Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Worlds





Father Bill, don’t throw Catholicism in Crisis away. We need you — you and all the other priests, bishops, sisters, and lay persons who think our own dream cannot work for anybody else. The star you mention is not capitalist, but democratic capitalist — the gate is narrow, the way strait. Only about 20-30 nations of the world’s 160 have, so far, negotiated it. But many keep trying.

It may help to see that the expression “Third World” is a myth. If we count the present circle of democratic capitalist nations — the United States, Western Europe and Japan — as “the First World,” and the Soviet Union and its centralized dependencies as “the Second World,” reality demands greater accuracy than one umbrella for “the others.” In terms of prosperity (bread) and liberty, there is immediate hope for some, less immediate for others. In cultural and institutional development, in any case, there are vast differences among “the others.” Argentina is not the Ivory Coast; Bangladesh is not Saudi Arabia.

Permit me to stipulate that the oil-rich Arab nations, which can no longer be thought of as poor, should now be considered the Third World. Then, I would suggest, clarity is served by thinking of the developing nations of Asia as “the Fourth World.” These nations are remarkably different in culture and religion from those of Latin America, which I therefore propose to call “the Fifth World.” Finally, the culture and religion of developing countries in Africa are so different yet again that I propose to call them “the Sixth World.”

These large differences, it will be clear, have much to do with religion and culture. These are, reflection will show, immensely important in the prospects for political and economic development.

Japan has proved that a nation need not be Jewish or Christian in order to make both democracy and capitalism work. Without question, Japan (which I recently visited for eleven days) possesses a “work ethic.” The Japanese are immensely future-oriented; families save and invest, on average, fourteen cents from every dollar earned. (“Jesus saves, but Shinto invests.”) The Japanese family is bourgeois in every best and solid sense. Liberties blossom. From wartime devastation, tiny Japan has risen to produce ten percent of the gross world product — nearly as much as all Latin America together.

The Japanese I talked with have had relatively unpleasant experiences with the ethos, habits, and institutions of Latin America, where they have invested and built factories. They have higher hopes, for cultural reasons, for the peoples of the East Asia rim. It is expected that by the 1990s, the standard of living of several nations in East Asia — Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong and possibly others — will be higher than those of Southern Europe. These nations of East Asia are not so well endowed by nature as the nations of Africa or Latin America. But the Confucian ethic, their strong families, immense capacities for work, high regard for intellectual excellence, and zest for entrepreneurship, give them immense advantages in the realm of the human spirit. That, they rightly believe, is the cause of the wealth of nations.

Not all the rapidly developing nations of East Asia are as yet democratic. But as business elites grow in self-confidence, they are unlikely to tolerate for long rule by the military class, or by dictators however benign. Not everyone, it is true, believes that democracy is necessarily the best or the only admirable political system; but all are necessarily concerned about the tendency of dictators to turn suddenly malign. One man, like Pinochet, can wreck a whole country in a decade. From such observations, a growing educated middle class supports the business class in its preference for democratic defenses against tyranny. For such nations, economic development has already been miraculously rapid and political development, though slower, is proceeding steadily.

Contrast Japan with Brazil. In 1980, the population of the former was 118 million, of the latter 117 million. Japan, barely the size of Idaho, is, like Idaho, mostly mountainous, although without the mineral and energy resources of the latter. Almost eighty percent of the land in Japan is too mountainous for farming or habitation; 118 million persons crowd the coastal plain. For energy, Japan is wholly dependent. By contrast, Brazil is nearly continental in size, and by natural endowment perhaps the single wealthiest nation on the planet. Yet, by sheer intelligence and spirit, Japan out-produces Brazil by a ratio of ten or twelve to one. It is not, moreover, $80 billion in debt. (How can a nation invest $80 billion, and not even be able to pay interest on it?)

