US Politics

Is the US a Third World Country?

By Ben Bull
Published January 02, 2008

On the eve of the Iowa caucus vote for the US Democratic presidential nominee, this op-ed published in Wednesday's Toronto Star is food for thought.

Likening the US to a third world country, the authors state:

[T]here is a strong predilection in most Western countries to level the economic playing field as much as possible. This seems not to be the case in the United States.

The United Nations publishes a Human Development Index that ranks countries in terms of life expectancy, literacy, education and standard of living. The latest published data were based on 2005 statistics. The U.S., despite its vast wealth and power, placed only in the 12th position among industrial countries. The top four countries were Iceland, Norway, Australia and Canada.

Making their case for the US as a third world country, they go on:

The glaring features [of third world countries] today include poverty, lack of democratic institutions, controlling oligarchies and the unequal distribution of income and wealth. In other words, the few enjoy a rich lifestyle while the many share subpar incomes and poverty.

Another characteristic of Third World countries is that a major portion of their fiscal expenditures is allocated to the military. In many Third World countries, the military is controlled by an elite or a small collection of the wealthy.

Finally, in many Third World countries one finds that leadership is passed from one generation to the next, often via a close relative. Guess what country we are talking about now?

Food for thought indeed.

Ben Bull lives in downtown Toronto. He's been working on a book of short stories for about 10 years now and hopes to be finished tomorrow. He also has a movie blog.


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By beancounter (registered) | Posted January 02, 2008 at 21:58:17

Hmmm... Let's see now.

I don't think that George W. Bush was related to Bill Clinton or Ronald Reagan to Jimmy Carter or JFK to Dwight Eisenhower, who was probably not related to Harry Truman, etc.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted January 03, 2008 at 03:07:30

This isn't a new idea. John Ralston Saul described the US as "a highly sophisticated third world country" in the Doubter's Companion written back in 1994 I believe.

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By Brent (anonymous) | Posted January 04, 2008 at 02:01:39

Duh. Political Science 1101. Now how bout some insight.

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By Brent (anonymous) | Posted January 04, 2008 at 02:11:47

Now in reference to "Beancutter"'s comment;
Of course not every incumbent president or political candidate is related to his predecessor. The point being made is that because wealth and politics are inextricably intertwined the system tends to favor a form of oligarchy. Business elites also form the class of political elites, who in turn seek to shape policy at the behest of business. Keeping power and wealth familial allows for its continuance; keepin' it in the family. Lets see some examples; Bush I and II, Franklin Roosevelt and Frankling delano Roosevelt, the Kennedy family, the Clintons etc.

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By beancounter (registered) | Posted January 05, 2008 at 22:59:09

The views so well expressed by Brent are very popular ones and no doubt are based on many real-life examples.

However, it is not too difficult to find politicians of a different stripe who don't fit the mold of the businesws/political elites.

Some Canadian politicians that would not be part of this group are Tommy Douglas, Preston Manning and his father Ernest C. Manning.

In the U. S. we could point to Ralph Nader who ran for president several times as one not likely to advance the interests of big business.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted January 06, 2008 at 16:36:13

Hi Ben,

Didn't mean to sound dismissive in my previous comment.

It occurred to me that we don't generally use the term 'third world' anymore as it is considered to be pejorative. Rather, we refer to these countries as 'developing'. Of course this doesn't really describe the US, so perhaps we should refer to it as an undeveloping country. :)

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