09 August 2005

The Annual Country Rankings! Part V

Today I’ll cover the other three regional groupings in the third world, Europe, Latin America, and the Small Island States. And I’ll do so after the jump.

Europe has nine third world countries, all of them previously communist. At the top of the list, remarkable after having been the poorest country on the continent only six years ago, is Macedonia. Despite have a 40% unemployment rate (highest on the continent), Macedonia has a remarkably large GDP and the other indicators are all good. The simmering ethnic tensions in the country have largely simmered down, at least for now, so the prospects are good for Macedonia to move out of the third world soon.
At the bottom of the pile is Moldova, Europe’s poorest country. The Russian government actively supports a secession movement in the northeast. The present government consists entirely of former communists, and aside from a few wineries and large state-run wheat farms, the economy consists mainly of buying cheap goods in Ukraine and re-exporting them at higher prices to other countries in Europe. Years ago there was talk that Moldova might merge with Romania, but Romania is moving ahead with EU membership and a recovering economy, and I don’t imagine they’d want Moldova dragging them down.
In between are a variety of other places. Serbia & Montenegro is near the bottom, Ukraine is near the top, and the rest are mashed in between. Nearly all these countries have literacy rates in the high 90s, life expectancies near or over 70, and infant mortality rates of 20 or below. Aside from Armenia and Belarus all are in the process of developing democratic governments, and all are eager to move forward, join the EU, and get on with being a part of the richest continent around—though they may never get that chance.
The other countries are Belarus, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Albania, Armenia, and Georgia. Georgia, incidentally, is called “Sak’art’velo” in the Georgian language, and though no one could pronounce it correctly I still think it would be easier on us American types to start calling the country by its proper name. They make good wines there, so the topic may come up more in the future.

Latin America—which is to say, the rest of the hemisphere south of the United States—has 18 countries in the third world, which is a majority of the countries in the hemisphere. Brazil, Panama, and Belize all have democratic governance, some semblance of individual freedom, and reasonably diverse economies, and all score above 600; these will probably escape the third world fairly soon. Colombia and Venezuela also score above 600 but suffer from armed insurrection and from Hugo Chavez, respectively. Chavez thinks he is a cross between Castro and Bolivar for the 21st Century, and if he holds on to power for another four years he will bankrupt what was once a very promising country. He’s no Robert Mugabe, but I’m told the two are good friends.
At the bottom of the list, scoring in the 300s, are Bolivia, Honduras, and Nicaragua. No surprise here. Bolivia can’t keep a government in power for more than a year at a stretch; Honduras still hasn’t really recovered from Hurricane Mitch, and Nicaragua, though moderately peaceful for the past 12 years, has failed utterly to diversify the economy away from bananas.
That said, Honduras and Nicaragua, along with the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, and El Salvador, are part of the recently-passed CAFTA agreement, which may bode well for their future. Of course, to see any benefit from the trade agreement Nicaragua will need to come up with something to trade.
Other American countries in the third world include Peru, Paraguay, Jamaica, Suriname, Ecuador, Guyana, and Cuba. The sole failed state in the western hemisphere is Haiti, which has a score less than half that of Nicaragua.

