Previous: Randolph, Rustin, & the Origins of the March on Washington: Crash Course Black American History #32
Next: Crossed Aldol Reactions, Enones, and Conjugate Addition: Crash Course Organic Chemistry #45



View count:112,815
Last sync:2023-01-05 06:30
Today we’re going to discuss what it means for a place to be “developed”. Development is often associated with economic success — that is countries with higher standards of living and material wealth like those found in Europe and North America. But as we’ll see, this perspective is only one way to compare countries on the global stage, has strong ties to colonialist histories, and doesn’t necessarily capture a place’s environmental and socioeconomic sustainability or even the population’s general happiness. We’ll focus on the region in the Middle East and North Africa, called MENA, and examine how the histories of the United Arab Emirates and Lebanon have resulted in drastically different development scores.

Getis, Bjelland, and Getis. Introduction to Geography, 15 ed. McGraw-Hill Education. 2017. ISBN: 978-1-259-57000-1

Gregory, Derek, Ron Johnston, Geraldine Pratt, Michael Watts, and Sarah Whatmore, eds. 2009. The Dictionary of Human Geography. 5th ed. Willey-Blackwell. ISBN: 978-1-4051-3288-6

For a free and open source option for Intro to Human Geography, see:

For a free and open source option for World Regional Geography, see:

Cracking the AP Human Geography Exam: 2020 edition. The Princeton Review.

Human development Indices

UAE Sources (lists 30% of economy as oil and gas)

Lebanon Sources “actually existing neoliberalism”

World Bank, IMF, and GDP Charts



China, Belt and Road el)

First/Third World

#CrashCourse #Geography #Development

Watch our videos and review your learning with the Crash Course App!
Download here for Apple Devices:
Download here for Android Devices:

Crash Course is on Patreon! You can support us directly by signing up at

Thanks to the following patrons for their generous monthly contributions that help keep Crash Course free for everyone forever:
Dave Freeman, Hasan Jamal, DL Singfield, Jeremy Mysliwiec, Shannon McCone, Amelia Ryczek, Ken Davidian, Stephen Akuffo, Toni Miles, Erin Switzer, Steve Segreto, Michael M. Varughese, Kyle & Katherine Callahan, Laurel A Stevens, Vincent, Michael Wang, Stacey Gillespie, Jaime Willis, Alexis B, Burt Humburg, Aziz Y, DAVID MORTON HUDSON, Perry Joyce, Scott Harrison, Mark & Susan Billian, Junrong Eric Zhu, Rachel Creager, Matt Curls, Tim Kwist, Jonathan Zbikowski, Jennifer Killen, Sarah & Nathan Catchings, Brandon Westmoreland, team dorsey, Trevin Beattie, Divonne Holmes à Court, Eric Koslow, Jennifer Dineen, Indika Siriwardena, Khaled El Shalakany, Jason Rostoker, Shawn Arnold, Siobhán, Ken Penttinen, Nathan Taylor, Les Aker, ThatAmericanClare, Rizwan Kassim, Sam Ferguson, Alex Hackman, Jirat, Katie Dean, Avi Yashchin, NileMatotle, Wai Jack Sin, Ian Dundore, Justin, Caleb Weeks

Want to find Crash Course elsewhere on the internet?
Facebook -
Twitter -
Tumblr -
Support Crash Course on Patreon:

CC Kids:
The Middle East and North Africa is sitting on a gold mine -- well, a black gold mine.

Beneath this region is at least 113.2 billion metric tons of oil. And here the physical geography and the human geography kind of line up -- the oil isn’t uniformly distributed beneath the surface of the Earth and neither is this mind-boggling wealth.  But the Middle East and North Africa region, often called MENA for short, knew great power and wealth even before oil became so valuable.

At one point the region housed some of the most powerful empires and most influential schools of thought, and yet, not every country in the region is considered powerful today in 2022. In this series we’ve highlighted how the perception of all places and lands isn’t fixed. In geography, we like to tell the story of the world, but there are so many different perspectives and ways to know our experiences, we need to think carefully about what story to tell.

And the way we tell those stories too. Geography has long been a tool wielded by empires. Knowledge about strategic locations, mineral resources, locations of political power, and even how we talk about and describe cultures and people guide the leaders and rulers of the world.  And development -- which is a polarizing, complicated word -- can be the concept we lump all those factors into.

We draw comparisons and talk about growth, but we can also ask what having wealth and power really means and how and why they’re distributed so unevenly around the world. Even how we talk about development tells a story in and of itself. I’m Alizé Carrère, and this is Crash Course Geography.  

