The First World, Third World and Capitalism: A (Very) Brief Look

To start off my second post, I’d like to ask a question: Is it possible for relations between the First and Third World to be equal in a capitalist economy?

The answer to this question may not seem to change much. Capitalism appears to be here to stay, so deeply engrained in our society that it forms the very roots of our being. Our value systems, our interactions with other humans and animals, and the food we eat, are just a few broad examples of the capitalist influence.

Despite all this, I feel it is important to examine why we behave the way we do. Is capitalism truly inevitable? Must our very society encourage greed, counting one with the most money as the most successful? Questions such as these encourage us to avoid making assumptions about what it right and wrong. It is an important consciousness-raising activity to question our assumptions.

To answer this question, I’ll first define the First and Third Worlds. For the purpose of this question, I’d define the Third World as experiencing poverty, having less access to necessities such as water and food, and having more inequalities amongst their population. The First world can be compared to this in that it is an industrialized, wealthy and accessible state. Though I wouldn’t pretend that the First World is inherently better or more deserving of these privileges, they possess more economic success than Third World countries. Other factors include democracy, general health of the population, treatment of women and minorities, and others, but this simple definition will do for this post.

Getting to the point, I’d like to propose two answers to my question. The first is that, yes, they could be equal, in that the Third World could eventually accumulate enough wealth to be considered a First World country. Under capitalism, the equality would come from a mainly economic standpoint. How much money is spent on the population? How much money is possessed by the lowest rungs of society? How industrialized is the country, do they only export raw goods or other products as well? By finding a commodity that is of use to the rest of the world, it is of course very plausible that a Third World country could propel itself to First World-dom. Perhaps the equality comes from a formal equality perspective, in that everyone has an equal opportunity.

The second answer is (you guessed it) no, they can’t be equal in a capitalist economy. The obvious sticking point is that maybe this whole capitalism thing is a zero-sum game. Maybe there isn’t enough room for everyone to be a First World country. Do the First Worlders not thrive on exploitation? Is cheap labour not necessary for the success of an industrialized country? Maybe rather than being zero-sum, equality is more substantive, thought states may seem to have an equal opportunity, some are starting from a less privileged place to begin with.

This is risking becoming much more complex than I have time to explore right now, and beyond these thoughts (peppered with discussions, readings and papers from classes I’ve taken) I would require more reading. Input and thoughts would be greatly appreciated!

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