Metrics mania: A new (and weird) way to rank nations as ‘global citizens’

Normally, when I read something from the prestigious DC-based think tank known (because that’s its’ name) as the Center for Global Development, I feel better informed and enlightened. But not always. A post from David Roodman suggesting a more accurate way to assess the positive impact specific countries have upon the rest of the world just confuses me.

Roodman, writing under the headline Which G-20 nation is the most upstanding global citizen?, notes that the earlier methodology for answering this question (called the Commitment to Development Index) is based on what he contends is a fairly simplistic assessment of foreign aid and development funding.

By that measure, the UK, France, Australia, the Netherlands and Sweden ranked high:

Roodman Map 1

But Roodman says this is all based on an inaccurate ‘dichotomous’ distinction between rich and poor nations, measurements that often fail to take in ‘externalities’ like air pollution and too much focus on helping the poor, specifically.

He thinks a more accurate view may be had by asking “not what your country has done for the poor, but what your country has done for the world.” Here’s what Roodman’s new proposed yardstick comes up with:

Roodman Map 2

Seriously? India, Saudi Arabia, Spain, South Korea and Indonesia have done the most for the world?


About Author

Tom Paulson

Tom Paulson is founder and lead journalist at Humanosphere. Prior to operating this online news site, he reported on science,  medicine, health policy, aid and development for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Contact him at tom[at] or follow him on Twitter @tompaulson.

  • Jonathan Scanlon

    Tom – looks like the second chart shows change over the last decade. So the top countries have changed the most in a positive direction.

  • Zoe M

    Jonathan’s right – the top graph is based on Roodman’s “new yardstick” for 2012. The lower graph shows the same yardstick but for change between 2003 and 2012. So not so wacky after all.