[Intro music]

When people talk about how resources, wealth, or even politics are distributed around a country or region or the world, those metrics are often collapsed into one concept and called development.

And we tend to think of a word like development with a certain amount of permanence -- countries that are developed stay “developed.” But since talking about and comparing countries depends on our perceptions and opinions at a particular time, the history of the word itself can be really illuminating. Talking about how developed a place is something that started in the mid 20th century. But even if it wasn’t widely used before this, it has ties to the language used within European colonialism.

Like we talked about in our last episode, many European colonizers change the cultural landscape of a place just with their word choice. They describe their colonies as “backward” compared to their “modern” or “advanced” home countries to justify taking resources from their colonies. Until the 1970s, development was largely thought of in economic terms, and a so-called developed country was one with standards of living and material wealth that looked like what was found in Europe and North America.

They often had a history of industrialization and colonialism too. The other group of countries were originally seen as "underdeveloped." These were places whose standards of living and wealth were considered not as good as the so-called developed countries. And it's probably no surprise to learn these countries had often been colonized by said "developed" countries.

Eventually underdeveloped changed to develop-ing and then got mixed-up with talking about the Third World.  1st, 2nd, and 3rd world are actually political terms that describe political leanings during the Cold War coupled with a description of predominant economic models. But in most cases, those pairings don’t make sense in a post-cold war world. And underdeveloped, developing, and talking about the 3rd world all came to mean the same thing to Westerners: that the non-white people of these places were inferior to people in so-called developed places.

And it’s a sentiment that grew out of the labels colonizers chose to use–and the history they devalued. But colonized people and scholars from around the world have pushed back on this narrative. They also pushed back on development being tied to how similar a place is economically and politically to the West, which is shorthand for Europe and North America.

One way to more fully get at the nuance of development is to be specific about what type of development we’re talking about. For instance, because economic standing and wealth and resources are what reinforced colonial narratives about who is developed, we still use economic metrics as one way to measure the economic development of a country. Some of the strongest economies in the world-- maybe not surprisingly after those oil stats back at the beginning -- are places like the United Arab Emirates.

It’s one of the top 30 countries for 2020 Gross Domestic Product or GDP, which measures the monetary value of an economy’s final goods and services, and is one way to measure the strength of an economy. The UAE has a free-market economy – which we might remember dates back to some of the earliest histories and trade with both India and Mozambique thanks to monsoon migration. Those market-based policies, or policies that allow for supply and demand to set the value of a good, encourage competition and foreign investment.

And from the late 1800s to the 1960s it was under the control and protection of the British. Which we know from our last episode on colonialism can have lingering negative effects, yet it’s a strong economy thanks to oil and being able to use that profit to build infrastructure. Compare that to Lebanon -- a location also endowed with resources, like a water surplus in an arid region, ample agricultural land, and its favorable location on the Mediterranean Sea,  making it a key port for getting goods in and out of the Middle East.

Lebanon was placed under French military administration after the first World War, and was part of the Ottoman Empire before that. Historically, Lebanon has been considered a wealthy place, but unlike the UAE, Lebanon has struggled to overcome the politics related to its colonial past and has had political and economic setback after setback.  Remember, over the last few episodes, we’ve talked about different types of economic production, and how it’s not enough to have the stuff-- just owning natural resources doesn’t make a country wealthy. Lebanon has water and agriculture, but in 2022, that doesn’t equal the same wealth as massive oil fields.

And even having oil fields doesn’t guarantee wealth, and certainly not wealth for all people within a country. And if something is distributed unevenly, there’s a geographer somewhere trying to understand why. As geographers, knowing that economic development is often what development is taken to indicate, we might also cringe at some of the latest iterations of terms.

We might hear people talk about the global north vs. the global south or countries being more or less industrialized -- how we talk about development is still evolving. But so far we haven’t come up with the best term. North and south say nothing about economic potential.

And in the end, many of the countries that are considered economically developed today did so through tremendous extraction – either from their own resources or those of other countries, and the labels we use tell the story of those dominant countries. Those stories also guide the global response to how economically wealthy countries treat lower income ones. And there’s a whole smorgasbord of policies meant to help countries create stable free-market economies and become economically developed.

These can be things like import substitution which are economic policies that attempt to make imports expensive through high tariffs, or taxes on imported goods. The intent is to create economic motivation to create a strong secondary economy by manufacturing goods domestically. But many people involved in development are recognizing that to make an economy look like one in Europe and North America it takes both economic and political infrastructures and a massive amount of wealth.

