political science


Political Science has recently been saturated with analyses of “failed states” and the resulting horrors. However, the discipline, in its usual ethnocentric fashion, has not thought to address the concept of a failed state among affluent democracies in the West, a potentially more serious problem. To initiate the discussion of failed states in this category, I have developed a subjective checklist for university students throughout the industrial west to allow them to take initial stock of what a failed state in the Global North is, and whether they live in or near such a state. To test your country of residence, please add the two columns, Yes and No, of 20 variables. An empirical review of your answers will provide a starting point for the long-overdue analysis of failed states in the developed world. (Japan is not included because of its very different cultural background.) The behavioral consequences for these states and, indeed, for the world, will be the subject of a forthcoming paper, for which I am depending on your help.

1. My country has free elections, meaning that the process is accessible Y__ N__
to all and not unduly distorted by private funds (one-man, one vote).


2. My country does not force citizens to live in degrading conditions, Y__ N__
meaning that poverty has been largely eliminated and free medical
care is available to all.

3. My country shares an attitude that it is best judged as a nation by the Y__ N__
well-being of its worst-off and not its wealthiest citizens.

4. My country works in harmony with the international community, Y__ N__
has signed the Kyoto Protocol, belongs to the ICC, and does not
engage in preemptive warfare.

5. My country provides free or almost free university education to all Y__ N__
who qualify.

6. My country provides free or almost free daycare to all children without Y__ N__
respect to the marital status of their parents.

7. My country provides free or almost free quality care to its seniors, Y__ N__
including those in need of nursing home facilities.

8. My country has a low rate of incarceration, and for those who are Y__ N__
incarcerated, the emphasis is on rehabilitation, not retribution.

9. My country gives at least .5% of its per capita GDP to the Developing Y__ N__
World in the form of non-military aid.

10. My country legislates a pro-citizen rather than pro-business agenda Y__ N__
toward the use of petroleum and other scarce natural resources, and
takes an active stance world-wide in controlling damage to the

11. My country offers excellent secondary school education, placing us, in Y__ N__
line with our wealth, among the ten most educated countries on earth;
the quality of that education is evenly distributed among all racial and
socio-economic groups.

12. My country provides financial support and retraining as a matter of law Y__ N__
for those who have been displaced by globalization.

13. My country ensures that income growth is distributed in a manner Y__ N__
compatible with Western norms of human decency.

14. My country has adequate public transportation so that productive time Y__ N__
is not lost, scarce resources not exhausted, and pollution not increased
by excessive use of the automobile.

15. My country has reduced the hours worked each year steadily for the past Y__ N__
30 years.

16. My country is viewed as a sound social model for countries emerging Y__ N__
from poverty or authoritarian rule.

17. My country protects its non-supervisory workers from dismissal without Y__ N__

18. My country has very little gun violence, which is a form of terrorism. Y__ N__

19. My country has seen a steady increase in the income of non-supervisory Y__ N__
workers since the 1970s, and a steady decline in the infant mortality rate.

20. My country offers adequate time off with pay (at least four months) for Y__ N__
women who have given birth to a child.

If your country has fewer than 10 Ys, you are a citizen of a failed state in the Global North. If you country has 10-15 Ys, you live in a country I shall call “the borderline.” If your country has more than 15 Ys, you have put your resources to work in a manner that defines you as a citizen of an affluent state that can promise its people a high quality of life ? a successful state.

The question from the vantage point of political science is complex: why have some states in the Global North succeeded while others have failed? Is it due to ideology, geography, leadership, or some other set of variables? Can the failure be remedied? If so, how? If it is not remedied, what sort of threat does its “illness” pose to the international community? And, finally, why has it taken political science so long to recognize a reality that is both obvious and fraught with ominous consequences.


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