“Third-world country” label

Let’s play a little game. I have two unnamed countries and one of them is often labeled “a third-world country”. Country A has almost 600,000 confirmed cases and more than 23,000 deaths from Covid-19 as of now, and charges its citizens a significant sum to have tests and treatments. Meanwhile, country B has less than 300 cases and, thankfully, zero fatalities so far, yet provides FREE Covid-19 tests and treatments. Which one is the 3rd-world country?

Another clue is that in country A, there was almost, on average, one mass shooting a day last year while, in country B, the number of deaths from guns is minimal. In country A, children have to practice drills for shootings while that concept is foreign to children and parents in country B.

In my examples above, country A is the US and Vietnam is the other one. Yes, I did cherry-pick some aspects to make a point, but that’s THE point. I often hear politicians and citizens in the US use “third-world countries” and call out names like my country’s to talk about major existing issues here, usually ending with: we are not a third-world country. Frankly speaking, Vietnam has an endless list of problems, but we are aware of that fact and we own them. On the other hand, in the US, some media outlets, some politicians and many folks still don’t acknowledge that there are serious flaws in the current systems. They still make claims such as this: we are still the greatest country on Earth. Well, on what grounds though? Each country can cherry-pick some metrics to make a claim for themselves and it will be perfectly legit.

By no means am I implying that the US is a 3rd-world country, in any shape or form. My first point is that the term carries a condescending tone towards other countries and shouldn’t be used, especially in the context of discussing your own (often neglected at worst and under-addressed at best) issues. The second point is that we all know without self-awareness of our own issues, we, as individuals, won’t make progress or self-improvement. Why would it be different for countries? Is it even remotely possible that problems that have existed in this country for decades still exist because of a belief that no matter what happens, the US is still the greatest on Earth?

There are a lot of great things around here. My admiration for the US, not as strong as it used to be, is still there. I appreciate what it has given me. As a result, I hope that things will change in a more positive way in the future, that there will be less denigrating attitude towards other less developed countries and that people here, in the words of Sansa Stark in Game of Thrones, “look the truth in the face”.

Covid-19, data, arguments and made-up minds

If we look at the number of confirmed cases in the world and the death count, US is one of the worst hit countries in the world and delivered one of the worst responses to the crisis. Allegedly.

But folks would argue that the figures, when put in terms of per capita, wouldn’t look that bad. The death rate isn’t that bad, compared to that of Iran, Spain or Italy. Allegedly.

But even if the death rate per capita is bad, other countries might have under-reported their figures to make the US look bad. Allegedly.

Let’s say if all reported numbers are true, some would say what is happening is, allegedly, actually better than what was projected by the models which were created to prevent the worst from happening.

And even if things are bad, losing 100,000 to 240,000 American lives isn’t the worst. There is nothing anybody could do or foresee, allegedly. There were other lethal pandemics that killed more in the past when the healthcare infrastructure wasn’t what it is today. Or the number of deaths from the flu or traffic or other causes is bigger than the death count from Covid-19, except the fact that those deaths by other causes are often cited on a 12-month timespan which is far longer than a few weeks of Coronavirus.

The older I become and the more I read and work with numbers as they are my day job, the more I become certain that nothing is 100% certain (see what I did here?). My default feelings go from “am I looking at the numbers from a correct perspective?” or “am I making an apple-to-apple comparison?” to “am I missing something?” or “is it remotely possible that the counter-thesis to what I am thinking is right?”. I realized that we often come to an issue with some pre-determined assumptions. Depending on how open we are to the legitimacy of evidence, especially opposing evidence, there are no numbers or arguments that can change such assumptions. Numbers can be manipulated. Arguments can be doubted and rejected. Like the scenario above.

If you think that there are serious shortcomings in our healthcare and other aspects of life, the data from Covid-19 should help you back up that opinion. If you think that the US is fine as it is and that despite what has happened for the last few weeks, there is nothing anybody could do and there is nothing we need to do after this crisis blows over, the data could help you too, depending on how you slice and dice it. Or not, and you wouldn’t care anyway.

I am in the “there is a lot to do in the US as this crisis shows” camp. But in an alleged democracy (why I say “alleged democracy” is a topic for another day), what matters is the opinion of the majority. For my own personal sake and for the sake of many, I truly hope the majority is in the same camp as I am.