Home / Culture and Society / How Does a Nation Attain and Maintain First-World Status?

How Does a Nation Attain and Maintain First-World Status?

Please Share...Print this pageTweet about this on TwitterShare on Facebook0Share on Google+0Pin on Pinterest0Share on Tumblr0Share on StumbleUpon0Share on Reddit0Email this to someone

A few years ago I was visiting my Republican mother and Tea-Partier brother Jim (who is ten years my elder), and during one of the inevitable verbal dust-ups between my brother and me, I pointed out to him the same thing that most BC residents are sick of hearing: “All the non-OPEC First World nations are socialized democracies.”

Now Jim’s a skilled verbal debater. When it comes to the written word I can usually match his rhetoric, but when it comes to face-to-face verbal debates, I’m simply outgunned; I can’t verbalize my points quickly enough to keep up with him.

This particular non-physical donnybrook proved to be no exception when he said, “No, there’s other First World nations – China and India!”

Huh? Where the hell did that come from? I asked him how the heck he could call India a First World nation, and his reply was, “They’re a First World nation because they’ve got so many factories!” Last year was the first I’d ever heard of a “Gish Gallop”, but I now realize that was what he was doing. And it worked, especially since at his house he’s got only dial-up Internet access (and we’re far enough out into the country to where my smartphone had zero bars), and so I couldn’t sit him down and couldn’t show him right from wrong.

It’s because of that debacle that I think any such discussion of First World nations should begin with a definition: what the heck is a First World nation? Wikipedia explains it fairly well:

The concept of the First World first originated during the Cold War, involving countries that were aligned with the United States. These countries were largely democratic and capitalistic. After the fall of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, the phrase First World took on a new meaning applicable to the times, coming to be largely synonymous with developed countries or highly developed countries (depending on which definition is intended). The concept has a strong evolutionist bias, envisioning “development” as a linear path with Western civilization’s industrial and economic advancements as the ultimate goal.

As Wiki points out, at the end of the Cold War, the meaning of First World changed, and now largely refers to those nations that are developed or highly developed. And yes, there is that evolutionist bias. It is my contention that in order to attain what I believe to necessary for First World status, a nation must be able to have a high standard of living for as many of its citizens as possible. If we use this definition, the First World community is comprised of (1) England and most of the countries of the British Commonwealth, (2) Western Europe, (3) America, (4) Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan, and (5) certain oil-wealthy OPEC nations. All but the last set are socialized democracies, whereas the nations in that last set are largely monarchies of different types. I further contend that as can be found in most statistical analyses, there are outliers, exceptions to the rule that do not disprove the rule, and the sheer degree of oil wealth held by those nations is the only significant factor that enables their First World status, whereas there are several First World nations that are not rich in any particular resource, yet still maintain the standard of living that befits a First World nation i.e. Japan, Taiwan, New Zealand, Portugal, and the Low Countries.

It should also be pointed out that city-states such as Singapore and Monaco do not belong in this study since they are nations in name only. Without exception, they do not have extensive borders to defend, or rural areas to develop, and they must depend on other nations to protect them. Large cities are by and large the centers of wealth generation, that’s where the factories and the best schools and universities, and where the largest businesses are based. Those who disagree with this need only look at the list of states that pay more federal taxes than they receive as compared to the list of states that receive more federal taxes than they pay. Almost without exception, it is the urban states that pay more and the rural states that receive more. Therefore it is apparent, if not proven to the level of scientific fact, that in any study of what the most successful governmental system may be, city-states must be considered an exception to the rule that does not disprove the rule.

That said, the system that has been most successful thus far at achieving the highest standard of living for the greatest percentage of its citizens has been that of socialized democracy. What do the First World nations have in common?

(1) Legal protection for the disadvantaged and taxpayer-funded opportunities to enable the poor to better their station in life.

(2) A legal system in place to help level the playing field in business and commerce.

(3) Taxpayer-funded schools to help ensure a highly-educated population.

(4) Legal protections for the rights of the people in their private lives and in the workplace.

Each of these costs a great deal of money, and so each non-OPEC First World nation also has a fifth commonality: higher taxes. This is perhaps the biggest bugaboo of conservative thought, that high taxes are bad for a nation’s economy. If that were indeed the case, then (again) the non-OPEC First World nations would not be continuing to maintain their status as First World nations. Indeed, as I pointed out in in this article, unless the money is stolen by corruption, very few of a nation’s taxpayer dollars that are used within that nation’s borders are wasted. the taxes that are wasted are those that are sent outside that nation’s borders. When taxes are used for education, emergency services, infrastructure development, or business support, those taxes are much more beneficial to a nation than are tax cuts; indeed, a sixty-five-year study found that tax cuts do not lead to a nation’s economic growth.

There is one more factor that helps ensure the viability of all of the above factors: a strong defense. Today, America is still the arsenal of democracy, though most readers will agree that we are spending far too much on defense. In my opinion, we have since the 9/11 attacks had a form of national insanity (which has now evolved into Obama Derangement Syndrome) and we have as a nation been much too trigger-happy; however, nearly all the other democracies of the world have remained largely at peace, and peace is always a good thing for national development. Indeed, it might be that socialized democracy has proven to be the most peaceful, or perhaps it would be better called the least warlike, of successful governmental systems.

