Failed States

The Failed States Index lists the most unstable places in the world along with some explanation about how they got that way. There are few surprises. Some points are not immediately obvious, but make sense when you think about it.

For example, environmental degradation goes with political degradation. Causality is unclear, but there is probably a feedback loop. The interesting case study is Korea. North and South Korea started off in the same place, but today South Korea has almost reached the middle on sustainability and is in the center of the pack re stability, while North Korea is among the worst on both counts and dead last in environmental sustainability.

Failed states tend to cluster together. The reasons are complicated. Regions tend to share historical and demographic characteristics. The map of the good, bad and ugly countries will make sense to anyone with even a casual relationship with history. The one surprise to me was stable Mongolia between borderline stable Russian & China. Also important is the contagious effect of failed states on those around them. Unstable states make bad neighbors. They usually are (or become) poor. They often create refugees and almost always provide safe haven for bad guys who raid and/or destabilize the neighborhood.

Religious Freedom is highly correlated with stability. Look carefully at the chart. Those who like to rant about the danger of Christian intolerance will find little to support their points of view and it is not all the fault of radical Islam. Among the most intolerant are atheistic regimes, such as N. Korea, Belarus, China & Cuba.

Finally, lest we think that strongmen lead to stability, three of the five worst countries are led by dictators who have been in power for more than 15 years and ALL the most stable countries are led by democratically elected leaders.

As I said above, there are few real surprises in the report. We all know what makes the best places, but the problem is how to get to that happy state. Democracy promotion has fallen from favor (Ron Asmus writes in The Democrat’s Democracy Problem discusses the current syndrome) but it is a valid goal both for selfish and altruistic goals. Despite all the troubles in the world, we have come a long way in making the world more democratic but there is still a long way to go.

Posted by Jack at June 19, 2007 9:55 PM
Comment #223533

China, Jack, is not an atheist nation. It is a Buddhist nation mostly, with other religious enclaves including Christian. China has a secular government. That does not make China an atheist nation.

Democracies are made by the people within the nation that becomes a democracy. Without their assent or capitulation to it, “we” cannot make the world more democratic. We can set an example. But, that example has been tarnished the world round in recent years by Republican Foreign policy.

The world is learning of our being the main supplier of arms fueling the wars and atrocities occurring in so many nations. Being the biggest exporter for profit of the goods of war, does not speak highly of American democracy to those people fighting for survival and peace in their own countries.

China elects its congress. Saddam Hussein was elected. Vladimir Putin was elected. The military dictator Musharraf was elected, I think. Are these democracies? Not in the sense of our Declaration of Independence and Constitution. These so called democracies springing up around the world, are psuedo democracies whose leaders have learned the wisdom of providing the masses an opiate of some kind, whether that be consumer choices in Russia, nuclear status in Pakistan, or the promise of prosperity for the children and absence of further revolutions in China.

But opiates do not make democracies in the American ideal sense. Nor do elections. I forget what country it is in Northern Africa, but, they hold entirely free and open elections as judged by the U.N. But, any candidate who campaigns against the current leadership mysteriously ends up dead prior to the elections. Is it democracy?

America is not pure democracy. We are a democratic republic. Which means we elect candidates (supported by the parties, most regrettably) who will be our leaders and make decisions for us by proxy. It would be a wonderful system indeed, in America if we were able to elect leaders who would represent the interests of the people and the nation first, and foremost. But, we don’t even have that great a democratic system.

Democracy is complicated. There is direct democracy, republican democracy, parliamentarian democracy, and the many opiate democracies described above, democracies in name only or, DINO’s if you will. But, they are all such new forms of government in human history and thus, should be regarded as still experimental, and in desperate and constant need of tweaking and adjustment if they are to live up to the ideals of democracy extolled in our Declaration of Independence and Bill of Rights. For evidence abounds to demonstrate that current democracies are not living up to those ideals in many ways.

America should not be trying to export democracy. America should be trying to export the ideals of liberty, peace, self-determination, rule of law over rule by individual, and the ideals set out in our Bill of Rights. If America can traffic in these ideals, instead of war, the world’s people might be far more amenable to democracy as the best form of government to permit the free striving for these ideals.

Raising the consciousness of what people and societies can be is what we should be trafficking. But, of course, that would mean we would have to start right here at home. But, it appears we are moving in the other direction as brokers for war, subverting our Constitution through authoritarian presidential signing statements, dismissal of habeas corpus and abdication of Geneva Conventions for humane treatment of prisoners, and everywhere, exploiting wealth and limited resources in a sea of impoverished humanity in the world, for personal and national gain. This is how America is viewed by ever growing numbers of people in the world.

