03 August 2005

The Annual Country Rankings! Part I

Being a dork, I eagerly await the annual update to the CIA World Factbook. I eagerly await it so that I can update my yearly rankings of national political and economic malfeasance (and, um, feasance, I suppose) around the world.
Several years ago (it was 1999, actually, but the factbook was late that year so I started with the 1998 Factbook) I read a book entitled "The Real World Order" by Max Singer and Aaron Wildavsky. The book put forth a few interesting ideas, among them the idea that the world was really divided into two overarching "zones," the Zone of Peace, and the Zone of Turmoil.

Singer and Wildavsky argued that countries in the Zone of Peace would not wage war against other countries in the Zone of Peace under any normal circumstance. Obviously based on the name the same could not be said for the Zone of Turmoil.

I liked the idea. Standing alone, however, it isn't terribly useful, and Singer and Wildavsky did not develop it enough to make it into a policy tool, nor did they discuss what exactly the Zone of Peace might consist of. I was dissatisfied. So I went about creating a method of defining what countries might be in the Zone of Peace. This worked well, but I soon realized that some countries in the Zone of Turmoil were very different from other countries in the Zone of Turmoil. There were some that were likely to break into the Zone of Peace, and others that, frankly, were never going to do so. It seemed there should be a better way to categorize things.

So I developed a Zone of Transition. I also over time fell into using First World, Third World, and Transitional States rather than the "Zone" monikers, which weren't mine to start with and which with repetition start to sound hackneyed. In recent years, I've also determined that the countries at the bottom of the Third World did not ever seem to improve their scores from year to year, and for the most part were on a steep downward trend. These are states that, from my point of view, have failed their customers (their citizens) so utterly that they cannot rationally be considered states at all. Policymakers like to use the term "Failed States" for such places, so I've picked that up as well.

So anyway, the last few weeks I've been putting numbers in my little spreadsheet to see how the family of nations are doing this year, at least in the eyes of the CIA. I'm happy to report that for the first time since 2001, two new states have broken into the First World. Hooray! Two other states have returned to transitional status, from which they were delisted two years ago when I tightened the requirements for First World and Transitional status. It's good to have them back. And two states have escaped from Failed status; both were once in the third world but suffered a series of coup attempts and civil wars and, well, you get the idea.

Aside from a few disappointing results from countries I expected to move up (Cape Verde, Chile, Dominica), this was a satisfying year for most places outside the failed states.

I bet you want to know which countries are where, huh?

Well, I'll be covering that over the next few days. Hey, there's nothing in the news right now I even want to think about, much less write about (until Discovery comes home safely), so this will keep us all amused and interested for a few days. Right? Right.

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