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Old 12-27-2006, 05:17 AM   #1 (permalink)
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Unlucky Nations?

Many nations have historically endured poverty, war, famine, disease, and natural disasters, throughout their history...But, is it condescending to consider their calamities as simply unlucky, rather than the outcome of poor decision-making or cultural tolerances?. Is it fair to question why certain people originally chose to settle in places with permanent geographic obstacles or follow leaders who sought to make their nation more powerful by starting wars? Are people's lifechances based on the lottery of which country they were born in, or have individuals, generally, got more control over their futures than that?

It could be argued that certain societies have historically been their own 'worst enemies' at least, in part, owing to their culture. For example, the Russians existed as a defined ethnicity as far back as 7th century A.D., yet Russians tolerated undemocratic rule until the end of the 20th century. The Greeks, on the other hand, were living under democracy 2,500 years earlier.

On the face of it, some countries should have had more success than what they've achieved. For example, Angola; one of the richest countries in the world in terms of natural resources: all sorts of gem stones, gold and silver, open air mines and oversea oil reserves (enough for European consumption alone) yet, it's been scarred by decades of war and famine...its wealth has never been used to benefit the people. Instead, it has one of the biggest landmine fields in the planet and has the highest percentage of prostate legs in the world.

In Brazil, there are no earthquakes, no volcanos, no hurricanes, etc. Its vast territory is full of every resource one can imagine; gold, diamonds, alluminium, oil, uranium and it has a very large population, which in theory should mean the potential for a huge a economy. Furthermore, Brazil has never suffered a genocide and fought in very few wars - all of which they've won.

However, there are countries that have very little going for them and it's understandable why they have made little progress. East Timor, for example, has the lowest per capita incomes in the world, one of the highest infant mortality rates, unemployment rates over 50% nationally, low exports & massive imports, very poor literacy rates, common landslides, earthquakes, tsunamis, cyclones and they do not have huge natural reserves. Indonesian troops and anti-independence militias have wrecked what little infrastructure there was. With all those things going against them, it is impressive that East Timor has a GDP growth rate of less than 1% which is still a positive growth rate not much worse than the GDP growth rates of Germany and Japan. If I were East Timorese, my only goal, other than food and shelter, would be to get out of East Timor. I doubt that luck alone would bring about such an opportunity.

Are countries like these authors of their own destiny - albeit to varying degrees - or just totally hapless victims of misfortune? Will they ever prosper significantly under their own steam, or are they now resigned to similar outcomes indefinitely? Is it morally correct of me judge their achievements, decisions, and thus, culture, against countries like my own?
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Old 12-27-2006, 05:55 AM   #2 (permalink)
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While you pose some interesting questions, the examples that you've picked do nothing to further your arguement.

It's a popular misconception that the Russians have always had authoritarian governments when in fact that's a relatively recent invention. The serfs under Tsar Michael (the first of the Romanov dynasty) enjoyed freedom of movement and the ability to leave their landowner if they chose. Their freedoms were restricted slowly until Empress Elizabeth basically codified them as slaves under the law. And there's also the examples of the Novgarod government before it was crushed by Ivan IV, the 1905-1917 Dumas, the Bund and entirety of the Ukraine from c.1500-1850. Also, the 1937 Soviet Constitution grants more freedoms and rights that virtually any other similar document, although it was obviously corrupted and misused by Stalin et al.

The Greeks may have invented democracy but it didn't last long. They lived under monarchs from roughly 300 BC to 1917 AD with no democracy at all. First they had the Romans, then their own monarch in the Byzantines and then the Ottomans. Holding up the Greeks as paragons of democracy is similar to holding up the Soviets as great fosterers of internal dissent.

East Timor has only been an independent nation for 4 years, and prior to their secession, the Indonesians basically raped and pillaged the area for the 27 years that they controlled it. It was never an independent nation prior to the Indonesian invasion (unless you count the 9 days between the Portugese decolonization and the Indonesian invasion), so it may not be the best example since the East Timorese haven't really had a chance to show us what they have.

Your crappy examples aside, I think that it's a combination of things that allow countries to grow and prosper (which is the most obvious benchmark of success). Obviously, Mother Nature hands every country setbacks from time to time, but how the nation and people rise to the occassion generally demonstrates (in my mind at least) how well the system is able to cope with emergencies. Those that have less to start with (for whatever reason) are going to have a harder time arising from the ashes (so to speak), although the world community generally pitches in to some extent if the damage is great enough.
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Old 12-27-2006, 07:05 AM   #3 (permalink)
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My crappy examples were never intended to stand up to scrutiny, more offer a starting point for discussion and expression. But, thanks for correcting my common misconceptions...I expected somebody would point out my historical foibles.

Chances are, somebody else will come along and want to disagree with your version of events.. I can't really comment on them, such is the true depth of my historical knowledge.

Does anybody else have an example of a nation that could be deemed as 'unlucky' or one that has failed to prosper in accordance with its environmental conditions and economic/political stability? Do you think the culture of the society played a large role in determining your example's outcome?
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Old 12-27-2006, 07:46 AM   #4 (permalink)
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in terms of recent catastrophies,

aceh has experienced its 2nd disaster is 2 years, first a tsunami and now flooding.

iran - the earthquake about 3 years ago, ironically exactly 1 year to the day before the tsunami.

heres a website with a list of disasters in the last few years..the most common names i see are phillphines, iran and the subcontinent(india/pakistan) as well as any 3rd world countries. http://www.disasterscharter.org/new_e.html


i can discuss this further but its 3am here, and i need some sleep...so ill come back later
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Old 12-27-2006, 08:03 AM   #5 (permalink)
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I guess that I can't really accept "luck" as a factor when it comes to national development, especially in terms of natural disasters. Iran, Japan, the US and Pakistan all sit on major faultlines. They're known issues and quakes have happened there for the entirety of human history. It's the same with cyclones and hurricanes - certain areas are prone to them. Since, say, France isn't going to get hit by a hurricane, does that make them luckier than the US? What about Nigeria where most of the misery is human-created?
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Old 12-27-2006, 12:11 PM   #6 (permalink)
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Jared Diamond wrote an excellent book on this topic called "Collapse" which investigates why some societies succeed and others fail over the course of the last couple of thousand years. If you are interested in the subject, check it out.
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Old 01-09-2007, 07:04 PM   #7 (permalink)
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Resources. Climate. Population...
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Old 01-12-2007, 04:28 AM   #8 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ourcrazymodern?
Resources. Climate. Population...
In large part but there are many other factors.

An intriguing example are the Vikings of Greenland. The Vikings shared the territory with the native people of Greenland for several hundred years. Yet despite the Viking's greater technology (metallurgy, agriculture, sailing vessels, etc) the Vikings died out after about 400 hundred years, while the native people continued to thrive, though they both had access to the same resources and were affected by the same climate.
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Old 01-12-2007, 05:15 AM   #9 (permalink)
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I'm of the mind that borders and nation-states were a catastrophic mistake in the societal evolution of mankind.

So don't ask me.
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Old 01-12-2007, 11:52 AM   #10 (permalink)
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Yeah, it's just us here, and we seem prone to hating each other, or fearing our differences enough to pretend that we're more different than we are.
I wonder if "luckier" nations might be more accepting?
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