Is the US the only country?

Posted on March 22, 2019

A common trope within left-leaning American circles is to claim that the US is the only “developed” or “industrial” or “major” or “first world” country to not have X, where X is usually something like “publicly funded health care” or “government-guaranteed paid family leave” or similar.

Recently this came up with Bernie Sanders and his common refrain that the US was the only “major” country to not guarantee health care as a human right. Much to my relief, the often myopic fact-checkers at Politifact marked this one as half-true. I think it bothered me so much because it implied that India was not “major” — a country that I lived in for two months, made good friends in, and would have lived in for at least another two months if not for an entire year if it hadn’t been for the vagueries of careers, and also a country that economically is having a lot of impact, and contains around 15% of the entire world’s population.

It is my sincere belief that this trope is racist, that in reality most people who say something like this mean “the US is the only white country to not have X” or “… the only western country to not have X” or “… the only country I’d visit in a non-condescending way to not have X.” This has been proven to me by the fact that most articles I’ve read with this trope that actually list which countries they’re talking about gloss over even very developed (Korea, Japan, Singapore) or very economically powerful (India, China) or very populous (India, China) Asian countries.

I don’t think the trope can be redeemed by saying something else as the adjective in “only Y country.” I think this trope should just be discarded. I think the first vs second vs third world concept, and the developed vs developing concept, that underlie this trope, are only going to get less and less reflective of reality over time as China and India become more populous and powerful. And I think that most people who use this trope have never travelled outside of their concept of the first world, and maybe should.