A Case of Mistaken Identification: Developing or Transitional

Bloated bellies from hunger. Dirt roads that connect to dirt floors. Massive conflict simmering beneath the surface, either ethic or religious. Corruption from the highest authority on down, dictatorships or fragile democracies that die within 10 to 15 years, military coups. Millions of poor needing help in some capacity. Poverty so striking it makes you cry. To many this is what they think of when they hear the phrase developing country. Depending on your age you remember LiveAID, or Sally Struthers telling you for just the price of a cup of coffee, JFK announcing Peace Corps, or Haiti Relief, we in the West all have the some sort of conception of a Developing country through events.

25-30 years ago these were called the third world. And that begs the question, what is the second and first world. In our westcentric view, very few realized that the first world was us (though I am sure many thought it). The US and Western Europe, NATO members, the EU, Japan were the First world. The Second World was the Soviet Union, and anyone associated with it. Eastern Europe, China, North Korea, after a while Viet’ Nam, and Cambodia.

(Author tangent: Third world marked those countries that were not aligned with any side. They also called themselves the non-aligned movement)

So with the fall of the Soviet Union, what became of the second world? Some of them did become developing nations. And though many think that the rest of Eastern Europe and Russia fall into that category today, this is not true. This is a problem.

With the exception of corruption, which happens in every country, some more than others, Ukraine doesn’t fit into what we would call a developing country. What Ukraine, Bulgaria, Romania, Russia, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, some of the Central Asian countries and some of the Balkan countries are is something different. They are transitional economies.

They are going from communism to capitalism. Little things we take for granted in the West: two stores selling the exact same product would never open up next to each other, or in a small town of 1,000 people there is no need for 4 general stores. These ideas aren’t in place in these areas. They were thrust into modern internationally integrated consumerism in literally a matter of months (the collapse of the Soviet Union happened pretty fast).

It’s hard to fully comprehend this in the West. In the United States, and though they would be rue to admit it, Britain, France, Germany, and Japan, we look down at people who do not do things OUR way, because ours is the best way. But we have had uninterrupted economic system for a few hundred years. These countries are not so lucky. They got computers the same time they were first allowed to sell things to make money in an open economy in over 70 years. Thus the four general stores are there in a town of 1,000 people because, all four stores make enough money to get by. And that’s what you see in Ukraine, Moldova, and other countries. You see most people just getting by. They do not save money, and until recently most didn’t try to get loans, even rich people. And this is confuses us in the west. But its the way it is.

Some differences between Developing countries and Transition Economies.

Developing countries the people will use a bank if one that is affordable is given to them. In transitional economies banks are not trusted at all. Due to the real lack of banking systems for most of the population in the 1900’s, then the massive economic collapse of 1998, and just when people actually were starting to trust banks, 2008 rolls along and blows it all to smithereens. The original banks right after the collapse of the Soviet Union were also owned and operated by devious figures, and sometimes the money in your bank account would just disappear.

Developing countries have infrastructure problems, meaning, they don’t have any, or it is very good. Transitional economies have infrastructure problems, meaning, their once nice infrastructure is collapsing due to lack of maintenance. (Roads, pipes, garbage pick up, water all have problems. Gas and electricity are actually still pretty good)

Developing countries have warlords who take control. Transitional Economies have autocrats who had a life within the party system that rewards loyalty and as the previous system collapsed made loads of money, and still do, selling their countries away.

Developing countries problems look easy to fix, because they are thirsty for the ideas that might work. And here is the main, and pain causing problem of transitional economies, they complain about the system, but keep using it because it has worked well so far. People do not like to change. Their whole history has been frightening changes, but certain systems always seemed the same, even if there was a name change here and there (the history of Russia’s secret police is long, and full of name changes let and right). This provides comfort.

In both though many things are similar, or analogous to each other. That is why Peace Corps can be found in many of the Transitional Economies as well as Developing Countries.

So do not think that someone in Russia or Ukraine, or Kazakhstan is in the third world/developing country. Because they aren’t. They are in a Transitional Economy. How long will they be a Transitional Economy? That’s a good question. Poland, and the Baltic States are now considered no were near a developing country status, what happened? Many things. But I will make a prediction right now: When the generation that just finished college becomes the leaders of the country, there will be steady and gradual change towards a different type of country and economic situation.

I will leave you with this thought about Post-Soviet Countries: In 2010 the first class of college Freshman walked through university doors at the age of 17, to become the first college students in their country who to them Communism has always been part of the Dark past of their country, and never part of the bright future. Think about that the next time you read about this part of the world in the Newspapers.

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