Protecting the family of humanity through human rights and dignity, empowerment of the people with the resources and freedom of choice to determine their own futures in exchange for allegiance to the family of humanity, these and more are the goals of our founding documents. Government is nothing more than a tool to either strive for those goals or, subvert them. Our founding fathers had grave reservations and criticism of the power of government, any government, democratic or otherwise, which is why they strove to create checks and balances upon that power.

But, century old words on parchment are insufficient to maintain those checks and balances. Ultimately, it boils down to the people, what they will tolerate in the form of abuses by government officials with power, and what they will not. Any democracy can be a very BAD form of government if the nation’s people allow it to be, if they lose sight of their unalienable right to REVOLT against it, as our forefathers did against the British government.

Democracy is a government founded on the willingness of the people to overthrow their leaders. That willingness is reserved in the power of the vote. No one needs to vote to allow a dictator to remain in power. The people need to vote to remove officials of power who abuse that power and harm the people with it. The very heart and core of democracy is in the willingness of the people to vote out incumbents who exercise power wrongfully, and replace them with officials who will not abuse the nation or the people with their power.

When the people in an elected government lose the will to remove incumbents in power, EVEN when the majority of the people acknowledge their government is failing them, the heart and spirit of democracy has been lost. Americans have lost the heart and spirit of democracy.

That is evident by the polls showing 3/4 disapprove of what our officials are doing and where they are leading our country, yet, the people continue to reelect 85% or more of them back into office. We have become an opiate democracy, where consumerism and conspicuous consumption have become our drugs of choice. And these drugs have replaced the heart and spirit of revolutionary democracy which founded this country.

Posted by: David R. Remer at June 20, 2007 2:44 AM
Comment #223542


Chinese communist government is officially and often aggressively atheistic. That the Chinese people are sometimes of other religion is implied by the religious persecution. They could not be persecuted for their religion if they did not have one that varied from what officials found was acceptable.

I would also fall back to the disused distinction among country, government and nation. It is too bad that these words have become synonymous to most people because the distinctions are very useful. The Chinese nation is not atheistic but the Chinese government certainly is and the Chinese country has many religions almost all of which are to some extent persecuted by the Chinese government sometimes with deadly force.

On a technical point, I do not think you could characterize China as a Buddhist nation, even absent the communists influence. I recall somebody saying that we cannot characterize China in the western religious sense at all, since a typical guy could be Buddhist in the morning, Confucian while at work and a Taoist in the evening and mix and match these beliefs w/o any sense of contradiction.

Of course you know that the fastest growing religion in China is Christianity, which is why the Chinese authorities are so eager to oppress it and minimize its importance.

Re Democracy - of course China, Saddam’s Iraq, Russia and Pakistan are not currently democracies. It is a measure of the triumph of democracy, however, that even authoritarians feel the need to make the pretense of democracy.

A democracy is more than elections, even if those elections are fair. There is that joke that in many countries democracy means one man, one vote, one time. The test of democracy is the successful transfer of power to an opposition and w/o rule of law and stable intuitions, democracy degrades to mob rule. Rule of law and stable institutions actually limit and moderate democracy. Pure democracy is not a good thing. It is merely oppression by the majority.

A good democracy will almost always produce dissatisfaction among a large percentage of the population, since they are always forced to compromise and to elect a package of candidates with some characteristics they do not like. It gets worse when you have a greater diversity of opinion and desire. I imagine that a candidate acceptable to the majority of Watchblog readers would not satisfy any of us in all his particulars. That, BTW, is one of the most potent arguments against socialism or big government in general. Collective decision making breaks down when most people cannot agree on courses of action or even a leader AND most people never agree on anything beyond a very basic package. The last truly popular leader (i.e. one elected by more than a narrow or disputed majority) was Ronald Reagan, and even with somebody like that, I recall that a significant number of people were strongly opposed to his policies.

As I come around full circle, in failed states people often do not understand that they cannot get all or even most of what they want from their government. They are demanding too much for themselves or their groups - more than others are willing to concede, so conflict breaks out. It is no coincidence that failed states do not have functioning market economies, which can help mitigate this sort of conflict by allowing a diversity of non-political choices. The state can never satify the needs and aspirations of the people. Those who recognize that are better off sooner.

Posted by: Jack at June 20, 2007 7:46 AM
Comment #223549

I see that #2 is Iraq. Would sure hate to be the idiot responsible for THAT mess!

The Chinese government isn’t atheistic anymore. They do crack down on certain religions (which they claim are cults), but that is a different matter.

Posted by: Woody Mena at June 20, 2007 9:03 AM
Comment #223564

Woody Mena,

I see that #2 is Iraq. Would sure hate to be the idiot responsible for THAT mess!

