WHAT MAKE COUNTRIES THIRD WORLD?

SAIMA IBRAHIM
(feedback@pgeconomist.com)

Mar
22 - 28, 2010

The economically underdeveloped countries of Asia, Africa, and Latin America are considered as an entity with common characteristics such as poverty, high birthrates, and economic dependence on the advanced countries.

The French demographer Alfred Sauvy coined the expression 'tiers monde' in 1952, which means third estate. Like the third estate, wrote Sauvy, the third world is nothing, and it "wants to be something". The expression third world was used at the 1955 conference of Afro-Asian countries held in Bandung, Indonesia

MAIN CHARACTERISTICS

The underdevelopment of the third world is marked by a number of common traits:

- Distorted and highly dependent economies devoted to producing primary products for the developed world and to provide markets for their finished goods;

- Traditional, rural social structures, high population growth, and widespread poverty.

This combination of conditions in Asia, Africa, and Latin America is linked to the absorption of the third world into the international capitalist economy, by way of conquest or indirect domination. The main economic consequence of Western domination was the creation, of a world market. By setting up throughout the third world sub-economies linked to the West, and by introducing other modern institutions, industrial capitalism disrupted traditional economies and, indeed, societies. This disruption led to underdevelopment.

Because the economies of underdeveloped countries have been geared to the needs of industrialized countries, they often comprise only a few modern economic activities, such as mining or the cultivation of plantation crops. Control over these activities has often remained in the hands of large foreign firms.

The First World is the developed world - US, Canada, Western Europe, Japan, Singapore, Taiwan, Australia, and New Zealand.

The Second World was the communist world led by the USSR. With the demise of the USSR and the communist block, there is no longer an official Second World designation, although Russia, China, Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia still have communist governments.

Many Third World countries have one or more developed cities, but major parts of them are rural and agrarian. Eastern Europe should probably be considered Third World. Russia should also be considered a Third World country with nuclear weapons. China has always been considered as a part of the Third World, although it is industrializing, has nuclear weapons, and has urban centers of intense development. In general, Latin America, Mexico, Africa, and most of Asia are still considered Third World.

The Asian tigers - South Korea, Malaysia, and Thailand, except for their big cities, their maquiladora-type production facilities, a small middle class and much smaller ruling elite - should probably be considered Third World countries as well, since their populations are overwhelmingly rural, agrarian and poor.

Some of the very poorest countries, especially in Africa, that have no industrialization, are almost entirely agrarian (subsistence farming), and have little or no hope of industrializing and competing in the world "marketplace", are sometimes termed the "Fourth World".

THIRD WORLD ROLE IN THE WORLD POLITICS

The Bandung conference, in 1955, was the beginning of the political emergence of the third world. Two nations whose social and economic systems were sharply opposed-China and India-played a major role in promoting that conference and in changing the relation between the third world and the industrial, capitalist, and communist countries. As a result of de-colonialization, the United Nations, at first numerically dominated by European countries and countries of European origin, was gradually transformed into something of a third world forum.

ECONOMIC PROSPECTS

Foreign aid, and indeed all the efforts of existing institutions and structures have failed to solve the problem of underdevelopment. The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) held in New Delhi in 1971 suggested that one percent of the national income of industrialized countries should be devoted to aiding the third world. That figure has never been reached, or even approximated.

All international agencies agree that drastic action is required to improve conditions in the third world countries, including urban and rural public work projects to cope up joblessness and underemployment, make institutional reforms essential for the redistribution of economic power, agrarian reform, tax reform, and the reform of public funding. But, in reality, political and social obstacles to reform are a part of the very nature of the international order and of most third world regimes.

The term third world is not universally accepted. Some prefer other terms such as Global South, the South, non-industrialized countries, developing countries, underdeveloped countries, undeveloped countries, mal-developed countries, emerging nations. The term third world is the one most widely used in the media today, but no one term can describe all less-developed countries accurately.