Is America a Third World Country?

The other day I was talking to a dear friend of mine who had just returned from a business trip to China.

“Coming back to America felt like returning to a Third World country,” he said.

I was momentarily stunned, because I’d had the exact same thought when returning from Germany a few months ago. In fact, I apologized to a few German women in the “bathroom” of Newark airport after we had gotten off the plane. America is certainly not putting her best foot forward in that airport.

China and Germany are at much different phases in their development, so you can’t just blame it on all the new growth in China. China is one of the oldest civilizations in the world, and it’s now investing in infrastructure that takes it leaps and bounds ahead of the U.S. While Germany, also older than the U.S., shows a care of its basic human and cultural services that feels ahead of us.

Then I thought about all those lists that we seem to be falling downward in:

• Life expectancy: According to the CIA, we are number 50 in the world in terms of life expectancy!  Germany is number 27, and China is 95. But Hong Kong is number 8. And we are behind Bosnia and Herzegovina.

• Infant mortality: We are number 47—behind CUBA!!!!

• Education: We spend as much on education, as a percentage of our GDP, as ETHIOPIA!

We are a rare experiment in freedom. But will our freedom to bicker and argue and let extremists dominate the public discourse lead us down a dark path of repression and the destruction of what made us great to begin with—our care for each other and willingness to sacrifice for the greater good?

While extreme conservatives hog the media spotlight with their charismatic, fear-based ignorance, we are falling behind, America! We have horrible health care, a huge deficit that even China doesn’t want to fund, filled with “entitlements” that are mostly consumed by the energy and chemical companies that make us sick and benefit the most when our troops head off to war! Our patriotism has blinded us to the truth.

I recently heard one politician in Washington (one of the better ones, actually) call the coal industry the “cold dark hand of death,” controlling our investment in future clean and renewable energy. It was off the record, so I can’t name names. But with the deficit that faces us now, we need to be armed with facts and responsibility, not emotional ideologies. Because the truth is, if you’ve ever left this country and returned, you see from the outside looking in that we aren’t as great as we think we are, and definitely not as great as we used to be. We may not be a Third World country yet, but that seems to be the road we are heading down.



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33 Responses to Is America a Third World Country?

  1. Bonnie May 20, 2011 at 8:26 am #

    Unfortunately, maintenance is not glamorous and is given too little attention. We work very diligently at being out in front, but not at keeping what is already established.

    Current goals of our new generation seem to be focused on becoming famous. Too often the hard work to achieve is not recognized.

    I had some of the same embarrassment 40 years ago upon returning from an extended stay in what was West Germany!

  2. Lacy May 20, 2011 at 8:52 am #

    Very provocative post, Maria! It’s what a lot of us think and you had the guts to say.

  3. Kathi Robinson May 20, 2011 at 11:32 am #

    First, what’s wrong with being a third world country?

    Because they don’t have as much money to throw around (like we seem to think we do), they might not have as many aesthetics( as we think we must have).

    But people are still people. It’s when we start thinking we are better than we actually are – we ask for trouble for both ourselves and all the environment around us. Really, we are just one little “drop” on the chain of creation – much of mankind though acts like we own the rights to that creation and we can trample on whatever is in our way.

    Too bad we are so horribly conceited. Life would be simpler and more prolific for everyone if we could just learn to work together instead of tearing everything we have been given apart for one excuse or another.

  4. Paula May 20, 2011 at 12:45 pm #

    We will be moving to the States from Germany next year and there is a great deal I will miss. But I just wanted to add that what (I think is) wrong with America is also being exported faster than ever to countries like Germany: general apathy about littering and respecting public places, privatization and segmentation of health care, low voter turnout, vapid TV which relies on viewers/consumers who need to see others mocked in order to feel better about themselves, in general a coarsening in which basic community caring skills are being lost as people cut themselves off from each other. It’s sad to see this change in progress.