That why nobody claims (any) responsability in Iraq, I guess…

Posted by: Philippe Houdoin at June 20, 2007 12:38 PM
Comment #223621


I did not know that the Chinese communists have now embraced religion. They crackdown hard on Christianity. I guess they consider the world’s largest religion a cult. They crackdown hard on Islam, I suppose the world’s second largest religion is a cult too. What religions are not cults according to them? And why should they crack down on cults anyway? They can address it when particular cult members break specific laws, but the existence of a cult is none of the Chinese government’s business.

Posted by: Jack at June 21, 2007 7:42 AM
Comment #223631


I was not trying to defend their policies in any way, but objecting to the idea that governments who crack down on specific religions are atheistic. In fact, a faith-based government is the biggest threat to religious freedom of all.

Posted by: Woody Mena at June 21, 2007 9:16 AM
Comment #223643

I was trying to figure out how a country like the USA can rank better on the “religious tolerance” scale than a country like Norway. At a certain level the differences in the way religion makes it way into daily life (and not into government policy) becomes so detailed that the analysis becomes subjective.

France’s recent policy regarding headscarves in schools undoubtably works against its religious tolerance marks. But what about the cases in the USA where schools are forced to teach that evolution is a “controversy?” Does that bring the USA’s score down??

Posted by: bobo at June 21, 2007 12:23 PM
Comment #223648


On my visit to Beijing in 95’ I was taken to a Buddhist teaching temple. This is a huge complex that housed, among other things, a statue of Buddha that is over 18 meters tall.
As for the persecution of Christians and Muslims, yes these are the two largest Religions in the world, but they are also the only two Religions on the planet that actively seek conversion to their faith.
They also are the only two religions that bitch about it when they feel they are being persecuted.

Posted by: Rocky at June 21, 2007 12:42 PM
Comment #223661

Jack said: “but the existence of a cult is none of the Chinese government’s business.”

From your American experience. Is it any of the American government’s business if Islamic Fundamentalism takes root in America? Hah! Quite a double standard you have there Jack.

From the Chinese perspective with 1.2 billion people and a phobia about revolution and insurrection, rejecting certain religious groups whose tenets or practices could incite revolution or insurrection, is justified. And not dissimilar to America’s reaction to Islamic Fundamentalism.

It truly is amazing how unworldly and culture centrically myopic Americans are when it comes to understanding differences in other cultures. It is why since the 1950’s Americans (The Ugly American) have worn the labels of arrogant, hypocrite, and ignorant, along with the labels of generous, righteous, wealthy, and strong.

It is acceptable to say what China is doing would be very wrong for America. But, it is ignorant and arrogant in my opinion to claim that China’s intolerance for certain religious groups is wrong for China.

Their one child policy would have been extremely wrong for America. But, it was absolutely essential for China’s economic growth, increasing prosperity of its people, its management of its food supply to population ratio, and the stability of society and future growth.

Had China not installed its one child policy, China would now have between 1.6 to 2 billion people with 10’s of millions starving. Such a population would have been clearly unsustainable given their current level of resources, which, would have been diminished by a far more rapid increase in population numbers.

But, to view China’s policies through an American Christian moral lens is at once, horribly biased since they are not a predominantly Christian nation, and ignorant of the historical and cultural differences between our two societies. Americans are so frightened by differences, especially conservatives and Republicans. Kind of makes their party almost always the wrong party to be handling American foreign affairs, unless War is what the American people want.

Posted by: David R. Remer at June 21, 2007 3:11 PM
Comment #223691


Communism of the Marxist variety is a specifically atheistic ideology. Remember the opium of the masses thing? Marxism is a relatively new ideology but in its short life it has managed to get the record for killing people and oppressing whole countries. Chinese communists have backed away from many of the stupider aspects of Marxism, but they still are ostensible followers of the old fart.


If Islamic fundamentalism takes root in America it is none of my business unless they break the laws we set up for the general population.

I know you cut the Chinese a lot of slack. I understand the usefulness of the one child policy. I can even understand why they might want to oppress certain people. Understanding is not the same as accepting.

I believe cultural relativism is a dangerous ideology when it leads us to judge ourselves and our friends by much higher standards. We give the Chinese a pass when they practice terrible genocide. We “understand” when radical Muslim kill and burn in response to stupid insults. Maybe we should understand when American react.

This also shows a soft bigotry. We say “the Chinese prefer”. Who are these Chinese? Obvioulsy those Chinese being killed or oppressed by the government did not share the preference. During the cultural revolution millions were murdered or starved. I do not believe it was their preference.

I do not want to overuse the Nazi example, but it fits here. The German people overwhelmingly supported the Nazis in 1939. If they chose to put people in camps, who are we to judge? Does that make sense? If not for the nazi Germans, why for the communist Chinese?


