Three-World Model

In 1952 Alfred Sauvy, a French demographer, coined the term Third World which he described as the people of the world that are "unknown, exploited, and scorned." In pre-revolutionary France, the first two estates were the nobility and the clergy; everybody else was the third estate. He joked that the capitalist world (First World) compared with the nobility and the communist world (Second World) with the clergy. The First World consists of wealthy capitalist, formerly industrial, countries and the Second World of the former communist and industrial countries. Third World countries are all the other countries and they have always included capitalist (e.g., Brazil) and communist (e.g., Cuba) countries, and very rich (e.g., Saudi Arabia) and very poor (e.g., Mali) countries. Click on the map to see two others that clearly identify the Majority World, where most of the world's population live.

Net Foreign

Gerry Vitello's
article on the Third World.
2) The term "Thirdworldization" is now applied to the
Christmas spending (2004) and the Third World,

Another way of looking at this three-world classification is to compare the percentage of the world's population with the percentage of net foreign investments, as shown in the table. Source: New Internationalist, 334, May 2001  

The USA government's foreign policies and subsequent military actions illustrate yet another way of looking at First World hegemony: Which countries has the USA bombed since 1945?











100 %

100 %

Where are the high-, middle-, and low-income countries?
out the income inequality by major regions.

In this introductory course we do not have sufficient time to examine the diverse and complex nature of each of the major world regions. After this course you can learna more bytaking other geography courses, readng books, and traveling on your own.

Income inequality is enormous in all regions of the Third World -- see the graph on the left.

According to the United Nations, the assets of the world's three top billionaires exceed the combined gross domestic product of all of the world's poorest countries and their 600 million inhabitants. Without precise figures for the growth of poverty during the 1990s, the World Bank estimates that about 30 percent of the world's population today lives on less than $1 a day. The graph on the right shows that from 1981 to 2001 poverty rates declined rapidly in East Asia, particularly in China; decreased a bit in South Asia; and increased in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Many researchers also recognize a Fourth World, which consists of nations (cultural entities) of indigenous peoples living within or across state boundaries (political units). When 168 states assert the right and power to impose sovereignty and allegiance upon more than 3000 nations, conflicts of various kinds (e.g. political protests, armed struggle) result. Many of the conflicts within the last twenty years have occurred in the Fourth World.

R ead Anthony Hall's The American Empire and The Fourth World (McGill-Queen's University Press, 2004).
C heck-out the Third World Traveler for quotes, articles, and relevant links.
Since the collapse of communism by 1990,
Second World countries remain distinctive but in ways different than before.
Read more below:
  • Eastern Europe, including Russia, was the only region in the world that had declining annual GNP (gross national product) rates (minus 6 percent from 1986-1995).

  • Since 1989, the officially recorded economy of Russia contracted by half -- a steeper fall than in the USA during the Great Depression! 

  • 22% of Russians, or 32 million people, live below the official poverty line (about $70 per month).

  • 33% of Eastern Europeans and Russians, or 140 million people (this is 10 times higher under Communism), survive on less than $4 a day;

  • meat and milk consumption have fallen because of falling purchasing power;

  • small family plots of land (uchaski) are estimated to provide 50% of the food produced in Russia; Critics cited this fact when Russia had a communist economy as evidence that Communism did not work. So, that must mean that Capitalism does not work in Russia!

  • life expectancy has dropped from 74 years in 1992 to 72 for women and from 62 years to 58 for men -- that places Russia roughly on a par with Kenya. Optional: read more.

  • In Moscow just over 20 percent of Russians were middle class by income or occupation in 2003. This is a smaller share than on  the eve of the October Revolution of 1917, when a quarter of the population was middle class. In most countries with Russia's income, the middle class account for about 50 percent.

  • Russia's population: numbers and conditions

Optional Reading:
1) The Tragedy of Russia's Reforms: Market Bolshevism Against Democracy
by Peter Reddaway and Dmitri Glinski. Unites States Institute of Peace Press, 2001.
2) Homeless and the poor in Moscow during the winter: The Economist.
3)  Declining health care and demographics: The Economist.

Even Africa, the poorest region in the world, had GNP increases of over two percent! In terms of purchasing-power parity, Russia and Poland in 1994, for example, were equal to Brazil; the Czech Republic to Venezuela. Russia, with 29 times as many people, has a government budget the same size as Finland's! In other words, the Second World is the only region of the world in which highly industrialized countries have reverted backwards to Third World standards! A joke told in Russia: "What has one year of capitalism done that 70 years of communism did not do? Make communism look good."
The military alliance of NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization), including the USA, Canada, and most Western European countries, recently expanded eastward: three new members (Poland,  Hungary, and the Czech Republic) in 1997. This enlargement will cost $125 billion over the next 13 years, with the USA paying only $19 billion and the other $106 billion (85%) will be paid by these new members. At a time of large-scale unemployment and cuts in social budgets in Eastern Europe, these new NATO expenses will lower living standards even more. Hungary will increase its military spending by 35 percent; Poland and Czech by 20 percent! Entering NATO also requires members to buy western weapons, mostly from the USA -- one fighter jet costs $2 billion alone.
Many labels have been suggested to classify the world's countries -- often tongue-in-cheek:


geographical example
 infant economies   countries dependent on other economies, e.g., Mexico on USA; Niger on France
 teenage economies   China and India that are growing up fast, sometimes too fast, and need time to understand what is happening inside them
 adult economies   these countries (e.g., USA, Germany, Japan) should pay attention to youthful, better-educated potential competitors


geographical example (Thanks to Jon Cook, Sydney, for this classification.)
destitute    most of sub-Africa, especially Zimbabwe: 600% inflation rate in 2003; in 2000, about 90% of children in school, in 2003, down to about 60%; in 1977, Zimbabwe was twice as rich as the median sub-African nation, in 2003, it dropped to the median.
deprived    Haiti, Sudan
destroyed    Afghanistan, Iraq and some countries in West Africa (Liberia, Ivory Coast)
debutant    emerging or recently emerged, like China, Thailand
decadent    "old" Europe (Western Europe)
deranged, depraved, or despicable    USA
Based on  Donald Rumsfeld's (former U.S. Secretary of Defense) terminology concerning the U.S. occupation of  Iraq, here is a new classification of the world's countries:


geographical example
known knowns   G7 (wealthy) countries where you can get internet connections
known unknowns   countries like Russia, Argentine, Mexico, South Africa, Turkey, and almost all Asian countries about which we hear from the news as the next-big-thing
unknown knowns   little countries that if we visited them we would have a grand old time, e.g., Palau, Mauritius
unknown unknowns   countries we don't know about and don't want to know about