  5. Ann L. Detjen May 21, 2011 at 12:49 am #

    I loved this article, Maria. And I enjoyed reading everyone’s comments as well. I agree with all of you.

    I recently turned 51 years old, and the older I get, the more in tune I feel I become with what’s really important–the food I eat (organic, of course), the earth (I pick up all of the recyclables I find on my walks), and my consumption (carbon footprint, landfill usage, etc.) By today’s standards, I often feel like an odd duck, but that’s fine with me. I just picked up my new electric bicycle and plan to do my local errands on it instead of using our Honda Civic Hybrid.

    Here in Kentucky, coal rules, and mountaintop removal is the norm. It sickens me to watch what used to be our beautiful Appalachia turned to ruin, along with the streams, lakes, and rivers that we all depend upon for our water supply. Of course, the water isn’t safe to drink, so we rely upon Whole Foods to refill our reusable containers every week.

    I’m fortunate to have health insurance, although I spend more for it every year and have fewer benefits every year. It shouldn’t cost $100 to get over a sinus infection with health insurance, should it? Canada has the health plan figured out, so why don’t we follow their example? I continue to be puzzled by that one. The EPA, FDA, and USDA don’t work for us. That seems most unusual, don’t you think? And as you said, the entitlements programs aren’t for us. They are for corporations that behave like criminals. BP immediately comes to mind.

    So yes, I agree that we’re well on our way to becoming a Third World country, as far as the regular citizens are concerned. The ultrawealthy and huge banks and corporations will continue to rob us, trick us, pollute our very existence, but I believe the key for all of us as regular citizens is to become as self-sufficient as we can, as educated as we can, and stay out of debt. When we work together as self-sufficient, educated, financially solvent individuals and families, we will eventually become the majority rather than the pitiful minority we are now, and then change will happen for the benefit of all.

  6. Donna in Delaware May 21, 2011 at 5:46 pm #

    Oh Maria, Maria. How many times in the past have I told this to others who have never set foot out of their own yard, much less the country! They just don’t get it in this country. It will never be what it once was. Forget about our past glory, people, IT’S OVER!!!!
    People in this country can’t seem to wrap their heads around this fact!

    I am in Europe as I email this. I was thinking as I left Italy, how well the hotels serviced their guests, just simple things like bringing you a knife to the table on a tray, lined in a linen cloth. This is not by any means my first trip to Europe. I’ve been around the world twice and I still have more countries to see. Even India has gotten better. Please stop asking what is wrong with us in the US. There are TOO MANY things that are wrong!

    PAULA is correct in saying that much by way of the “wrong” things, have been exported from the US to European and other countries. They are trying to deal with these problems, especially with their teens. I have just been told a few weeks ago by friends that they are having problems with telemarketers for the last couple of years, and they are fed up with them. I was even told that the elderly are now “put away” because their family members don’t want to take care of them, and this is in Switzerland! Even they can’t believe it!

    My husband have always said that America have too many sub-cultures. The music and other “cultural things” being exported, is terrible, and that Europe is picking up on this behavior much too quickly. They may have lost something, but they are far from being us!

  7. Duncan May 21, 2011 at 7:02 pm #

    The problem with America is that Constitution of yours. Written by people over 250 years ago who could not even begin to imagine how the world would change. Today the Constitution is used more like a weapon than of it’s original intent.

    It disappoints me that so much hate, fear and division has taken place over something as basic health care for all. Words like socialism are used with disgust and to attack people. Some attack funding for PP but have no issues giving Israel and Pakistan over 5Bn combined.

    There are an estimated 2 million jobs now and in the near future that require higher education in sciences and technology that will be lost to other countries because our education is so gawd awful.

    We give tax breaks to corporation in the hope that they will generate jobs, but all they do is take the money and outsource. The goal of an American corporation with 4Bn profit is to make 5Bn profit… not to help the US or to create jobs in the US.