The last “regional” grouping are the Small Island States, which are not all in a single region but have much more in common with one another than with other countries that might be in their region.
At the top of the list are Samoa, Fiji, and Dominica, all just a few points away from one another. Fiji was once on the verge of escaping the third world altogether, until a coup attempt and ethnic violence brought the economy to a virtual standstill and nearly eliminated tourism for several months. Samoa and Dominica, on the other hand, are two of the third world’s most successful pluggers, steadily and consistently raising their quality of life year by year. Their scores are not spectacular, but if trends continue they’ll be on their way to the land of Transition before too long.
At the bottom of the list is the Solomon Islands. This country had been doing rather well until an ill-advised secession attempt by one of the islands led to nationwide ethnic strife and stopped the economy dead. The Solomons slipped into the failed states and at one point scored as low as 180 points; the country has since recovered and should continue to do so. As one of the most resource-rich of all small island states, the Solomon Islands should be able to recover their lost economic prowess and continue growing.
Economic growth, however, can be elusive for many small island states. Few of them have any significant resources aside from their status as tropical paradises, and while some of them have made great gains with tourism and offshore banking, many others remain too tiny or remote to develop.
Philosophically, however, development in the small islands is a different matter than it is in, for example, Africa. People living in third world and failed states in Africa are living unpleasant lives; disease is rampant and mortality rates are very high, even from diseases we in the developed world think of as insignificant, such as diarrhea (the leading cause of infant death in many countries). Civil war, sex slavery, human trafficking, famine, lack of potable water or reasonable shelter; these are what people in most poor countries around the world are dealing with on a daily basis. It’s in the interest of humanity to raise these peoples’ living standards.
But life in the poor island countries tends to be a little different. Few of the small island states suffer from significant disease rates, although schistosomiasis is not uncommon (this is a particularly nasty worm-related disease you don’t want to know about). Birth rates tend not to be very high on small islands, since lack of space is an everyday concern. Civil war is, at least in the smaller countries (Fiji and Solomon Islands are the largest small island states), all but unheard of; sex slavery and human trafficking are essentially nonexistent. The people of the islands—especially the Pacific islands—have been living on islands for eons and, as I suppose Jared Diamond would explain, know how to avoid famine in their native environments. The people on many small islands are living as they have lived for hundreds of years. The country of Tuvalu, for example, is selling its .tv domain name to television producers around the world, but Tuvalu does not have any local television stations, and almost no televisions at all outside the government. Are the Tuvaluans missing anything? Hard to say. They are poor, yes. But they certainly aren’t as miserable as the Ethiopians.
Anyway, among the small island states in the third world, the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Tonga, Niue, Nauru, the Cook Islands, Fiji, and Samoa are sprinkled around the Pacific. The Maldives are in the Indian Ocean, and the Seychelles are off the east coast of Africa. Dominica, Grenada, St. Lucia, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines are in the Caribbean.
The rest of Pacific island countries are much smaller than those previously discussed. Nauru consists of a single island. Once it was the richest in the Pacific, its 12,000 residents living fat off of proceeds from phosphate mining. The government invested its surplus in a development account, for when the phosphate ran out, which it did in 2003. The government then proceeded to spend almost the entire surplus in 2004. Nauru’s environment has been destroyed by phosphate mining, and its small size, remoteness and lack of facilities make developing a tourist trade difficult if not impossible. What the Nauruans will do in the future is hard to know. Most will probably emigrate to Australia and New Zealand in the coming years.
Niue is another interesting case, also a single island, but with no phosphates at all to get rich from and only 2000 people. The Niueans today live much as the Niueans did 400 years ago when the island was first sited by European explorers, albeit with the trappings of modernity. More than twice the population of the island live abroad, mostly in New Zealand, and the money they send home accounts for a significant portion of the Niuean economy. Nauru will probably look much like Niue ten years from now (albeit with a strip-mined phosphate rock center that bakes in the midday sun at temperatures up to 100 degrees).
The Maldives and Seychelles have profited from tourism, being much closer to people who like to be tourists. The Seychelles are popular with Europeans, especially the British; the Maldives draw tourists from throughout the Muslim world. Tourism has meant money for these countries, though it is new money and government services have not yet caught up with the need for education and health care.
The Caribbean countries are all trying to shake off the old bananas-and-sugar economies; the four still here in the third world are the ones who’ve had the least success. St. Vincent has long been the poorest Caribbean country; much of its land area is the string of islets known as the Grenadines, so the country is almost more like the archipelagic Pacific countries than its neighbors. St. Lucia suffers from its location astride the meaty part of the Caribbean hurricane belt, but next-door Barbados is a first-world country despite that handicap. The government hopes a new cruise-ship terminal and high-dollar accommodations will help bring the country’s quality of life up. Dominica suffers from an almost total lack of beaches, one of the few islands (and the only independent one) in the Caribbean to suffer so. Nonetheless, the government recently hit upon the idea of selling the country as an eco/adventure tourism destination. The entire middle part of the island is a virtually uninhabited (and uninhabitable) national park, and as American tourists start traveling more in the future Dominica should do well. Grenada, unfortunately, has taken a rather serious step backwards in the aftermath of Hurricane Ivan. Hurricane Emily struck the country earlier this year, though did little additional damage. Recovery efforts continue, but more than half the country’s buildings still lack water, and many are still without power, not to mention solid roofs. The Paris Club’s most recent round of debt forgiveness managed to skip over Grenada, evidently because it is so small as to be invisible, and the country’s main sources of foreign exchange, the spice plantations, were badly damaged and won’t recover for several years if ever. Rapid reconstruction of the limited tourist infrastructure, along with new construction in that area, are Grenada’s best hope for macroeconomic stability in the future—at least until the country’s lenders remove their blinders and forgive Grenada’s debt.

1 comment:

Lucky Bob said...

Nice plug for Jared Diamond. I think he would say that the islanders are generally smarter than European decendants and have a knowledge of the land that would almost seem magical to us. Many of the small islands of 2000 people or less even have population control mechanisms like ritual castration. That should scare the males of overpopulated countries. One thing we have to think about is that if global climate change causes large scale ice cap melting, many of these small islands could disappear, change in size, or change in ecology. What happens to these delicately balanced societies then?