Anne-Marie Slaughter via Nicholas Kristof’s blog makes this novel observation about how to tell if a country is truly developed (new stuff and old stuff) versus superficially developed (just new shiny stuff):
…in China there is only one layer of infrastructure — a shiny new layer. In the U.S., by contrast, you see multiple layers — old streetlights next to newer ones, different kinds of asphalt dating from different periods of road-building, old cars and new cars on the road, old and new factories, old and new shopping centers, and old and new houses on the side of the road. The larger point, which was deeply counter-intuitive at least to me, is that the sign of a developed country is the presence of old things, whereas at least in China’s major cities (this does not hold for the countryside), old things have been destroyed to the point of invisibility, with the exception of the major national symbols like the Great Wall and the Forbidden City, in favor of the newest architecture, technology, and fashions. The counter-intuitive part is that we think of developed countries as new and advanced, while the old model of developing countries had crumbling buildings and creaky infrastructure….
A country of only new things has no depth, no fall-backs, no layers of experience and expertise. It is fragile; if the new highway is flooded out or scored by earthquakes, there are no decent secondary roads to handle the traffic. If the power system for the new street lights fails, there is no older but more dependable technology to rely on.