Two countries have just joined the club July 1st, Romania and Mauritius, a small island nation in the Indian Ocean.
Here is a link to a map of the above list of developed democracies.
America has a population of 331 million, about 29% of the population of the above industrial democrcies, and America's gross national income was over 20 trillion dollars in 2018, about 40% of the total for the First World countries.
Because of the political and economic stability, once an economically developed democracy almost always an economically developed democracy. Because they never fight wars with one another a world in which all the countries are developed democracies would be a world at peace. So the fact that a country is a developed democracy is important for the people of that nation, they and their children will live in a free and prosperous nation. It is also important to the rest of the world because it is another step toward a long-term world peace.
Let us examine this in a little more detail.
But there is nothing magic about this number. As democracies become richer the probability they will fall to a dictator decreases. By the time they are declared developed the probability is so low there is no clear example of it ever happenng.
The only non-oil rich country that I know of to move from free to partially free was Hungary. Hungary is now listed by Freedom House as partially free. It has a score of 70. Some countries with that score are listed as free. So Hungary is on the border between free and partially free and a long way away from the not free category.
I am somewhat suspicious of this determination by Freedom House. They list the fact that Hungary is not taking Muslim refugees as a reason for excluding them from the free category. What does that have to do with freedom and democracy? There seems to be a trend where Freedom House is allowing its distaste for some governments to influence their ranking. A free country is one where the voters vote the way Freedom House wants them to vote.
At any rate countries that are as free and democratic as Hungary almost never engage in wars with free and democratic countries.
The richest non-oil rich country to move from partially free to not free is Turkey. This happened very recently when Erdogan reacting to the attempted or faked coup by the army clamped down. Of course Turkey is Muslim which is an important risk factor, and democracy had only been imperfectly established, with the military playing a supervisorial role. Turkey was ranked as a partially free country by Freedom House prior to the coup. On the other hand most of Turkey's exports are industrial, not natural resources. Industrial exporting democracies are more stable, and Turkey was very close to the threshold for developed status when it decended from partially free to not free status.
The richest non-oil rich, non Muslim democracy that I have found that was taken over by a dictator was Argentina, which was about two-thirds the threshold. Argentina was and still is highly dependent on natural resource exports. Natural resource exports frequently change drastically in price, so a country relying on them can suffer a disastrous decline. Industrial exporting countries tend to be more stable.
Germany was the richest non-Muslm, industrial exporting country where power was seized by a dictator. When Hitler seized power in 1933 Germany was probably no more than half the World Bank's threshold for developed nations. Of course, I am referring to the recent threshold. The World Bank and the threshold did not exist in 1933. Every country with more than a million people in 1933 was below the threshold for developed nations. According to my guesstimate, the United States became the first developed country in 1941, just before entering World War 2. Germany was somewhat richer just before World War 1 than any time between the end of the war and Hitlers take over, but I do not think it was richer than half of what we now call a developed nation.
This is important today because China has probably passed where Germany was when Hitler took over. As China is definitely an industrial exporting nation we can now say that China is probably richer than any non-Muslilm industrial exporting democracy which was taken over by a dictator. If China becomes a democracy in the near future, the survival of that democracy is nearly certain.
More generally we can safely say that high-income democracies are likely to stay democracies, with a couple of big exceptions. Oil-rich countries do not follow these rules. Or alternatively, you could say they are an extreme case of the economic and political instability of natural resource producers in general. The point is they are not necessarily democratic or stable. So it seems very likely that all the countries on the list above will avoid dictatorship with the exception of oil rich Trinidad and Tobago. Not that I am saying Trinidad and Tobago is doomed, I know little about it. I am just saying their success is not as certain.
The other exception is Muslim countries. Will high income Muslim nations that are not oil-rich maintain democracies? The failure of Turkey suggests that they may not, but as there are no high income Muslim nations that are clearly not oil-rich we have no data on the topic.
Once again, oil rich countries are not as stable as countries with broad-based exports because the price of oil can rise and fall dramatically. Saudi Arabia is currently a high-income country, but it can move from upper middle income to high income and back depending on the price of oil. The same is true of Trinidad and Tobago, which is on the list. It was not on the list in 2005 but I believe it was in some earlier years.
Actually even developing nations are pretty good at keeping the peace these days. We have come a long way since the Middle Ages when the average country was at war with one of its neighbors in half of all years. If we were like the countries of the Middle Ages we might be at peace this year, at war with Canada the next, then another year of peace, followed by a war with Mexico, and so on. Today almost all nations do better than that. Iraq under Saddam being the only recent exception.
On the other hand, they did not have nuclear weapons in the Middle Ages. So our search for peace takes on an urgency that it did not have back then. We naturally want to achieve a high level of certainty that those nuclear weapons that remain will "rust in peace."
With future additions like Brazil, Mexico, China, and eventually India and most of the rest of the developing nations the population of the developed nations will grow much faster than world population as a whole and I expect almost all countries to have developed economies some time in the second half of this century. I have a web page on the growth of Third World nations to First World status. here.
In fact, it is normally the countries with the lowest scores, 7, that the United States and the West have difficulties with. This group includes North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Syria. We also have had some difficulties with the next three higher levels, China at 6.5, Iran at 6, and Russia at 5.5, but our problems are concentrated with the lowest scores, the sevens.
So if one was just considering the issue of peace, and that is a pretty central issue, one could justify including the partially free.
While authoritarian governments do occasionally fight wars among themselves, nevertheless, old fashioned wars of conquest have been fairly rare in recent years. Even dictatorships are pretty peaceful. Thus if our objective is peace it will frequently be a good idea to tolerate a dictatorship until it eventually becomes a democracy. Over the very long run we may find well armed, particularly nuclear, dictatorships a real problem because eventually if enough centuries pass there is likely to be a war, but it could be reasonably argued that we are too quick to resort to military action to bring down dictators.
Nevertheless, it is quite reasonable to prefer democracy for the sake of peace and to encourage it by pressure short of war. Most people would like to live in a country that is rich and free, so we are not imposing an unpopular program. Developed democracies have maintained political and economic stability for decades, and peace among themselves, so it is not an unproven program. In fact it not only has worked, it has never failed. It appears to be fool proof. Finally, most people would agree that blowing the world to smithereens in a nuclear conflict would be a bad thing.
Here is an index to my other pages on economics, and a short review of my qualifications in this field.
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Last Update April 18, 2020
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