The precise rankings make little difference. Free countries like Norway and the U.S. are not that different. I suppose Norway lost points because it has an officially supported church, but as someone who lived in Norway for four years, I can tell you that anybody who feels threatened by the people of Norway is just nuts.


People have the right to choose their faith and that implies the right of someone to explain it to them. Unless they are using coercion or breaking general laws, the government has no right to intervene. It is a fundamental human right.

Posted by: Jack at June 21, 2007 8:19 PM
Comment #223697


I don’t mean to be rude, but it is very easy to talk about “fundamental human rights” while safely ensconced at home in Virginia.

You know as well as I that the laws of China are different than they are in America, and anyone that breaks those laws are subject to Chinese justice, not the justice of America.

As David said above, Americans are, for the most part, seen as arrogant in other parts of the world, and just because someone proclaims to be a Christian, or a Muslim, or whatever, doesn’t give them immunity from the laws of the country they are a GUEST of.
We Americans often forget that we are guests and are required to behave as such.
You and I have traveled the world regularly, and we know that it is far better to act as a traveller than a tourist. That includes knowing and obeying the laws of the country we are a guest of.

China, as a sovereign country, has every right to intervene, and every right to enforce their laws as they see fit, regardless of what we think in America.

And you, of all people, should know better.

Posted by: Rocky at June 21, 2007 8:43 PM
Comment #223700

Thanks for the links except the last.twaddle. The Dems are calling for a value based forign policy which includes support for democracy as opposed to a forign policy based on strategic(read oil) interest.
Claims that the US supports democracy might be a nice balm domestically but the world knows better. The Sandinistas were elected,Chavez was elected twice. Both under international supervision. Hamas was elected. We overthrew the elected government in Iran leading to no end of trouble. We fought a huge land war in Asia to prevent a plebisite(Pentagon Papers).Many of our most important allies are not democratic except in the shallowist of terms and some not at all.One of my favorites is the UAE. They brag about a democratic parliment. Sure thing. Of course one has to be a member of the extended ruling family to run.In fairness it is helpful to look at democracy as a state of flux on a contiuem. Some stase are becomeing more democratic.The arrow is heading the right way. Conversely others,even some of the most advanced have the arrow heading the wrong way. I am afraid we should count ourselves among the last group. We have problems that partisans as ourselves can agree on. Low voter turnout is one. Another great and obvious one, the elephant in the room, is the system of legalized bribery we use to fund politicians that we cannot seem to get a handle on.International observers are usually appalled when they find out that all over the country those responsible for vote counting are partisan officeholders.They would never certify an election anywhere under such circumstances.It is a testement to integrity that we do not have more fraud. More checks and balances are in order. Point is that for us to preach democracy and be believed we should clean up our own side of the street.Lets work to get the arrow headed back in the right direction.

Posted by: BillS at June 21, 2007 8:56 PM
Comment #223712


We send very few missionaries to China these days. The Chinese are oppressing Chinese Christians and Chinese Muslims.

I respect the Chinese sovereignty to the extent that I do not advocate doing anything to stop it. But that does not mean China is above criticism. Lord knows, others around the world feel free to criticize us for a lot less.


See above. I respect sovereignty of others, but that does not exempt them from criticism. U.S. policy has supported Democracy in E. Europe, Africa, Latin American and Asia. We are trying in the Middle East. We can argue re the extent and methods, but surely the idea is worth it. Dems thought so until George Bush became president.

The WP article is by a prominent Dem foreign policy guy. He makes sense.

Posted by: Jack at June 21, 2007 10:40 PM
Comment #223753
Chinese communists have backed away from many of the stupider aspects of Marxism, but they still are ostensible followers of the old fart.

The key word is “ostensible”.

Contemporary China is Communist in pretty much the same sense that the UK is a monarchy. It is just a historical holdover. Yes, they are ruled by the “Communist Party”, but it’s become an empty label. They may as well call themselves the Tories.

I am not defending their policies, just saying they ain’t commies.

Posted by: Woody Mena at June 22, 2007 10:12 AM
Comment #223781

Jack said of China: “Understanding is not the same as accepting.”

There is that American arrogance again. It is not for you as an American to accept or reject how China and its people govern themselves, anymore than it is for the Chinese to accept or reject how America and her people govern themselves.

Posted by: David R. Remer at June 22, 2007 2:11 PM
Comment #223825


Where does the suspension of judgement end? Do you really have the right to judge anybody, even your fellow Americans? Are you insulted when Germans criticize our use of the death penalty? How about when French imply we are uncultured or Muslim say we are corrupt or Godless? Surley they have no more right to judge us than we have to judge the Chinese.


I do not believe that they are communists either, but the retain some of the nasty aspects even today.

Posted by: Jack at June 22, 2007 10:12 PM
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