The Three Worlds

Generally, the terms first-world and third-world are used to describe rich countries and poor countries, respectively. But how did the terms get their start? You don’t actually have to look too far back, because the terms arose, under slightly different meanings, during the Cold War. ‘First world’ used to refer to the United States and its allies, most of which were democratic and capitalist, ‘Second World’ used to refer to the Soviet Union, its allies, and other communist or socialist states, and ‘Third world’ referred to neutral or unaligned nations. Under the old definitions, the wealthy nation of Switzerland would have been considered a “third world nation”, while the relatively poor nations of Burma and Mozambique would have been considered “first world nations”. Finally, a more recent term “fourth world” refers to smaller populations, typically those excluded from global or industrial societies.

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