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So you think you live in a First World country?

Updated on December 28, 2016

First World problems

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A sight unworthy to behold

Way back in the ‘80’s, my wife and I visited the US as tourists—she for the first time, me for the second. After spending an afternoon in one of the Smithsonian museums in Washington DC, we slumped down tired and exhausted on a bench in a park along the National Mall. It was then that we witnessed an astonishing sight of a man rummaging through a large public trashcan, retrieving some half-eaten food, which he then devoured! So why did we find it “astonishing”? Was it because we were born and brought up in a Third World country (India) and were living in another Third World country in Africa, and were not prepared for such a sight in a First World country? Or were we astonished because—

  • in the Third World, poor people rummaged through garbage for valuables or recyclables, not edible food. Any form of food gets consumed long before it reaches the garbage heap!
  • this was happening in the capital of the world’s richest country, barely half a mile from the Capitol and the White House,
  • it was a white man scrounging for food in a garbage bin—something very difficult to fathom for a person like me, who has lived in countries that for long were ruled by whites.

First World vs. Third World

A loose definition of a First World country would be one where the citizens have the means or are provided safety nets by the Government, to take care of their requirements of food, clothing, shelter, education and healthcare. In a Third World country, the citizens, by and large, have to fend for themselves, with little, if any, assistance from their Governments that themselves have limited resources. As one who has spent many years in third world countries and lived four years in West Germany, I have a fairly good perspective of life in these different “worlds”. Life in West Germany during the mid-‘60s was one of general prosperity, with virtually no visible signs of poverty. And when I first traveled to the US in 1973 on business, I had the privilege of being treated to what one would consider to be a truly First World experience—dining in expensive restaurants and country clubs and a ride in a corporate jet, no less!

But during my second visit in the ‘80’s, my experience in DC, described above, served as an eye opener. Over the years, I’ve been made wiser about the somewhat socialistic safety nets provided by mainly European countries, as against the social entitlement programs put in place in this country.

The price of social entitlements

Now that I’ve settled here in the US, I’m aware of the intense debate regarding the burden of such entitlements programs. This country prides itself on the entrepreneurial spirit of its people and the opportunities that this environment provides. The spirit of free enterprise dominates our life, with emphasis on market capitalism—even if it is too raw, as critics have alleged. Many amongst us frown upon the safety nets that European countries provide and demand that our social entitlement programs be drastically reduced.

Finding long-term solutions

No matter how well intended any social entitlement program is when it is set up, inefficiencies and misuse gradually creep in over the years, and financing such programs can become a huge burden. The same can be said about the popular Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid programs that threaten to become unsustainable in the long run. But if we pride ourselves as a First World nation, the least one would expect is that all citizens are in a position to provide themselves with the basic necessities. Not everyone might have seen people rummaging through trash for food—some may not even notice. But with the gridlock that Washington is famous for, it would be unfortunate if such sights were to become more common rather than rare.

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    • Cassie Smith profile image

      Cassie Smith 5 years ago from U.S.

      If you really don't know the answer to your question about what really is so special about living in a First World country and you've moved here seven years ago, perhaps you should consider moving back to your Third World country to see the difference. If you don't see the difference, then I don't know why you bothered moving here to begin with.

    • Josak profile image

      Josak 5 years ago from variable

      Please Cassie he put a relevant case which you never answered except to say like it or leave it which is no kind of answer at all. As for the hub, yeah I feel the same way, I spent some time in Cuba and people were certainly in general poorer, but all education is free (yes university/college too) and when people get sick they have the best health care in the world... What's a good way to define the differences between first and third world countries? Maybe that people in first world countries live longer? Oh nope Cuba has a longer life expectancy and lower infant mortality... I don't know anymore.

    • Cassie Smith profile image

      Cassie Smith 5 years ago from U.S.

      Then I guess you're moving to Cuba? I'm saying that the answer is obvious and if you don't know the difference then you should move to where you think it's better.

    • Prakash Dighe profile image
      Author

      Prakash Dighe 5 years ago from Dallas, Texas, USA

      Cassie, it isn't that I do not know the advantages of living in the First world, as against the Third World. The point is that one can miss noticing a few things that may not be right here, and sometimes it helps that someone with a different view brings it to our attention. The incident that I have pointed out may not be too important to many, but somehow it stuck in my mind.

    • profile image

      Sonali Louis 5 years ago

      Thoughtful article! No easy answers. Something I guess all rich countries have to grapple with.

    • Josak profile image

      Josak 5 years ago from variable

      Still with the love it or get out thing are you Cassie? I lived in Cuba several years, I moved back to be closer to family.

    • profile image

      ndighe 5 years ago from Dallas

      Providing a safety net that catches all is not easy. A few will always slip through - though admittedly the social entitlements in other countries are broader than those here.

    • Rebecca2904 profile image

      Rebecca 4 years ago

      Great Hub! I think it's interesting that the first comment was so negative! I think while it's clear that we don't have rampant poverty and disease here (I can only speak for Germany and the UK), there are certainly people who have fallen through the net and are living rough, on the street and no doubt hungry. I think it's pretty common here for homeless people to be met with... almost embarrassment, and the feeling that, since we do live in a first world country and our system is quite good, it must be somehow 'their fault'. I think we could all learn a thing or two from your article and start to notice and help the poor who live next door to us, not just on the other side of the world.

    • Prakash Dighe profile image
      Author

      Prakash Dighe 4 years ago from Dallas, Texas, USA

      It is unfortunate that several programs to assist the needy are misused - this happens everywhere - and there are many in this country who resent it. And of course the feeling persists that it is "their fault". It is a tough problem that we have, but every "First world country" does need to be aware of it's responsibilities to its own people as you said. Thanks for your comments, Rebecca.

    • profile image

      Johnc738 2 years ago

      Appreciate you sharing, great blog post.Thanks Again. Really Cool. ceekdckaefgd

    • Prakash Dighe profile image
      Author

      Prakash Dighe 2 years ago from Dallas, Texas, USA

      Thanks for your comments Johnc738. Things haven't improved much since I wrote the Hub, and I probably need to update it!

    • profile image

      Gregory 2 years ago

      I live in Kenya and what I have seen for my last 20 years here its worth fighting for my rights out of africa.

      It has always been normal here seeing someone eating leftovers from the trash while in 1st world countries it's a surprise!

      +254718265504

    • Prakash Dighe profile image
      Author

      Prakash Dighe 2 years ago from Dallas, Texas, USA

      I'm pleased to receive a comment from someone living in Kenya, Gregory. Yes, it would be surprising for anyone from Africa or other third world countries, to witness something which one assumes do not occur here. No matter where, there will always be some disadvantaged section of the population. Thanks for visiting my Hub.

    • junko profile image

      junko 14 months ago

      That was an obvious oddity now that you mentioned it. For someone who comes from places in the world where food is always consumed and never wasted to a place where there is so much wealth, good healthy food can be found and consumed out of the garbage in the cities.

    • Prakash Dighe profile image
      Author

      Prakash Dighe 14 months ago from Dallas, Texas, USA

      Thanks, Junko for your comments and for visiting my Hub. It's unfortunate that the conditions of the poor in this country have not gotten any better since I wrote the Hub. That might explain why Bernie Sanders' message seems to resonate so well with many people.

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