By Dev Raj Dahal
Development Studies Specialist, Nepal
Learning the art of development is a continuous process about people, ideas about them, and the context in which they have to live. This implies that the process of learning about development is incremental. Development thinkers who keep abreast of the change process feel the gyrations of economic, political, social and ecological processes and transition from the past to the present and the future. This transition may be spontaneous or induced, backward or forward, and slow or accelerated. But, the irreversibility of change is being governed by, or conditioned to, specific yet interrelated settings. This establishes the fact that generalized formulation on the theory of development is social scientific rather than general scientific, subjective rather than empirical, value-oriented rather than value-free expressions.
Development is a multidimensional notion. It has been designed to address the widening gulf between the philosophy and the experience of haves and have-nots in a hierarchical and competitive national and international system. Interest constellations of people with the structures of such a system and functional necessity to recognize the emerging concepts of power diffusion, diversity and identity seem to have been revolving around three tendencies: those trying to maintain and promote the existing political economy; those trying to reform it; and those trying to restructure and delink from it. Liberal capitalist theorists are trying to maintain it. Social democratic theorists are trying to reform it; while Marxist and nationalist theorists are trying to formulate strategies of restructuring it in some cases while delinking in others. Dependency theorists have also tried to furnish analytical links to explain the sources of their underlying tendencies in terms of the position of nation-states in the world system (the core, semi-periphery, and the periphery) and its implications on different layers of their internal units, such as, social and economic classes, geographic regions, agricultural and industrial bases, urban and rural settings, and male and female roles.
It is important to bring under this the general frontiers of development. The conventional reference point of development is economic development. It is commonly associated with the growth of markets, firms, industries, technology, and information. Before it received system treatment by political economists, economic development has often been identified by growth theories. The sterility of these theories renewed the need for the transformation of stagnant society, economy and polity of developing countries into productive ones by involving a state of coherent social and political policies that can facilitate economic growth. Mainstream economics as a science grew out of the needs of society but, consequently, being unable to articulate societal needs either confronted the same society as if its laws are like natural laws external to society or justified the polarization of society and unequal development. Why did it happen?
The mainstream economics succumbed to the essence of predatory state, corporate business, praetorian force, bureaucracy, and dominant political party and consequently ignored the historical causes of social formations and the origin of poverty and inequality. Like utilitarianism and positivism, it stressed the rational choice of individual and invisible macroeconomic processes of market rather than ecologically and socially rational use of the productive capacity of enterprise and, in the process, demonstrated the virtue of the modernization and monetization of human lives. The current economic defense of equating adjustment with the logic of internal development and integrating national development to globalization as a natural course for general solutions of the lot of masses has only negated the national confidence of managing the economy through social planning.
The prevailing economic transition from the national construction to the laws of the market has, however, yet to allay the growing fear of losing human consciousness toward the poverty and powerlessness of the masses, a fear vividly shown by modern social and political economists. They further indicate that nations’ integration to the globalization processes without competitive edge would spawn a continuous erosion of cultural identity and individual dignity as well as undermine the fragile boundary between geopolitics of nation-states and international market on the one hand, and the marginalization of social and cultural lives of the majority of people on the other. In several cases, these processes have already foreclosed the national politics of policy options as well as priorities for the poor, women and indigenous.
In developing countries a false dichotomy between economic and political development has emerged. Politics has increasingly been reduced to structural mechanism for shaping the political will to economic growth rather than strengthening the moral foundation of society and political economy. Economic growth, devoid of any imagination of the real history of societies, can hardly promote political development that commonly involves the growth of democratic governance, power diffusion, public responsibility, institutions of people’s participation, building system capability, and collective action for the management and the allocation of resources, goods and services. The notion of political development underlies the philosophy of nation-building bringing diffused sub-nations and people into national society and making them participants in the institutional resources of the state. The social nexus to politics, in this sense, becomes a conceptual framework for linking development to people and articulating reciprocity, mutual trust and social interaction for building the community and accurate representation of social interest in the economic and political processes. This aspect of development also involves the integration of diverse social forces-women, poor, indigenous, and marginalized in the nation-building process with a key consideration of their empowerment. One way of such empowerment is the recruitment of citizens in the authoritative structures. The other is providing secular policy orientation to the individuals allowing them to freely choose their relationship with the society.
The fundamentals of development put premium on the social context, equitable and participatory development process, and social learning from the mistakes of the development process originated elsewhere in an entirely different context. It is founded on the ecological regeneration and resilience postulating on the sustainability of nature and establishing a delicate balance between the greed of the individual and the need of community for the present and future generations, and assuring their sustainable livelihoods. The tendency towards imbalance is likely to breed tension between ecological and other systems thereby disturbing the existing equilibrium.
