Meridians: The Bobbest Countries

Updated: Aug 31

As a geography geek I'm pretty much fascinated by the various indexes and numbers meant to provide invaluable insight into our existence on this planet. An existence, may I add, carefully apportioned and shaped by the borders inside which we may found ourselves. There are currently 35 centimetres (14 inches) of international borders for every person on Earth. Amazingly, we spend more $700 each year* to protect this stretch. I for one plan to put there a token with 10,000 defense, just to make sure, you know.

*A very approximate calculation, since the amount includes the defence budget of island nations, which do not have any land borders.

Returning to our indexes, the accuracy with which they express reality, even in the most abstract way possible, is highly debatable. Regardless, they are able to form a picture of the world from any of innumerable angles. ​

Enter the BOB index, the one index to rule them all. It tells the ultimate information you need to know about a country: how bob is it. As you might expect, some are bobber than other.​

BOB is short for Best of the Best. It combines three of the most well-known and representative indexes for probably the most important aspects of our lives (as captured by geography): the Human Development Index, the Environmental Performance Index and the Democracy Index. ​

Education, prosperity, inequality, environment and freedom. Now we have them all in one place. We can finally see who is the best among the best, and the less best among the best.



The BOB index is normalised from 0 to 100. In reality, it goes from 87 to 28. If you ask me, that's a bit too close to the lower end, and not close enough to the higher.​

It turns out the bobbest country of all is—surprise, surprise—a Nordic country. Well, in fact it is a bit of a surprise, because it's not the usual Scandinavian suspects, but Finland, incidentally the happiest country on Earth. Denmark, Sweden and Norway come to a paltry, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th place, in that order.​

On the 5th place, the hero nobody needs but everybody wants—the UK. Yep, good old UK of GB and NI is better positioned than Switzerland, Germany, and most importantly, France. The secret ingredient? Environment. Apparently, the UK is the second most environmentally performant country after Denmark. As far as the other components of the BOB go, well, they're not exactly representative for a country that's fifth in the world. ​

The US is the 25th, comfortably tugged between Italy and Cyprus. In its case, it's the environment that drags it down.



This index accounts for a total of 164 countries. The world's population-weighted average BOB is 52, as much as Belarus. The median BOB is 53. This means that half of the countries are below this meagre value. You think that's bad? A total of 5.3 billion people, out of the total 8 billion, live in these countries.

And it's basically education that gets us out of an even more embarrassing picture. The average Human Development Index is 0.71*. That's as much as Venezuela. Environmentally, our planet has a score of 33.3, as much as oil-exporting Qatar. Democracy-wise, it has a 5 [5.28], as much as Sierra Leone, and a bit less than Mexico. According to the Economist Intelligence Unit, the authors of the Democracy Index, this is the score of a "hybrid regime". One point less and it would be an "authoritarian regime".

*compared to an HDI of 0.74 as calculated by UNDP, and a Democracy Index of 5.28 as calculated by EIU, including the countries that are missing from the BOB

It turns out that our planet is quite mediocre. We live on a dirty, almost authoritarian, relatively well-educated planet, getting by from day to day financially. If there are other planets out there with intelligent life, at least we know where we stand.



If we adjust the population of a country with its BOB Index, and then compare the ranking with its population ranking, we get some interesting results. In the usually abstract manner characteristic of indexes, we can say that we would have our best lives in a country that has BOB 100. Multiplying a country's BOB with its population would gives us the BOB pool, or something of the sorts.

A total of just 22 countries raise in rank more than 10 places (that's the BOB hop), including countries like Portugal, Czech Republic or Romania. 25 more countries have a BOB hop of more than 5.

Almost just as many (44) have a BOB drop of more than 5, with some quite spectacular drops in parts of East Africa and South-East Asia. Among the countries with more than 100 million people, Japan has the highest BOB hop (5), and DR Congo the lowest BOB drop (13). 



We as a species are pretty cool, and deserve to live in at least the France of the Universe. But for that to happen, we need to keep on bobbing. If the bob hard enough, then bit by bit, the world will become a bobber place. 

Check out more from the Meridians series.