View Full Version : Alternative to "first world", "second world" and "third world"

2011-Feb-05, 06:29 PM
Oh dear! This was supposed to go into "Off Topic Babbling!"

This is not intended to be a political thread, but I recognise that it could very easily become one, so I am stating flat out that it is not my intention to make a political point about the current state of the world but rather to try and see if the more detailed information available to us today can help in creating a conception of the world that is more accurate and current then the old "third world" paradigm, which has been outdated since the Second World collapsed in 1991.

Wikipedia has a number of very interesting maps to hand to help us look at the current state of the world.

GDP per capita (http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/5/59/GDP_nominal_per_capita_world_map_IMF_2008.png). The old workhorse of country classification, this still tells us much about the world

UN education index (http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/0/00/Education_index_UN_HDR_2008.svg)

Female life expectancy (http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/7/7a/Female_Life_Expectancy.png) (to counter effects like war, car accidents and alcoholism, which tend to bias towards men)

Failed States Index (http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/4/4d/Failed-states-index-2010.png) (a measure of governmental stability)

The corruptions perception index (http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/f/f7/World_Map_Index_of_perception_of_corruption_2010.s vg), which has many implications for infrastructure and functionality

The Gini coefficient of inequality (http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/3/32/Gini_Coefficient_World_CIA_Report_2009.svg), indicating how unequally distributed wealth in a country is.

I'm not particularly fond of the education map; I think it paints too broad a brush if it places Sweden's education system on par with Kazakhstan's, but generally a few patterns can be seen from the list. First off, the familiar hierarchy is depressingly still in place: the old first world is still first, with North America, Europe, Japan and Aus/NZ at the top, Africa at the bottom and Latin America and Asia in the middle. But a few surprises do creep in: first off, while equatorial Africa may still be bottom of the list in nearly all respects, southern Africa, particularly Botswana, appears to have established a position ahead of the pack in both stability and in wealth creation. Also, while Latin America may still be solidly middle-range, Chile and Argentina appear to be moving slowly into the old First World without anyone noticing. Also, within the old first world, a "top of the top" is evident in stability and infrastructure, with Ireland, Scandinavia, the Benelux, Australia, Canada and New Zealand coming out ahead of America, Western Europe and Japan. (not sure how Ireland would stack up today). Oman, despite being an absolute monarchy, appears to have impressed the think tanks, as it sticks out in many respects from the usually dreary Middle East. One thing I did not expect is that there appears to be little correlation between wealth equality and stability, with many of the most equal countries also being among the more corrupt.

2011-Feb-05, 07:59 PM
In geography class, I was taught to think of it as MEDC (more economically developed country) and LEDC (less economically developed country).

The spanner in the works is the Asian tiger economies and Brazil that are kind of there, but not quite.

Ara Pacis
2011-Feb-05, 10:24 PM
How about: Developed World, Developing World, Undeveloped World?

2011-Feb-06, 03:34 AM
Well, logically, since the Second-world collapsed, it's now just the First World and Third-World....and China.

2011-Feb-07, 09:24 PM
With China still around, can it really be said that the second world is gone? Don't get me wrong, they're an economic powerhouse with elements of free market at play, but they're still very much grounded in the planned economics mold of their Soviet cousins.

2011-Feb-07, 09:32 PM
Then there is the "enlisted man's" definition.

Where ever your government sent you and the "real world" AKA Land of the 24 Hour Generator, and other discriptors I can't mention...

2011-Feb-08, 06:55 AM
It's not really an easy question. I actually studied development economics in college, started graduate school in that area, and worked for an NGO for several years. A lot of the editing that I do is in the area of development. And I still don't have an answer. When I went to graduate school in the late 1980s I attended a nice seminar-type class on the history of development economics, and we spent the semester looking at different theories. It's very complex.

One system that is used among NGOs is to use the North and the South. It's somewhat political, but so are other terminologies, really. In reality the fact is that every case is special, so making a category itself is difficult. If you look at per capita GDP figures they can be a bit surprising. Singapore is higher than all the OECD countries. I was a bit surprised that Taiwan is higher than Japan, but there it is. Actually in both of those cases there is a reason that has to do with hinterlands.

Another idea to look into is the idea, suggested by the government of Bhutan I believe, of an index called Gross Human Happiness or Gross National Happiness or something like that.

You could have an index called Gross National Grossness. That would measure the number of horror films produced and the percentage of population who are in kindergarten.

Ronald Brak
2011-Feb-08, 07:19 AM
I think one of the more useful descriptions out there is rich countries/poor countries. It cuts through a lot of chaff. However, it is a bit blunt, so it can help to through in a modifier such as very, fairly, uber, etc.

2011-Feb-08, 02:02 PM
From my point of vantage, the maps in the OP are laughing stock. And for that matter, Svalbard is third world to me, regardless of their income.

2011-Feb-08, 04:05 PM
This makes me think of this video (http://www.thesociologicalcinema.com/1/post/2010/12/hans-roslings-200-countries-200-years-4-minutes.html), which shows visually how mean income and lifespan have changed around the world over the last two centuries.

2011-Feb-10, 12:07 AM
I'm not particularly fond of the education map; I think it paints too broad a brush if it places Sweden's education system on par with Kazakhstan's

I'd actually expect Kazakhstan above Sweden, provided that Kazakhstan didn't dismantle the education system built by USSR. The education system was one of the few things that were much better in the Soviet bloc than in the west. To give you an example, in order to graduate from secondary school, I had to be able to calculate integrals.

Regarding the topic of the thread, I find Huntington's division of world into civilizations strangely fitting: http://pl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plik:Clash_of_Civilizations_world_map.png

2011-Feb-10, 12:19 AM
Well, logically, since the Second-world collapsed, it's now just the First World and Third-World....and China.

That makes no sense. Take 4 countries: Germany, Poland, Russia and Zanzibar. Now tell me which ones are First World, and which ones are Third World.

In my part of the world there is now a fashionable theory that the former Soviet bloc should be counted as part of the First World (you can now see why it's fashionable, can't you? :) ). Of course, since trying to classify US, Germany and Poland together makes no sense, this theory splits the First World between the "core" (North America+EU15) and "periphery" (former communist Europe). That thinking actually makes some sense. Until you realize that now you have a problem with Russia, because labeling Russia as periphery of the U.S.-centric civilization is completely absurd.