Wealth that those regions built from colonial extraction that then funded their industrial revolutions, which is where the wealth of current low-income countries went in the first place. Instead, now low income countries who are members of the UN often receive loans to fund these projects from the The World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and other supranational organizations, which mostly function outside of the authority of any one state. But these programs are not always a good fit, because if a country can’t pay back what they owe, they default and have to work out a repayment deal which usually involves restructuring their economy.

And restructuring often involves some sort of austerity measures, like cuts to social programs like healthcare, education, and pensions. So a lot of the focus of development is on wealthy countries of the world helping other economies begin to look like they do. And in the process, a lot of those disparities just get reinforced when low income countries are trapped in debt.

But many scholars and leaders have pushed back over time. Because development doesn’t have a universally accepted definition, that means that we can also define it in ways beyond economics and how much like Europe they are. In shifting how we define development, we also shift the story.

Post-colonialism, which is a response that gained increasing prominence throughout the 1970s and onwards, is in part a critique of the way these Eurocentric labels are produced and used. It’s a framework that focuses on politics and activism in order to assert that formerly colonized peoples have a right to access resources and earn material wealth. In addition to reinforcing colonial stories, economically focused development also tends to reinforce a male-centered version of what we give value to.

But societies that value traditional practices that are used to protect natural resources or traditional knowledge that’s used to minimize crises, or informal economic structures that provide mutual aid in a community might view development differently. These are all roles and knowledge traditionally managed by women, but are not often counted as economic development. We can also use other metrics besides GDP to measure development.

Economists have pointed out that the traditional metrics can’t measure quality of life or overall social and physical health of a society. And throughout the late 20th century, increasing emphasis was given to the Human Development Index,  which is calculated by the United Nations. This is a compound index that looks at variables like access to safe water, birth rate, death rate, education, and access to healthcare to determine a country’s level of development.

For example, in 2019 the UAE had very high access to education and educational infrastructure, which gives it a high HDI score. It also has a high score for things that feed into economic infrastructure -- like 100% of the population has access to electricity. But because so much of those metrics rely on funding infrastructure, Lebanon doesn’t score quite as high.

Another quality of life index is the Gender Inequality Index, which can show income disparity. For the UAE, men and women seem to have equal access to education and health care, but women make far less than men on average, and that’s a trend throughout the region. But even these human-centered measurements tend to still point to an economic quality of life.

There are also metrics for measuring environmental and socioeconomic sustainability, and even happiness. For instance, there’s a Gross National Happiness measurement, which is an annual survey asking people about the overall quality of life they live. But each of these metrics pretty much highlights a single way of thinking and talking about the success of a given country.

In the 2020s, development organizations are rethinking how they encourage economic growth in the Middle East and North Africa, a region with a large, young population. And there’s some effort to manage the region as an economic whole, rather than several individual states. Internationally, countries like China are also rethinking foreign investment by investing directly into infrastructure in return for land for factories, thus eliminating the need for loans.

Ultimately, we have to think more broadly about what it means to be developed. Remember, in order to score high on the economic measures of development, an economy has to produce and consume a lot of stuff. And it’s been estimated that if all countries consumed resources in the same way as the United States, we’d need four Earths.

As the globe deals with a climate crisis caused by industrial development, and struggles to understand the lasting damage of colonialism, we will need to rethink what development is and how to access resources and commodities in an unequal world. And one area we can start with right now is remembering that ultimately, we need to put people first, both in deciding how we measure these sorts of things, and how we implement the changes that are necessary. How we define development matters because it shapes the interactions that are allowable, where wealth gets located, and the global discourse on what is acceptable economic practice and what isn’t.

It shapes how we tell the story of the world, and who are heroes and villains. Failing to see that there are multiple, valid ways for a country to be developed can cause harm. And the stories we tell about ourselves, and other countries can shape how we all relate to each other.

Next time we’ll tell the story of growing cotton with genetically modified seeds in India and the unintended consequences of this development strategy.

Many maps and borders represent modern geopolitical divisions that have often been decided without the consultation, permission, or recognition of the land's original inhabitants. Many geographical place names also don't reflect the Indigenous or Aboriginal peoples languages.

So we at Crash Course want to acknowledge these peoples’ traditional and ongoing relationship with that land and all the physical and human geographical elements of it. We encourage you to learn about the history of the place you call home through resources like and by engaging with your local Indigenous and Aboriginal nations through the websites and resources they provide.  Thanks for watching this episode of Crash Course Geography which is filmed at the Team Sandoval Pierce Studio and was made with the help of all these nice people. If you want to help keep Crash Course free for everyone, forever, you can join our community on Patreon.