What does it mean to be a developed country these days?

The idea of what it means to be developed country has been so firmly imprinted onto my mind that I didn’t realise at the time that I was cycling for two weeks in the most developed country in the world.

which countryIt was my brother’s curiosity about a graph I shared in a previous blog post about unsustainable happiness that drew my attention to this.

Which country was it at 1,6, he asked?

The country that is nearly, but not quite, satisfying the needs of its population, but is at least not transgressing many biophysical boundaries. Not like the countries that, from a more classical economic perspective, would be considered as developed – Germany, Japan, USA, for example – who are transgressing most of the biophysical boundaries.

The sweet spot

According to the economist Kate Raworth, what might commonly be considered a developed country might actually be better described as “a country that meets the needs of its population by massively over-consuming global resources.”

Since no country in the world falls into the sweet spot of meeting the basic needs of its citizens at a globally sustainable level of resource use (they’d need to be somewhere in section D of the graph) then in fact all countries are developing countries.

They fall into different categories of development. The high income countries (classically considered “developed countries”) that vastly over-consume in section C. The middle income countries (what might more classically be called “emerging economies”) that don’t meet the needs of the population and still transgress biophysical boundaries in section B. Finally, the countries in section A that don’t transgress biophysical boundaries, but are still far short of meeting population needs.

The least under-developed

So then which country is at 1,6? Whist not “developed” in any sense, it might be fair to say they are the least underdeveloped.

It’s Vietnam. That was certainly a pleasant surprise to me when I checked the data after my brother’s inquiry.

The surprise, however, was more so because Vietnam is not a place I think of when I think about happiness and well-being. Recent history has not served this region well, and although it is the country I have probably felt the most welcome since I began my journey, the average rating that the Vietnamese give the quality of their lives out of 10 is only 5.1, and this places them 95th out of 146 countries.

Thus like the other nations of the world I have suggested are advanced from a happiness and well-being perspective and thus have something that we can learn from, it seems Vietnam also offers us some hope and inspiration as to how to live better. It would be narrow-minded to simply label Vietnam a “developing” or “under-developed” country. That conception is based on an economic framework that needs to be dumped.

***The conception of a developed country that I’ve based this post on comes from “Doughnut Economics” by Kate Raworth. A highly recommended read. To give you an idea of just important I think the book is I read it just before I left on my journey and when I was minimising my possessions to leave behind at a friend’s house down to only two bags this was one of the few books I kept.

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