The above six factors are what that have led to the attainment and maintenance of what we see today as First World status for non-OPEC nations. Are there other governmental systems which might lead to the same status? China has many engineering and technological marvels that surpass those of the West; however, the living standards of their average population still severely lags behind that of any of the First World nations. China has unrivaled potential for growth, but her peculiar brand of communism lacks several of the factors I listed above, particularly those having to do with rights and freedoms and protections. It is for that reason that it could be said with some justification that China’s government is communist only at the highest levels, that her economic system is not only extremely capitalistic, but even includes a not-so-healthy dose of libertarianism.

What other governmental systems are there in use today that could lead to First World status? There are none that I can see. This of course does not preclude the possibility of such, but I strongly suspect that any such government would necessarily be what today’s conservatives and anarchists decry as big governmen, for only a big government can have the logistical wherewithal to achieve and maintain the six factors containing the rights, protections, and benefits I listed above.

There is one last factor to consider: nearly all the residents of BC Politics hail from First World nations, which means that it’s easy for us to see all the problems that come with our form of government, and this exemplifies Aesop’s maxim, “familiarity breeds contempt.” Just as a rich kid is often unable to appreciate his or her freedom from material want, we who live in First World nations are often unable to appreciate just how good we have it. We’re so busy complaining about how terrible things are that we don’t realize that historically speaking, the mere ability to complain about the government is the exception to the rule. We might complain about how terrible our taxes are, or how Big Brother is creeping up on us with traffic cameras, but there are literally billions of people who would give a great deal to have the opportunity to live here and pay those taxes and dodge those traffic cameras. For those who bitch, moan, and complain about how bad things are in socialized democracies, have at it! Cry havoc to your hearts’ content! Tell all the world how the president is a traitor! Just remember how precious is the right to do so, and ask yourselves how many successful forms of government have ever existed that not only tolerated dissent to the point that not only could you publicly accuse the head of state (king, dictator, chairman, whatever) of treason, but the state would spend taxpayer dollars protecting your right to do so even if you’re lying through your teeth!

The grass always does seem greener on the other side of the fence, but if one is wise, sooner or later he or she sees that eventually one finds a side of the fence that truly is greener than any other side of that fence – and if one is very lucky, one is not only standing on that greenest side of the fence, but is also aware of it to the point that one may guard against that familiarity which would cause onself to be contemptous of it, that would cost one the ability to appreciate just how very green is his or her little side of the fence.

Powered by

About Glenn Contrarian

White. Male. Raised in the deepest of the Deep South. Retired Navy. Strong Christian. Proud Liberal. Thus, Contrarian!
  • Jeddy Khan

    A first world country should have a powerful social security system which provides health, education and housing. It should not have crime, people should not die of any disease. Doctors should be readily available and patients do not have to wait for them. The government does not have the right to spy on its people and the government has no right to start a war without approval of the people of that country. The cost of higher education should be borne by the government, students are not required to take loans. Homes will be provided to the homeless. Unemployment should not be a death penalty.

  • troll

    So, what became of the old comments to this article?

    • I see Mark’s comment below from a month ago. Are you saying there were more before? For sure? If so, I’ll bug my lords and masters again…

      • troll

        Yes, there was a thread before the platform switch.

  • test

  • Mark Schannon

    Interesting article, Glenn, and I certainly agree with the “grass is always browner on this side of the fence” argument. However, if we take your list of what 1st world nations have in common, I would suggest that there’s reason to be concerned about the status of the U.S.

    (1) Legal protection for the disadvantaged and taxpayer-funded opportunities to enable the poor to better their station in life.

    Legal protection for the poor has been a problem for many years that has grown much worse since the “sequester” went into effect, In numerous states, accused are either being accorded the worst possible counsel or their trials are being delayed because of lack of counsel, violating the Bill of Rights. Since the Regan era and continuing to this day, tax law has diverted massive amounts of wealth from the middle class to the rich to where today the U.S. is one of the worst industrialized countries in terms of upward mobility.

    (2) A legal system in place to help level the playing field in business and commerce.

    Dodd/Franks is being gutted by Congress and ignored by the major banks, and it was a pretty weak bill to begin with. The financial sector, which makes nothing but gains wealth through the manipulation of wealth, is just as rich, corrupt, and dangerous as it was in 2008. The Republicans in Congress are trying and succeeding in gutting food safety inspections, environmental regulations, monopolistic issues, and a host of others. Big business has more power in running America than perhaps at any time since Teddy Roosevelt’s “trust buster” days.

    (3) Taxpayer-funded schools to help ensure a highly-educated population.

    If there’s anyone who things our educational system works, I suggest they go back onto their meds. The solution isn’t simply money, but there seem to be no serious efforts to identify and fix what is a crumbling system. The latest Republican Congressional move to double the interest rate on student loans is simply another example of a senseless crushing of college graduates just when we need them the most.

    (4) Legal protections for the rights of the people in their private lives and in the workplace.

    Since 9/11, Bush and now Obama have used that attack to cripple the Bill of Rights. Why Republicans and Democrats are not joining together to call for a better balance between security and basic rights is one of today’s most confusing and befuddling enigmas.

    You don’t mention health care, where we spend more and get less in terms of results than any industrialized country; an infrastructure that is literally falling apart; and the most divisive and uncooperative group of politicians in DC that has perhaps ever existed.

    Are we a 1st world nation? Probably, but I fear that we’re slipping into 2nd rate status. And we can’t “save” our way out of this mess.