What's the mark of a Third World country? I've seen a lot of them, and to me the clearest trait is the squalor of the public realm.
The rich people in your standard dictatorship/kleptocracy of course do just fine. But anything that's public -- schools, museums, roads, hospitals, legal system and courts, customs office and civil service -- is either run down or corrupt. If you had to trade places with the top level of a "bad" country, you'd be OK. But if you had to rely on the public facilities, you'd be in trouble -- as their people are.
Which somehow comes to mind as the U.S. Government prepares to shut down. Two tiny little anecdotes of impending Third World-ism in Washington:
- Yesterday I met a senior diplomat from a very large and important country. (Hint: I write about it a lot, and used to live there. Also, it has pandas.) A very senior delegation from that country is scheduled to meet this coming week with a very senior U.S. official. (Hint: her husband used to be president.) This meeting has been in the works for months, and involves areas of cooperation, as in energy research or policy toward Iran and North Korea, and of disagreement as well. These are talks that should be held and business that needs to be done.