I recently discovered one of the best kept secrets of the 21st century: There is no longer a “third world”.

We are accustomed to dividing the world into rich and poor, with the poor nations, the “third world”, ruled by corrupt dictators, going nowhere and trapped in poverty. This may have been the case in 1960 but today nothing could be further from the truth.

Yes, a group of nations, with a total population of a billion or so, fit the classic “third world” description. They have high levels of extreme poverty and low rates of economic growth. And yes, another group of nations, with roughly the same population, fit the classic “first world” model.

But between these two groups sit another group of nations, with a combined population around four billion who have emerged from “third world” status and are closing in on the “first world”. Nations like China, India, Brazil, Botswana, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and Vietnam.

This is one of the best kept, yet most exciting, secrets of the twenty first century.

This group of “emerging” nations are sustaining economic growth rates double those of the “first world” or better. Consider the graphic below from the Economist, which shows the ten fastest growing economies for the decade to 2010 and estimates to 2015. Not a western nation among them and six of the ten from Africa!

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Economic growth, coupled with access to modern medical, educational, and industrial technologies that took western nations centuries to develop, is seeing massive improvements in the well being of the citizens of these emerging economies and at a rate unparalleled in history.

Whether these countries will eventually achieve the material standards of living of the world’s most affluent nations is a matter of debate among economists. Whether it is ecologically sustainable is also questionable, meaning those of us in affluent nations will need to reduce our consumption or find new technologies that make our footprint smaller. But one thing is sure, the world I see today is very different to the world of my childhood. Hopefully it won’t be one of the world’s best kept secrets for long.

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