Model states

Published June 6, 2017

ROGUE, terrorist, or evil states: there are so many states which have poor track records internally or externally. But are there states that can be held up as role models?

First we must establish a set of criteria for identifying model states. Some admire wealthy states; others technologically advanced states and some those with militarily might. For me, model states must be economically successful, and invest in their people. They should also be democratic and excel on social indicators and human rights standards. They must behave responsibly regionally and globally and lead in the establishment of an equitable global order. So which states score high?

One must start with the world’s economic, technological and military leader the US, surely in a class of its own on these dimensions. But once we judge it on social and political issues, it falls atrociously short. The quality of its democracy has been falling for decades as the role of big money in politics has increased. Its social indicators, eg poverty, divorce, and crime, are amongst the worst among developed states.

It does not take climate change seriously. It has an appalling human rights record from Vietnam to Latin America. It is the biggest block in the way of the emergence of a just global economic and political order. All this was true even before Trump made things much worse.

But if the US suffers from all these problems, its main enemies have their own sets of issues. Russia, China and Iran are its biggest adversaries, not in terms of standing against the US for a more just world order but to make the order more amenable to their own interests. Additionally, all three also have terrible domestic human rights records, unlike the US. Thus, their adversity with the US carries little promise of progressive change globally.

Which state can set a good example?

Tariq Ali’s Latin American Axis of Hope states (Cuba, Bolivia and Venezuela) deserve credit for challenging US hegemony boldly and aiming for egalitarian societies. But the lack of democracy in Cuba and its undermining in Venezuela as well as their economic woes make it difficult to project them as model states.

My love for democracy exceeds my antipathy towards capitalism. So, if I have to choose between a state which is anti-capitalist but also undemocratic and a state which is capitalist but democratic, I will generally choose the latter. The ideal of course would be a state which is both democratic and non-capitalist. But such a state does not exist yet.

Many developed states in Europe and East Asia, eg Japan and Germany, do better overall than the US on these dimensions. But among developed states, I would rank Scandinavian states the highest. They rival the US on many non-size-related economic indicators, e.g., competitiveness and innovation, and have far superior social indicators. They have taken greater strides than others to set up egalitarian, environmentally sustainable societies. They do not have the atrocious human rights record globally that the US, Russia etc. hold and are among the most generous donors for poor states.

The one area where one should critique them is about not being more vocal against the unfair global order that the US leads and in fact they indirectly do benefit from it given the complex nature of global economy. Still, it is difficult to think of states which do better than the Scandinavian states on the criteria I mentioned earlier.

It is impossible to identify developing states that do very well on all those criteria. But there are some which have done better than other developing states in avoiding internal and regional conflicts or high crime; maintaining acceptable levels of democracy; attaining some economic stability and investing in their populations.

While most of sub-Saharan Africa has seen conflict, poverty and autocracy, Botswana has established itself as stable democracy and economy, at peace internally and regionally. Its natural resources and ethnic homogeneity have helped. Mauritius is another state which has done well even without these two factors. In Asia, Bhutan and Sri Lanka have done better than others on all these dimensions though both have mistreated ethnic minorities. In the Americas, Costa Rica and parts of the Caribbean do well. But all these are small states. Among larger states, Brazil and Indonesia do better than others.

What about Pakistan? Can it be considered economically successful, democratic, peaceful, and respectful of human rights even by the standards of developing states? Perhaps less crowing about its undefined ideology and more focus on practical issues may help it gain a more respectful rank within the comity of developing states.

The writer heads INSPIRING Pakistan, a progressive policy unit and is a Senior Fellow with UC Berkeley.

Published in Dawn, June 6th, 2017



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