“In the 2016 edition of its World Development Indicators, the World Bank has made a big choice: It’s no longer distinguishing between ‘developed’ countries and “developing” ones in the presentation of its data. The change marks an evolution in thinking about the geographic distribution of poverty and prosperity. But it sounds less radical when you consider that nobody has ever agreed on a definition for these terms in the first place. The International Monetary Fund says its own distinction between advanced and emerging market economies “is not based on strict criteria, economic or otherwise.” The United Nations doesn’t have an official definition of a developing country, despite slapping the label on 159 nations. And the World Bank itself had previously simply lumped countries in the bottom two-thirds of gross national income (GNI) into the category, but even that comparatively strict cut-off wasn’t very useful.”
Labels and categories are so often problematic, but they are also necessary to make sense of the vast amount of information. Regional geography is inherently about lumping places together that have commonalities, but acknowledging that many differences from place to place makes the world infinitely varied and complex. Since we can’t process an infinite amount of complexity, we categorize, for better or for worse. In education, we are continually trying to show how some categorizations fail, hoping that our students will categorize the information they receive in better ways (non-racist ways for example). The regional terms we use–Latin America, the Middle East, Europe, etc.—impacts how we think about the world. Each of those terms highlights a few similarities and ignores some important differences. The terms More Developed Countries (MDCs), Newly Industrialized Countries (NICs), and Less Developed (LDCs) is how many people have socioeconomically categorized the world’s countries, some preferring developing countries instead of LDCs because it less stigmatizing. In 2015, many at the World Bank have thought that the term “Developing Countries” obscures more than it reveals. In 2016, the World Bank removed the term from its database since there are more differences than similarities in the economic structures and trajectories of developing countries.
Questions to Ponder: What are some of the major problems that you see with the term developing country? Even with its problems, what utility is there in the term? Will you keep using the term or will you abandon it? How come?