When Alfred Sauvy coined the term "Third World", it contained an implicit value judgement about the conditions of life in various countries of the world: As the Cold War progressed, it came clear that some countries in the Third World were better off than others -- while some countries had some form of social order (some democratic, others brutal and repressive), others were in a state of anarchy where human life had no value. Some countries had something to steal, some form of economic activity the industrialized world could exploit, but others were continual economic basket cases, in a constant state of civil war and famine. While some Third World countries were politically engaged with each other, and the industralized world, others had spun so far out of control there was no-one to engage with.

And now, there is a cruel, horrible fact to be faced: For some, the status of 'third world country' has a certain political cachet, a source of political motivation (witness the Non-Aligned Movement and OPEC). Other countries have so many problems, and their people have to spend so much of their time simply trying to survive, that it doesn't really matter.

In the 1980's and 1990's people began using the term "Fourth World" to refer to the poorest of the poor. Of course, we know how most of them got that way: I'm sure all of you can think of other countries for which some or all of the above conditions apply, but which have not yet fallen into the abyss, and others which seem to be climbing out.

In the end, does the distinction really matter? Probably not. The idea that some Third World countries are somehow 'more fortunate' than others, that they enjoy some miniscule relative measure of happiness, should not distract us from how they got that way, or what should be done.