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  • 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 weve 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 theyre 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

  • 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 staydeveloped.”

  • 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 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 asbackwardcompared to theirmodernoradvanced

  • 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 useand 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 were 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, weve 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