While there are far too many people or nations for everyone to be good at everything, which was one of the key insights of Adam Smith when it came to the value and worth of capitalism, we can all be good at something. Intriguingly enough, every single nation (and many dependencies) of the world are all best at something. One particular website  decided to post a map based on wikipedia information about what every nation was good at, and the results are sometimes humorous and sometimes tragic. While there are certainly some matters that one would not be best in, since every nation in the world desires to be the best in some way, at least there is some sort of consolation prize to be offered, better than the “participation” awards given in Ontario youth soccer leagues where no scores are kept.
Some parts of the world are defined by their barrenness, so their world-leading qualities are related to that. Greenland, for example, leads the world in personal space (although much of that space is glacier), while Antarctica, with no permanent residents, leads the world in emperor penguins. Other nations lead the world in death-related categories, like the United States for getting killed by lawnmowers or Australia for deadly animals, or Mongolia for velociraptor bones. Other nations lead the world for sporting categories, like Brazil’s lead in FIFA world cup titles. Some nations lead the world in categories related to what they create or what resources they possess, like India’s leadership in films, Russia’s leadership in rasperries and nuclear warheads, Japan’s leadership in robots, the United State’s leadership in nobel laureates, China’s leadership in both CO2 emissions as well as renewable energy, Canada’s leadership in maple syrup production, and Kazakhstan’s leadership in Uranium production. Other nations lead the world in social matters, such as Chile’s leadership in staying married. While not every nation would aspire to leading the world in volcanoes, as Indonesia does, or opium, as Afghanistan does, every nation does have at least something to offer the world that it does better than or has more than anyone else in the world, including Saudi Arabia’s unsurprising excellence in oil.
What are the implications of this? One is that our world is sufficiently complicated and robust that every nation can lead in something. Some leadership matters are based on quantities, and there will be some nations who by virtue of the accidents of geography and history are poised to specialize in some matters, since the world’s resources are not spread out evenly but concentrated in different areas for different reasons. Other leadership matters are based on per capita statistics, which tends to favor small sample size. Chile’s excellence in staying married, for example, probably has to do a lot with being a somewhat small country full of lovely people with a strong history of Roman Catholicism. The Falkland Islands, for example, lead the world in per capita reading of the Edge Induced Cohesion blog, namely because they have so few residents , not that very many people would care about such a matter.
What we lead the world in can also lead us to reflect on our society as a whole. The fact that the United States leads the world in lawnmower deaths, for example, ought to cause us to ponder those factors that lead us to mow the lawn so often (social ideals about keeping grass grown and trimmed regardless of its environmental fitness), as well as reflect on problems of mechanical or user failure. Japanese excellence in robots appears to be related to the incredible and growing shortage of youth and the need to replace declining human power with some sort of technological advantage. It also helps that the Japanese appear to be less creeped out by robots than the people of other nations, like the United States. Sometimes a nation leads the world in qualities that are due to nature with little human involvement at all, like Libya’s leading the world in heat, or Columbia leading the world in rain. When a nation leads the world in pirates, like Somalia, it is probably doing something wrong, as a sign of massive societal failures in social cohesion and providing any kind of hope for a better life. Those areas where we excel speak to the resources we have to work with as well as what we have chosen to do with them, and how we have chosen to govern and regulate ourselves individually and collectively.
Therefore, we ought to take hope that every collective group of people can (at least possibly) be best at something just as every nation of the world leads in some matter, no matter how obscure or unusual or tragic. What we chose to lead the world in, how we choose to excel, is in some ways determined by the circumstances we have to deal with (for example, Switzerland would never lead the world in heat, simply because of its geographical location), and in some ways it is determined by what we choose to do with the people and resources that we have to work with. If our energies are focused on good things, we can lead in good areas. If our energies are focused in a negative direction, then there are plenty of wicked or tragic things that we can excel in. While there are some boundaries to our horizons based on environment and history, the more critical limitations are on our own discipline and virtue. Let us therefore determine our resources and decide where to place our energies, so that we may lead in good things.