    Ultimately the people are to blame, they are the ones with the power.. which is why Corporations, Politicians and the Media continue to create and cause fear, hate and division and via mis-information.

  8. Robert May 22, 2011 at 9:23 am #

    Exteme Conservatives with our Charismatic (FEAR?)excuse me!based ignorance! I find this to be the lack of for this nations failures.
    We have gotten too liberal and greedy putting the almighty dollar and self ahead of quality judgment,self disiplin and considering others in need.
    God has layed out his plan for man to live by,but we have taken God out of our Government,schools,civil,and even our personal lives.Man’ way’s alone will eventualy lead to self disstruction.We are failing misserably every day.

  9. Nikki May 22, 2011 at 5:12 pm #

    I’ve expressed a similar opinion on my blog from time to time. I’ve lived here in Sweden for 21 years now and I really think it’s easier for me to see how far and how fast America is ‘falling’ than the Americans sitting in America. But, of course, many of you (there in the U.S.) are also totally aware of the situation. As far as I can see, it has now gone too far and there is no getting back. I mean… who is going to bring it back??? Who is going to stand up and REVOLT??? I really get the feeling that the majority of Americans are asleep at the wheel, so to speak, and for a variety of reasons. As an American, it breaks my heart.

  10. Siddhartha Banerjee May 22, 2011 at 7:19 pm #

    What is a Third World country, Maria? When you look at a world map, do you see the label “Third World” anywhere? You will see Asia, Africa, Europe, the American continent…

    If it is one of those regions that you are talking about, why not use their given names instead of “Third World?”

    And if it is meaningful distinctions that you want to draw between regions, ask yourself where organic gardening is still indigenous practice – and where fatal synthetic agricultural practices have taken hold. Should this have anything to do with where the Third World is?

    Or, you may want to consider whether a country that repeatedly brings war and death to every corner of the word is “First World.”

    Or again, ask if Third World countries have magazines like “Men’s Health” devoted to “…fitness, sex, women, workouts, weight loss, health…?”

    What values does this promote: hedonism, promiscuity, male chauvinism? It is one of your own Rodale magazines. The quoted descriptor is from your own website.

    I am not making a moral argument, just a practical one. Depending upon the yardsticks used, the “Third World” may be a lot nearer than you think.

    Siddhartha Banerjee
    Oxford, Pennsylvania

  11. Donna in Delaware May 24, 2011 at 3:23 am #

    Amen, Robert, Nikki, Duncan and Siddhartha!

  12. Karen B. May 25, 2011 at 4:21 pm #

    Well, I totally agree that America has a lot wrong with it, and that many of these things are being exported to other countries around the world. Corporate greed which taken to its lowest denomenator is individual greed is the downfall of this country. However, to imply that America feels like a third-country is certainly an insult to 3rd world countries. I have been to India during the slash/burn farming season, where one can hardly breath. Where soldiers with guns riding down city streets is the norm…where people in rural areas live without electricity. We, in America, know NOTHING about being poor. Even our poorest of the poor don’t have a clue. They can walk in to any supermarket in the USA and find something to eat, ask for a sample at the deli. That is not possible in 3rd world countries. So, you want to talk about airports, transporation systems, education, whatever, do that…but don’t add insult to injury in talking about the USA being like a 3rd world country. It is just as dishonest as the conservative rhetoric we are hearing on a daily basis.

  13. Sarah May 25, 2011 at 5:31 pm #

    Our country is definitely falling apart and we need to take steps to maintain what we have. A friend of my brother’s came here for school from Europe and commented that with all the dingy siding on all our small town houses and power/cable/phone wires zigzagging everywhere that the U.S. (particularly eastern Pennsylvania) looked like a third world country to him. We had a great boom time decades ago but unfortunately we have our infrastructure deteriorate.

