The concept of the third world may "pass out of existence" within two generations, an expert on international development said at the Kennedy School last night.
Peter McPherson, who heads the U.S. Agency for International Development (AID), said improvements in literacy rates, medicine, food supply and contraceptives will bring the countries that are traditionally known as the third world up to the standards of the Western world by the end of the century.
McPherson said new technology, an understanding of the market economy and a world-wide interest in democratic institutions will help pave the way to "a brighter world, a safer world."
"Technology has been the most important, if not the driving force, of change in the world," the former Peace Corps volunteer said.
McPherson cited the development of a malaria vaccine and a new strain of sorghum as examples of the progress international development programs have made.
Communication within third world countries has helped his organization make important advances in public awareness, he said. Television has been instrumental in allowing his agency to reach third world residents who "were unavailable to us in past times," he said.
The AID administrator, who is also a tax lawyer, said he thought the third world was becoming increasingly interested in democracy.
"I think the free market and democratic institutions will become the norm, instead of the exception," McPherson said. He said he saw sound economic policies as the key to solving the problems of poverty and famine around the world.
AID aims to increase the role of women in the workforce of third world societies. McPherson said that this goal did not stem from the American concept of equality but, "if we are going to produce as much as we can, we need to make better use of women."
Although McPherson said that reducing family and population growth is not necessarily a prerequisite for economic growth, he added that family planning and contraception give women more personal liberty. The government-run agency caters to women through its family planning division and other programs.
"People ought to have the opportunities to make choices," the AID administrator said. He said family planning was also important from a health standpoint. "If a woman has more than one child in less than two years, both the mother and the child are more likely to die," McPherson said.