“In order to have economic growth, poor countries need market economies, private property rights, rule of law and democratic institutions.” —Walter Williams, syndicated columnist
“Development must take the people not as they ought to be but as they are.” —Claude Ake, political economist
The terms “Third World” and “developing nations”—as well as their counterparts “First World” and “developed nations”— do not appear on a map. Although Third World nations are clustered in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, the differences between developed and developing nations are primarily political and economic rather than geographic. High levels of industrialization, freedom of trade and political expression, democratically elected governments, a respect for human rights and political expression, and low rates of population growth and poverty characterize First World nations. On the other hand, Third World governments are often toppled by military coups or led by entrenched dictators. War and famine are prevalent. Malnutrition, unsafe water supplies, widespread prostitution and other unsafe sexual practices, and inadequate hospital facilities vastly increase the incidence of serious health problems such as AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis. The United States and Angola typify many of the differences between First World and Third World nations. The average American outlives the average Angolan by more than twenty-eight years. The gross domestic product (GDP) per capita in the United States is $30,200 per year, compared to $800 in Angola. The problems facing developing nations have led to a debate about whether those countries should seek solutions that follow the economic and political footprints of developed nations, or whether the First World path to development creates further problems for Third World nations.
A predominant First World view is the belief that devel- opment can only occur if Third World governments introduce capitalist reforms. In a study published in the CatoJournal, American economics professors Steve H. Hanke and Stephen J.K. Walters conclude that increased economic freedoms—such as private property rights, low tariffs, no price controls, and few state-owned enterprises—result in greater prosperity, improved life expectancy, and more equitable distribution of income. According to Hanke and Walters: “Economic freedom and economic wealth are inextricably linked. All signs point in the same direction: those who would like people to enjoy greater prosperity must work to assure greater economic liberty.” [italics in original] Capitalism may take modest forms, as in providing small loans so people can start a business, or it might entail that a developing nation open its markets and engage in global trade. Economics professor Jay Mandle praises the latter option: “Globalization has meant that numerous countries that formerly were considered to be ‘third-world nations’ have become centers of modern production.”
Although increased economic freedom can improve the overall well being of a country, some scholars note that capitalism can only be successful if it is accompanied by democracy. They argue that governments should not only allow their citizens to invest, trade, and own businesses, but should also permit open political debate and elections that are not tainted by bribery or corruption. Robert Dujarric, a research fellow at the Hudson Institute, a public policy organization, maintains: “Economic development . . . requires a state that is both strong and impartial. A strong state is one that maintains law and order, provides basic services, and raises taxes to finance itself. An impartial state practices equality before the law and respects property rights.” Achieving such a state is a difficult process. The British weekly Economist observes that forty-two sub-Saharan African nations held elections in the 1990s, but only ten elections resulted in new governments. Political science professors Clark D. Neher and Ross Marlay note that many southeast Asian nations are only semidemocratic because Asian culture emphasizes authority over personal liberty. They caution that these Asian democracies “are only as good as their leaders.” Neher and Marlay conclude that Asian nations may eventually develop Western-style democracies when the children of the Asian elite begin to demand greater autonomy and freedom of expression.
While these recommendations may seem reasonable to many people who study developed nations, they are not universally lauded. Professor of international affairs Ozay Mehmet claims that Western capitalism is ill suited for developing nations because it destroys local institutions and does not support traditional rural development. According to Mehmet, the development theories proffered by Western economists have created “the slums and urban poverty that are now the dismal realities of many Third World cities.” Some analysts argue that Western involvement in Third World nations has long been destructive, maintaining that colonization and decolonization destroyed the traditional social fabric of Africa and exacerbated underdevelopment. Globalization has also met with criticisms, as some economists maintain that it worsens the economic gap between and within nations. Sociology scholars Gary Gereffi and Lynn Hempel note that globalization has perpetuated economic inequality in Latin America and observe that only the businesses and workers with sufficient skills and resources can benefit from an expanding global economy. Third World analysts also critique the ecological impact of Western businesses and Third World companies that emulate those businesses’ policies and practices. They condemn these companies for causing significant environmental damage to developing nations through excessive logging, which increases the number of floods and landslides, and mass industrialization, which creates pollution and depletes resources. They contend that developing nations should rely on economic and agricultural practices that protect the environment and reflect a country’s indigenous values.
The value of Western democracy, particularly the American version, has also been questioned. Some writers claim, for example, that the United States lacks true political equality because the wealthy have the greatest share of political power. Sociology professor Bogdan Denitch writes: “U.S. society has desperately overdue social agendas that must be met if it is to be a minimally decent society.” These agendas include lessening economic inequality and recognizing that democracies must have an advanced welfare state and strong trade unions. Rather than mimic strictly Western versions of democracy, some writers and politicians suggest, Africa and other developing countries should rely on traditional governments. One indigenous model that has been recommended is African villages, which have traditionally been led by clan elders and reach decisions via debate and consensus. Franz Schurmann, a professor emeritus of sociology and history, notes that such traditions may still prove vital: “As Western-style states in Africa have failed to perform all that well, . . . Africans wonder whether some of the better features of traditional chieftainships and the modern state can be combined.”
As the debate between advocates of First World and Third World solutions indicates, there is unlikely to be a universally accepted path to economic and political development. However, in some cases, Third World problems may not be as great as they first appear. Third World: Opposing Viewpoints considers these and similar questions in the following chapters: What Are the Problems Facing Third World Countries? How Can Third World Development Be Achieved? Can Third World Nations Form Lasting Democracies? What Is the First World’s Role in the Third World? In these chapters, the authors debate whether the quality of life in developing countries needs to improve and, if so, how that improvement can be achieved.