  14. jgram May 26, 2011 at 10:02 am #

    ok, now you have all commented, but what can be done ? what have you ( as an individual) actually done..? some of us in our small way are working the land, living the organic life, trying to teach our kids morals, and a good work ethic ( no work, no eat)…but can you imagine the hue and cry if folks were expected to sacrifice the way we did during WW2, look at way some behaved when their Governers flat out said, “we have no money-you can’t have a raise this year-you may have to pay ‘some’ of your health care”..nearly rioting in the streets…and here in PA. they are cutting funding to schools and libraries and social programs that help folks but I heard the ltn. Gov. is getting a new swimming pool…how funny!…
    how can the ordinary citizens stand up to the big oil, chemical, energy, and insurance companies…some say to VOTE! but even that is tainted by big $$.

  15. Sita May 28, 2011 at 10:32 am #

    I think it is time to ditch the phrase “Third World Country,” as we no longer remember what the “Second World” was. Most civilizations begin to collapse after about 400-700 years, and there is no reason to expect that America should be any different.

    Siddhartha, I think America has become the new boogey-man and you know that I a always looking at patterns and stories. See what you think about this old quote:

    “Legends of the slaughter of a destructive monster are to be found all over the world. The thought underlying them all is that the monster slain is preternatural and hostile to mankind.” [E.S. Hartland, 1896]

  16. Sita May 28, 2011 at 7:11 pm #

    I left out a phrase, sorry, I meant to say, “I think [some people feel that] America has become the new boogey-man…”

  17. Kim Burdick, Stanton, DE May 29, 2011 at 8:53 am #

    No, we are not a Third World Country. We are a nation of mostly middle class people trying our best to get along in bad economic times in a confusing, troubled and oftening very frightening era.

    Siddharha is right–sometimes America does seem to have lost its moral compass–yet, most of the people I know, including Siddhartha, try their best to do the right things–everyday, in every way.

    “It is wise to direct your anger towards problems—not people; to focus your energies on answers—not excuses.”

  18. Sandi June 1, 2011 at 12:43 pm #

    Yes, The FTC and the FDA in America are the governing agencies with the power to Censor Journalism and Natural Science Benefits with prison time, huge fines, and class action lawsuits to the food and supplement industry.
    It is time to stand up and tell our truths to as many as possible, I have written a book and I teach classes to Mothers and Children about whole foods; How to Survive Cancer. I also feed Cancer Patients, too.
    I received a cease and desist order to take down my website, but I am proceeding with my books.
    Please everybody sign and push the congressional committee and your Congressman to hear and sign the Free Speech About Science Act 2011, HR 1364. I have been asked to testify, but getting to Washington DC costs money and time away from my garden and feeding Cancer patients…..getting somebody to take over is not easy sometimes. Political Action Site for Natural Health products and services. These guys are over turning FDA bans in Federal Courts.

  19. Sandi June 1, 2011 at 1:21 pm #

    My understanding of the term 3rd world countries is linked to a communist hold and oppression of the people for free rights to choose and govern themselves; and less access to to products and services to build and sustain indivual persons and as a Nation, and where poverty abounds because of these limitations.
    Many countries have been farming for Centuries and recently influenced by Mansanto’s dream to conform by controll to their genetically altered seeds structures and farming practises as a way forward….I understand in India it has not worked well, Farmers in rural areas are committing sucide.
    What does third world mean to You? I don’t see the need to bring it up at all.

  20. Ann June 9, 2011 at 12:38 pm #

    very thoughtful! I will be re reading and re reading this post… and all the comments. Much to think about….

