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Good News: The United States Still Isn’t a Failed State

Yes, the U.S. government shutdown is equal parts embarrassing and infuriating. Yes, it is putting the kibosh on services as basic as food programs and flu shots. But no, the United States is still not a failed state, much as many people seem to be enjoying asking the question –at least not according to the ...

Tom Ervin/Getty Images
Tom Ervin/Getty Images

Yes, the U.S. government shutdown is equal parts embarrassing and infuriating. Yes, it is putting the kibosh on services as basic as food programs and flu shots. But no, the United States is still not a failed state, much as many people seem to be enjoying asking the question –at least not according to the judgment of the folks at the Fund for Peace, who put together the annual Failed States Index in collaboration with FP.

The United States currently ranks a solidly not-failed 159th out of 178 states on the Fund’s annual index, which orders countries based on how they score across 12 indicators, and it would take a big hit to push America into failed territory.

The shutdown, depending on how long it goes on, could cause the United States to at least rise a few spots in next year’s rankings (the higher the ranking, the more instability). Congress’s inability to agree on a spending plan has consequences for several indicators of "failedness" where the U.S. has already not been faring too well of late, Krista Hendry, executive director of the Fund, told FP. It’s a demonstration of an increasingly factionalized elite, it leads directly to a deterioration of public services, and it doesn’t exactly do the economy any favors, or strengthen perceptions about the legitimacy of the state.

But hey, we have a lot going for us! General rule of law holds — federal courts are still hearing cases, and prison guards are still on the job. Essential services have been preserved; mail, for instance, is still being delivered. Our federalized system means states are still capable of running their own schools and hospitals without federal aid.

"We still have air-traffic controllers in the towers, we still have military that are on call and as ready as they were yesterday. Essential services are all still going to function," said Failed States Index Co-Director J.J. Messner.

And perhaps most importantly, Americans expect that the shutdown will be resolved, and that the U.S. government will eventually return to normal, Hendry explained.

So cheer up, America: You remain a functional state. Just make sure to raise that debt ceiling.

Yes, the U.S. government shutdown is equal parts embarrassing and infuriating. Yes, it is putting the kibosh on services as basic as food programs and flu shots. But no, the United States is still not a failed state, much as many people seem to be enjoying asking the question –at least not according to the judgment of the folks at the Fund for Peace, who put together the annual Failed States Index in collaboration with FP.

The United States currently ranks a solidly not-failed 159th out of 178 states on the Fund’s annual index, which orders countries based on how they score across 12 indicators, and it would take a big hit to push America into failed territory.

The shutdown, depending on how long it goes on, could cause the United States to at least rise a few spots in next year’s rankings (the higher the ranking, the more instability). Congress’s inability to agree on a spending plan has consequences for several indicators of "failedness" where the U.S. has already not been faring too well of late, Krista Hendry, executive director of the Fund, told FP. It’s a demonstration of an increasingly factionalized elite, it leads directly to a deterioration of public services, and it doesn’t exactly do the economy any favors, or strengthen perceptions about the legitimacy of the state.

But hey, we have a lot going for us! General rule of law holds — federal courts are still hearing cases, and prison guards are still on the job. Essential services have been preserved; mail, for instance, is still being delivered. Our federalized system means states are still capable of running their own schools and hospitals without federal aid.

"We still have air-traffic controllers in the towers, we still have military that are on call and as ready as they were yesterday. Essential services are all still going to function," said Failed States Index Co-Director J.J. Messner.

And perhaps most importantly, Americans expect that the shutdown will be resolved, and that the U.S. government will eventually return to normal, Hendry explained.

So cheer up, America: You remain a functional state. Just make sure to raise that debt ceiling.

Alicia P.Q. Wittmeyer is the Europe editor at Foreign Policy. Her work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, and Forbes, among other places. She holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of California, Berkeley, and master’s degrees from Peking University and the London School of Economics. The P.Q. stands for Ping-Quon.

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