Latin America lacks the Confucian ethic, even the so-called Protestant ethic. It is immensely rich in natural endowment, not yet so in political or economic development. The prognosis for its future is not as bright as that of East Asia. Most of its regimes are neither capitalist nor democratic; most are run by generals, with tight state controls. Typically, the state commands fifty percent or more of the economy. Latin America is not socialist (except Cuba, Nicaragua, Guyana, and minor friends). Most Latin societies are still run by the pre-capitalist classes: the large landholders, military, lawyers, and clergy. Exception must be made most clearly for Costa Rica, which is both democratic and capitalist. Venezuela is trying that path, too, as, fitfully, are others. Mexico is best described as a one-party virtual dictatorship, in which the state towers over every aspect of the economy. There is not much internal saving or internal investment in Latin America. The classic ethos both of Catholicism and Latin literature teach disdain for commerce and industry. Highest praise goes to literature, law, foreign service, government, the military, the clergy. Businessmen are held to be “parasitical,” “profiteers,” “middlemen.” It is not a thing of pride to produce goods and services. That is thought to be vulgar and materialistic.

Nonetheless, Latin America shares the Jewish-Christian roots of Western Europe and the United States, although rather more from the pre-modern feudal period than from the post-Reformation, post-democratic, post-capitalist revolutions experienced by the latter. The prognosis is hopeful. Yet a major revolution of the spirit — of the ethos — is indispensable if democracy and economic development are to go forward in Latin America. (In this respect, “liberation theology” seems to be a step backwards; it promises tyranny of the left in place of tyranny of the right, and equal if not greater disdain for a free and creative economy.)

The moral-cultural base of Africa is quite different again from that of Asia and Latin America. An abundantly blessed Continent, the greatest problem of Africa today is simply feeding itself. Hardly a country grows as much food as it did twenty-five years ago, despite expanded populations. The fault is not in the soil, the sun, or the rain; it lies in government policies which oblige farmers, for all their hard labors, to lose money as they work. No farmer in the world will produce all he can under such conditions. African elites have been in the grip of mild forms of socialism, learned in Western Europe. Commerce and industry have a weak cultural base. The prognosis for Africa — given its natural wealth — is in the long term good; but, in the short term, the Continent has difficulty benefiting even from its own natural strengths.

These few brief remarks, even of an absurdly general nature, illustrate the variety and complexity of “development.” Too little attention has been paid to matters of culture and ethos. Too much faith has been placed in bank loans, foreign aid (which goes mostly to governments and disappears), and financial matters. Far too little has been paid to the nature and cause of the wealth of nations — the creative and organizing powers of the human mind. Some nations with few natural resources (Switzerland, Hong Kong, Japan) achieve spectacular results. Others abundantly blessed (there are many examples, invidious to name) remain mired in poverty and tyranny. Poverty and state tyranny are intimately related. In development, liberty is not the goal; it is the means. The secret to national wealth lies in the free creative mind of individuals, associated together voluntarily for tasks too large to be accomplished by one person (or one generation) alone.

I do not think, Father Bill, that in the Fifth World, the peoples of Brazil, Chile, and Argentina long for “mere inefficiencies, shortages, mean salaries, and endless waiting in line.” They are able to inspect the record of socialist experiments, from the Soviet economy to those milder forms of Africa, from Cuba to Nicaragua, and to judge for themselves. They want to be free from tyranny, both in politics and in economics, not to mention in the life of the spirit. On every continent, there are systems of political economy — not so many yet, but more are coming all the time — in which both “prosperity plus the freedoms we take for granted in America” are being wrested from nature. The idea according to which these twin goals can be achieved has been tested and not found wanting. It is, in any case, the only experiment worth struggling for. For it can always be peacefully corrected from within.

Peoples in the Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth worlds ought not to be condescended to. They, as well as we, can ex-amine the record of the 160 different experiments in political economy on this planet. What the Japanese can do, they can do. They can beat us at our own game. It is meant for everyone. The U.S. in 1945 produced 53 percent of the gross world product. Producing far more than in 1945, we have fallen to 22 percent of the whole, and will fall still further, as others advance. That is our dream — and theirs.


  • Michael Novak

    Michael Novak (1933-2017) founded Crisis Magazine with Ralph McInerny in 1982. He held the George Frederick Jewett Chair in Religion and Public Policy at the American Enterprise Institute and was a trustee and visiting professor at Ave Maria University. In 1994, he received the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion. He was also an emissary to the United Nations Human Rights Commission and to the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe.

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