The Third World.
It conjures up all sorts of horrible images. Most of us tend to think of the Third World as being places like, well, Niger. Places with horrible illiteracy, crushing poverty, an utter lack of health care, and where famine, plague, and civil war reign.
These places are of course among the Failed States. Third World countries, then, are what failed states aspire to become. Some of them may do so someday.
The rest follows the jump.
This is not to say the third world is a happy place full of smiling, healthy children happily going to school to become the next South Korea or Taiwan. Not at all. In the third world, literacy rates are better, health care is at least extant if not of high quality, generally more than half the people in the country have access to drinkable water (not a guarantee in failed states; think about that. How would your life be different if you had no access to drinkable water and no money to buy bottled water? What would you do? That’s a daily consideration for people living in places like Cape Verde and Malawi), the infant mortality rate is usually at least not appalling (if not very good), and most people make enough money every year to afford the basic necessities of life.
One of the key differences between the third world and the failed states is that, in the third world, as a rule less than half the population are engaged in subsistence agriculture. This is never the case in failed states. As an example, in Burkina Faso over 85% of the population do not go to work in the morning. Far from being unemployed, these people are engaged every day in trying to grow or steal enough food to feed their families. This is not far removed from being a hunter-gatherer. In such a situation, it’s easy to understand why these states can be considered failing. Whether you tend toward Hobbes or Rousseau, you must admit there is no situation under which rational sovereigns would consent to live under a government where you must spend all of every day looking for food, but still have to pay taxes.
Things in the third world are, in comparison then, better. The third world is a big place, with 76 states. It is also a varied place: there are monied dictatorships like Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan; liberty-free theocracies like Iran; stable developing democracies like India; communist-and-loving-it economic growth machines like China and Vietnam; and barely-out-of-the-woods countries struggling to provide for their people, like Papua New Guinea. And that’s just in Asia; the third world spans every continent.
Unlike with the failed states, the vast majority (about 80%) of third world states get better year to year. There are always a handful of states that do not; some third world states occasionally drop into the failed area during major crises, and may or may not recover. Cote d’Ivoire (known to most people as Ivory Coast) is one of these that has not recovered; the Solomon Islands, however, did recover.
At the top of the third world are a handful of democracies with developing modern economies; these include places like Turkey, Brazil, Ukraine, and South Africa. Each high-ranking third world state generally has just a handful of problems keeping them from escaping the third world—in Brazil’s case, unemployment and infant mortality; in South Africa’s, a truly dreadful life expectancy in the low 40’s. Some of these problems are more easily fixed than others, and Brazil certainly will escape the third world long before South Africa—or any African state—does so.
At the bottom of the third world, however, are countries that are constantly in danger of failing, countries like Papua New Guinea, Ghana, and Nicaragua. In fact, given that these places tend to look, statistically, more like failed states than their richer more stable cousins, I might consider raising the bar for third-world membership. But doing so would kick 7 countries out of the third world, so there would be 69 third world countries and 64 failed states… and being an optimist I’d rather there be a wider gap between those numbers. We’ll see how that plays out over the next year or two; I make frequent changes to the system so this one may be in the offing.
More on the third world tomorrow.