During this election, Donald Trump and other politicians have called the United States a “third world country,” a comparison meant to prove just how low the U.S. has fallen. But these comparisons unfairly use the “third world” as a symbol of absolute negativity. They arrogantly assume that there’s nothing to celebrate or learn from countries with less economic power.

In actuality, though these countries may have far less wealth than the U.S. and have achieved less in terms in traditional economic “development“, they have also managed to succeed in ways we in the U.S. cannot imagine. They have implemented innovative strategies that the U.S. has yet to even consider. They have achieved substantial progress in areas where we have remained stuck. They have proven that regardless of their economic resources, in many ways, these countries are arguably ahead. Here are a few areas where the U.S. has a lot of learn from the so called “developing” world:

1. Environmentalism

Latin American countries have consistently led the world in environmental reforms. A Matador article by Daniel Proctor explained the many ways Costa Rica is already ahead of the curve: the country draws 90% of their energy from sustainable source and officially protects nearly 30% of its land by turning it into national parks and reserves. In 2012, Costa Rica ranked 5th in the world in carbon neutrality and first in the Americas.

In Ecuador, the government revised their constitution in 2008 to recognize the right of nature to be named as the defendant in Ecuador’s court system. It was the first country in the world to do so.

2. Food sovereignty

The Ecuadorian constitution also makes bold statements about a citizen’s right to food. Article 13 of the constitution states: “Individuals and communities have the right to safe and permanent access to healthy, sufficient and nutritious food, preferably produced locally and in accordance with their different identities and cultural traditions.” Article 281 specifically mentions food sovereignty by claiming it is “an obligation of the State to guarantee that individuals, communities, towns and nationalities achieve permanent self-sufficiency with foods that are healthy and culturally appropriate.”

3. Gender representation

According to data by the World Bank, several countries have a higher percent of women working in national legislatures. Rwanda leads the world with 64%. Bolivia comes in second place with women making up just more than half of the national assembly. Others with high numbers: Cuba (49%), Nicaragua (40%), Senegal and South Africa (42%), Mozambique (39%), Ecuador and Costa Rica (38%). In comparison, the United States hovers around 18%.

4. Paid maternal leave

The United States is one of only three countries to not offer paid maternal leave for its citizens (Suriname and Papua New Guinea are the other two). This map by The Atlantic illustrates the extent of which paid maternal leave is available around the world. All these countries either require businesses to pay their employees a portion of their original salaries while on maternal leave, or offer benefits through their government.

5. Voter turnout

Other countries with less economic resources continue to blow us out of the water when it comes to voter turnout. That’s because they purposefully implement policies that make voting a priority for citizens. For example, Brazil schedules their Election Day on the weekend to ensure people won’t be deterred by work obligations when trying to vote (their voter turnout is around 80.6 percent). 22 countries around the world make voting compulsory to increase turn-out, like Nicaragua (71.8 percent turnout), Uruguay (96.1 percent turnout), and the Dominican Republic (70.2 percent turnout).

Meanwhile, only 53.6 percent of the U.S. voting-age population voted in 2012. That’s a lower turnout than countries like Iran, the Central African Republic, Chad, Namibia, Yemen, and dozens of others.

6. Mass incarceration and prison reform

We have a higher proportion of people in prison than China and Iran. The only country in the world that incarcerates a higher percentage of its population than the U.S. is North Korea. We are responsible for around 22% of the total amount of inmates in the world, even though we only account for 4.4% of the world population.

Even worse, countries with far less resources have accomplished far more in making these prison numbers drop. For example, the Economist reported on how the Dominican Republic had reduced their rate of inmates re-offending from 50% to less than 5 percent at certain facilities that had implemented reforms. These included making literacy mandatory, creating more educational programs, and prioritizing healthcare and hygiene.

7. General happiness and quality of life

The Guardian commended Bhutan a few years ago for their national policy of measuring the country’s success through happiness levels, instead of GDP. Calling the measure “gross national happiness (GNH),” since 1971, the country has worked towards measuring “the spiritual, physical, social and environmental health of its citizens and natural environment.” Writer Annie Kelly reported:

“In a world beset by collapsing financial systems, gross inequity and wide-scale environmental destruction, this tiny Buddhist state’s approach is attracting a lot of interest. Last year the UN adopted Bhutan’s call for a holistic approach to development, a move endorsed by 68 countries. A UN panel is now considering ways that Bhutan’s GNH model can be replicated across the globe.”


It’s unfair to judge a country simply through its economic power, when there are so many other ways to consider a country a success. When making comparisons between the U.S and other countries, all of these areas must be considered, and politicians would benefit from taking all of them into account.

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