with them. I think social media has gone a long way towards amplifying the extent to which isolated but ultimately mundane instances of misbehavior are occurring.

What are your thoughts?