  21. Sandi June 9, 2011 at 12:55 pm #

    Well, taking ACTION will also help. I got a cease and decease order to close down my website mostly about how to get well from Cancer, I am going forward with my books. What is the single most thing I can do right now? Write and get petitions signed.
    The Alliance for Natural Health in the USA and Europe has weekly petitions to sign to influence the FDA, FTC, and Congress.
    I started in the 60’s with Robert Rodale and campagins in Prevention Magazine to target change for natural lifestyles, etc. I’ve been at it ever since. Hopefully, I can get my books published or I may have to publish them myself.
    Two huge things happened in American….Our First Lady is growing an organic garden and the President’s Cancer Panel in May 2010 reports that millions of Americans’s are going to get Cancer because of the increase of Environmental Toxins that are accumulating in the body and children cannot detoxify quickly enough……This is so huge! Both Bob’s would be jumping up and down. Finally the Western world is in agreement and from the top of Government.
    In my personal life, I am teaching Mothers & Children how to shop for organics and plant herbs, and how to prepare them. Date Night root bakes are a big win and whole grain crust with sunflower seeds patted into the crust and sprinkled on top. Natural foods and the benefits to reverse disease like Cancer and Diabetes is now proven in the Human Genome Project, thus “nutrigeneic” has been offically born from the results of global studies started by President Clinton. This has drug companies running to Congress and the FDA and FTC banning and trying to squash us. What will happen to all their toxic chemotherapy drugs????

  22. Edgar June 22, 2011 at 11:19 pm #

    Oh, it happens eventualy to all the front runners. They get complacent and let the special interests and control freaks take over. try your best to get the word out. Right wing or left, there are pnoies in this country galore

  23. sandi June 23, 2011 at 10:10 am #

    Here in the Grass Valley, CA we are busy creating a documentary to send to the President and Congress to up hold organic whole foods and alternative holistic therapies and medicine and my part is what to eat to survive cancer.
    If you want to make a difference to end censorship…..sign a petition on I still belive in the democratic process and it only works if we participate.
    Do good and take great care,

  24. Ginger August 4, 2011 at 12:55 pm #

    I have traveled to many fascinating places, sometimes for enjoyment and other times for the US Army…Many times I have shamefully felt embarrassed by our U.S of lack humane efforts to survive above and beyond instant growth and prestige..CFO’s run our farms ..A good idea gone astray, The social security idea that keeps its citizens working older prior to receiving it, because gov’t can’t balance their accounts. We have generations living beyond poverty (not just immigrants) and many are so illiterate they don’t know of social services available to them, and somehow they’re never noticed by our ‘prestigous’ Country. I have shared that our lovely country is so blind by the facts that we are one (1) nightmare away from a failing infastructure.

  25. Bobby June 30, 2012 at 12:50 pm #

    Thanks for finally saying it! I was starting to think I am just too spoiled!

    A bit of Background: My dad is Iranian, and My mom is Austrian and I grew up in those countries. More recently I have lived and worked in Iran, Austria, Norway and Canada, and we just moved to the US (Ohio). My first impression when I got to the airport was that it felt like a run-down third world country (albeit with very nice people).

    Once we were set up, I noticed: Using credit cards is hard, companies and large businesses ##$% people over all the time, the quality of water is horrendous, the air is polluted to the point of choking in many places, and the food you get in the supermarkets is basically manufactured from genetically engineered high-fructose corn syrup and aspartame, sometimes both! Even paying a bill takes tons of calls, and online payments take more time than payment in person! The banks here charge me up to 15% jsut to convert my money from Canadian dollars to US dollars (that’s not including the bad exchange rate) and won’t even let me transfer money between my own accounts. People still use hand-written checks – All in all I feel like I have gone back at least 30 years compared to Norway and Austria, and at least 20 years compared to Canada. Services are on par with what you get in Iran under the embargo the US has imposed, although the quality of food and water is far better there. I am not happy with my decision to land here, and I am looking forward to leaving as soon as I get a job elsewhere. It’s a shame though, because most people here are really nice and hard working – I don’t know where it started to go all wrong for the US, but maybe we should look for hints in high places (I am talking to you multi-national company CEO’s and Board members!!!)

