National Comparisons: Assessing State Success

Figure 1.--The ideology of Marxist economics (Socialism and Communism) is aluring, replace the profit motive and the economic freedom and individual responsibility with a managed economy where the government and beaureacratic planners look after everyones individual needs. The only problem is that it does not work. Except for countries gifted with oil, the wealthy countries are those with economies to a large extent built by capitalist economies. Communist countries are some of the poorest countries in the world. After World War II, many countries launched upon economic experiments with socialist and communist managed economies. The results in every case were econimic failure, such as in Cuba. Many of those countries since the 1990s, like Brazil, China, and India, have launched free market reforms. The results habe been enormous economic progress and the vast growth of the middle class. Countries that have retained state managed evonomies (Cuba, North Korea, and Vietnam) have experienced nothing but economic failure and abject poverty. Large numbers of people in all of these countries want to escape to capitalist countries.

HBC has addressed a number of controversial issues which involve the comparison of different countries. Here the issue of failed states has arisen. HBC has readers from all over the world. Most of our readers are Americans or Europeans, but we have readers from Asia, Africa, Latin America, and the Middle East. And some of our readers understandably don't like their country described as backward or a failed state. Our readers raise a fair question. How does one define a failed state and society. We need to estanlish metrics here so that we can fairly assess failed and successful states. Here the oil countries present a special problem. Several states (Brunei, Iraq, Iran, and the Gulf emirates, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and Venezuela) are endowed with vast quantities of oil. As a result of this oil these countries are able to finance a high standard of living. Our assessment of state failure relies heavily on living stndards, but they are not the only metrics involved. Paricularly important here is measurable indicators so that an assessment can be made free of idelogical and theocratic beliefs. Even this is complicated, however, because many failed states are such failures that they do not have reliable statistical systems which can provide us reliable statistics. We would suggest a range of factors, including ecomonic productivity, prosperity (percapita income), public health (infant mortality, longevity, sanitation, nutrition, etc.), education (literacy, school attendence--including girls), political democracy, civil liberties (especially free speech), religious freedom, artistic achievement, transportation network (paved roads, mass transit, ect.), communications (telephones per capita, access to the internet, ect), and number of books published, These are some of the major indicators that we would look at in assessing countries and in ranking advanced and backward countries. A country that consistently ranks low in these areas might fairly be called a failed state.

Objective Meaures

Economic Productivity

Economic productivity has to be one of the most importsant indicator. Unless a country is productive, it will not have the resources to deal with the needs of its people. This can be measure through comparisons of GNP. Percapita GNP would seem a better indicator than absolute GNP. Simply meauring a country's percapita GNP is not always a good indicator.Here we think it important to differntiate between a country like Japan with few natural resources, but is among the most poductive countries in the world and a country like Saudi Arabia that essentially does nothing but pump oil.

Economic Prosperity

Economic prosperity is another important indicator in assessing states. Here the best indicator is probably per capita income.


An important part of a modern state is an effective transportantion syste, Here there are several statistical measures: paved roads, railways, air transport. mass transit. Normally the most effective measure are percpita measures such as miles of paved roads. Another imporant attribute of a effective state is a modern communications system. Here there are several indicators: communications (telephones per capita, access to the internet, ect), and number of books published.

Scientific Achievement

Public Health

Another important indicator is public health. Here key indicators are infant mortality, longevity, sanitation, nutrition, alcoho/drug usage, tobacco usage, and other factors. Here there are complications as drug, alcohol, and tobacco usage are in part related to levels of affluence. There are many other important indicators, such as access to health care, but these are more difficult to measure statistically.


Education is a key factor in national success because it affects many other areas such as economic productivity and public health. Here important indicators are: literacy, school attendence (including girls).

Civil Society

Political Democracy

Political democracy is not a easily quanifiable indicator. We believe it is important for two reasons. First of all as a matter of social justicies as promoted in the American Declaration of Independence, the French Declaration of the Rights of Man, and more recently in the United Nations Charter. Included with political democracy we include political democracy and civil liberties, especially free speech. The second reason that democracy is important is a very practical one. The countries that are most productive with the highest living standard are for the most part the countries that are most productive. (The exception here is the oil states.)

Religious Freedom

Another important factor is religious freedom. Again we believe it imporetnt for the same two basic reasons we think political democracy is important. First it is a matter of basic social justice. Second those countries where individuals are allowed to worship or not worship as they choose are generally the most successful, prosperous countries and those which deny freedom of religion tend to be be the poorest leadt successful countries. (Again the oil countries excepted.)

Artistic Achievement

Any society's success can not only be measured in terms of political affluence. A factor that has to e figured into the equation is artistic achievement. The creation of great works of art are one of the finest accomplishments of the human mind. Here we are talking about archetecture, drama, literature, painting, music. sculpture. Of course assessing art is a very subjective ercise, but there is general agreement on some of the great mastrs and periods of artistic creativity. And there are even some statistical indicators such as Nobel prizes.

Self Image and Introspection

One intresting observation is that there appears to be a disconnect between a country's self image and the objective factors of state discuss we have listed. In fact many countries which have a strong sense of cultural superority are among the poorer countries in the world. Some of the most notable such countries are found on the Subcotinent (India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh), including both Hindus and Muslims. Also very high on the feeling of cultural superiority are other Muslim countries outside the Subcontinent. For the most part, Muslim countries unless gifted with oil resources are poor. The exception is some of the more moderate Muslim countries (Indonesia, Malaysia, and Turkey) which are achieving a degree of economic success. Interestingly, the greater the feeling of cultural superiority, often the greater the feeling that their country needs to be protected. This has led in the case of many Muslim countries the passage of blasfemy laws meaning that people who question traditional values (often religious values) can be arrested and given lengthy prison terms or even executed. Perhaps even more important are extra-judicial violence. This of course discourages what these countries need the most-introsoection an reassessment of traditional values. An interesting corelary of this feeling of culturaly superiority and low rankings on objective factors of success is that many of the most successful countries do not have strong feelings of cultural superiority. THis is an especially notable phenomenon in Western Europe, especially Sweden but many other Western countries as well (Britain, France, and Germany). It is not entirely clear why these successful outries do not have a feeling of cultural superority. We suspect that the left-wing concept of cultural relativity prompted in schools is a factor. But as a result these countries are also not reflecting on what made them successful (largely free market capitalism and the rule of law including protection of property rights) leading to the growth of socialist policies that are undermining the Euro Zone today in country after country.


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Created: 8:12 PM 7/27/2007
Last updated: 5:09 PM 9/2/2013