This week the World Bank announced there would stop using the “developing” vs “developed” labels for countries. What initially seemed like a surface level change of language may actually have a bigger effect on how economists and policy-makers view the world.
The data scientist who originally recommended dropping these qualifiers explained his reasoning:
“This is about updating people’s mental models as well… If the regular person’s mental model of the developing country is a big family [and] bad health outcomes, that might be a shorthand. [But] in a lot of countries, you have far improved infant mortality numbers. The old way of thinking of the developing world as this place where there’s been no progress is not that helpful.”
But most interesting to me is this point from the brief announcement on the World Bank’s blog:
“Two implications of this change are that a new aggregate for North America has been included in tables, and aggregates for Europe and Central Asia include countries of the European Union.”
When you change the groupings, you change the information and you change the types of things you can learn from it. I don’t know much about global economic analysis, but I’d be willing to bet these new tables tell a very different story than the old ones. Whether either of them is “right” is beside the point.