  26. Nikki June 30, 2012 at 4:59 pm #

    Well said, Bobby! Thanks for that. There’s plenty of blame to go around, though. We Americans have let it happen. I often wonder how bad it will have to get before my fellow Americans (in America) stand up and fight back in a big and meaningful way. I live in Sweden and you’ve made some excellent points. Every time I travel back to the U.S., things feel shoddier and ‘dumber’ somehow. It’s painful to watch my country, the country I love, falling. I guess the ‘mighty’ always eventually fall. It’s the way of the world. Hard to watch, though.

  27. What? March 3, 2013 at 8:05 pm #

    I am appealed at all the Libtards on here.

    It’s you’re fault the country is ruined due to multicultrisim which is causing business to move overseas using slave labor to build you’re Ipod and Nintendo Wii’s since you’re savior Obama refuses to raise Tarrifs.

    Now we have sky high cases every year of childrens toys being poisoned. Even innocent toys like Legos or Thomas The Train train sets or Tickle Me Elmo. :p

    To make matters worse. You all are leaving so we can pick up the pieces you created. Thanks a lot dorks!

    If you want to clean up this country then do it by staying here and not running hither and dither to show you’re passion. However. If you all want to leave America all I can tell you is to not let the door hit you on you’re way out! Bye suckers!

    When you’re agents take start taking away our guns the American people that remain will start showing their true spirit to defend against unreasonable search and seizure.

  28. What? March 3, 2013 at 8:08 pm #

    I admit I don’t like George Bush’s policies but the Patriot Act only applied to non US citizens where you’re savior Obama extended the act to all US Citizens and wants to put a Czar like group to monitor the internet.

    What you don’t tell is that in China the internet is very much censored which anything the government deems offensive vanishes from search results and Google has cooprated with them which shows who’s side they are on.

    I’ll likely get banned for telling the truth but that’s the small price of dying for my country’s rights for people to work without being harrassed by unions supporting the multi culture bankrupting mom and pop and small chains.

  29. BRUNO PAULINO March 30, 2013 at 8:41 am #

    I think most people who coments here don’t know what is a third world country. I mean, i’ve never been in USA, but i lived in europe for some months and i think they have a diferent view of being a first world country. European governments are worried about social developement while USA government are more worried about economic growth (GPD size). You have the worst wealthy distribution among the richest countries. It’s similar a third world country. But it doesn’t mean that the american society are faling down to a third world society. I think you just have to do a better wealth distribution. I’m from third world and you have to run back fifty years of development for being a third wolrd country.

  30. Bryan May 30, 2014 at 11:11 pm #

    Why do you think Germany is older than the United States? It most certainly isn’t.

  31. SortingHat April 10, 2015 at 3:58 pm #

    What do you expect when a nation thinks that Chinese slave labor is okay and goes along with it?

    The only reason China is doing good right now is because in the last 10 years the communist government has allowed limited private business but as long as the person follows the communist party line as top priority.

    However as a result of the limited enterprise people in the last 20 years have been able to afford automobiles and electronics at a record pace.

    I saw a video of a supermarket that was almost like Fred Meyer’s back at home except everything written in Chinese and some minor things like the food department have fish still alive for example which is kind of creepy.

    China relies on the US to buy their cheap crap as they don’t have a real economy of their own due to everything being controlled from the top down. China is actually keeping the US Dollar on life support since when the US Dollar is done so is China which is 80 percent of the world’s shipping.

    When the US Dollar is done there will be a world wide depression like 1932 on steroids and all those megaprojects will come to a complete halt since many of these nations their own citizens cannot afford to foot the bill.

    America is the buyers for most of the Middle East expansion projects as we buy their oil products and they are building oil rigs at a record pace while the *greenies* want all the US ones to be shut down and all the remaining power plants to go offline as well in order to *save the planet*.

    See anything wrong with the picture here?

  32. SortingHat April 10, 2015 at 3:59 pm #

    Between the last 10 and 20 years across China the governments have slowly woken up to allowing small businesses though they can still shut them down at anytime.

    In the country there is a *Christianity* movement going on too despite bibles being banned in public and home bible studies being shut down like drug labs.

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