Simon Anholt coined the term ‘nation branding’ in the 1990s and has published an annual ranking of countries according to their brand strength. In today’s Irish Times John Fanning and Mark Henry write about Ireland is ranking: 18 in this year’s table (the US is No.1). It’s not bad given the country’s size. It’s notably ahead of Brazil and Russia but it’s also a concern that the brand is not as strong in some of the world’s fastest growing economies and not as strong among the young as it is among the old. Most of this concern for strong brands is about national income whether it be earned through tourism or exports but I was struck by Anholt’s suggestion for how Ireland’s reputation might continue to be an international strength for the country.
“One could well imagine Ireland succeeding in ‘positioning’ itself as the society and the economy that first finds light at the end of the post-Washington Consensus tunnel, the first country to pilot and prove a new form of capitalism – more moral, more fair, more balanced, more human.”
Fanning and Henry comment: “This intriguing proposal would undoubtedly position Ireland in a very different light. But at a time when we are preoccupied with the troika and the continuing perilous state of the euro, it would be asking a lot of a political and administrative elite who have always been more comfortable with the concrete than the conceptual.”
It occurred to me that artists are among those in the country who are already working on making it more fair, more balanced and more human and if the political class are not comfortable with the conceptual, it is precisely the gift and skills of artists to give concrete form to the imagination. Anholt’s suggestion, therefore, seems like a justification for making more of the values that underpin much artistic practice in the country (those values are not by any means the sole province of the arts).
The concern is that these values are appropriated in the service of capitalism, albeit a ‘new form’. Is that enough?