Any concrete thinking on development tries to escape from the intrinsic flaws in the trade-off approaches, such as growth versus equity, dichotomization of development actors, such as, state versus market, and emulation of the dominant ideology and image of development, such as, capitalism, communism, authoritarianism, etc to developing countries. To be sure, growing inequality, regional disparity, and persistent concentration of wealth and power faced by the people so far are conclusive proofs that mechanical models could neither incorporate the specific interests of developing countries nor well represent the welfare of the people. Instead, alienating the people from their heritage and changing them in the image of developed countries injected a suspicion between the donors and the recipients. Such models of development have even met broadly based grassroots resistance that continues to set the terms of public policy debates in developing and developed countries alike. What went wrong? Attempts to transplant development models manufactured elsewhere in a very different milieu missed one critical fact: the traits of social context.
Whether the emerging consensus of donors on the attachment of third generation of human rights, the right to development through self-determination (the first being civil and political, and the second being economic, social and cultural rights) as aid conditionality to developing countries, would crisply focus on this specific context remains a moot issue here. The new strategies of channeling aid through local non-governmental organizations in assisting grassroots people participate in the development process has opened doors to deepen and broaden the space of civil society. But the most unsettling question is: does it instill in people the feelings that it is the same development they have self-perceived and self-defined? Perhaps yes, in some cases. But, there are also tendencies to resort to the same transformatory process of uniform adjustment that the discarded growth, trickle-down and modernization theories had advocated in the past.
The canvas of development is built on a social partnership between the government and the people in the national framework, and its intermediation with the international institutions and global civil society forces. The dynamism of the globalization of prices without any sign of globalization of income levels now has trapped the poor nations and people into a new set of challenges. The scale of social problems- poverty, income disparities, alienation, unemployment, crushing debts, ethnic conflicts, ecological degradation, moral decay faced by these nations, and their increasing marginalization from the world political economy--trade, investment, and aid point nothing but a crisis of underdevelopment. It is a crisis brought by global problems where there is neither global development theory not concrete governing policy to address them. Will such a crisis inspire political stability for necessary economic growth? Or, can one just dismiss them noting that crises are the forces of system change?
It is in this context that social development enters the scene. The basic question still is: how the notion ‘social’ is preserved in the melting pot of the global transformatory process so that the moral and cultural system of strengthening family, personal responsibility and civic virtues is not eroded? Ideally, the future development of developing countries is neither predetermined not forged in the past. There are scores of success stories that proved the dire portrayal of developing countries wrong. This is the case with too optimistic expectations attached to development models. Certainly, development construction is not a blank canvas. It is filled with missions of people. In this sense, painting of global vision in social development is undeniably a new mission beyond this century.
The crucial underwriter of social development is social justice-that is, building up of a just national and global order oriented toward the strengthening of civil and political rights and capable of satisfying the basic sustainable livelihoods of the masses. In one sense, it is partly a resolution of the classic dilemma between capital and labor, a resolution that puts people at the center of the development agenda. Partly, it is a legitimization of public debate on restoring to a new form of collective action and a new social contract for governing the rules of national, regional and global community.
New social movement, such as, human rights movement, ecology and peace movements, women’s movement, etc, located at synchronic level in the spheres of civil society and is derived from the conditions of inequality and injustice, underlie a search for new development paradigm that does not colonize or commodify what J. Habermas calls ‘the real life-world.’ What is unresolved and unrecognized still is how to cement connections between particular development (economic, political, technological, etc) and social, and between individual and community for the crystallization of popular interests and political expression in the post industrial culture. The motive force of development is not to anaesthetize the genuine articulation of people and stimulate repressive tolerance but to alter the context of mal-development, its tenacity and resiliency.
This does not mean that the past reflects the difficulty of linking the interest of people of various social origins to unceasing affirmation to their rights to freedom from hunger and human dignity including the rights to development and self- determination. The vital links between the ‘freedom from hunger’ and fulfillment of basic needs have been well formulated in the advances of development decades, new international economic order, The Charter of Economic Rights and Duties of States, and the North-South: A Program for Survival. Yet, the persistent ‘crisis of contraction’ inspired a series of similar other formulations, The Common Crisis, Common Security, Our Common Future, Global Human Security, and recently Our Global Neighborhood.’
What is common in this rethinking is the fact that the growing economic, social, political and ecological interdependence between nations and people has entailed a shared interest and collective responses of the global community to cope with the problems of underdevelopment. In this context, the consciousness raised by the World Summit on Social Development and the vision reflected in The Copenhagen Declaration and Program of Action, ( made some years back: Ed) indicate an eloquent manifestation of the political interest of world leaders to express it as a charter of humanity and guideline of action. This is a conceptual breakthrough. Partnership through intermediation is crucial for putting the needs, rights, and aspirations of the people at the core of decision-making and actions and preventing the passing of unaccountable international loans to innocent populations. People’s participation in decision-making can enforce a culture of accountability and set them free from the psychology of silence, dependency, dominance, and subordination. Definitely, without continuous social support economies cannot grow. This means a common conceptual reorientation of development includes reciprocal growth and interdependence of individuals in the chain of social evolution. If a sense of social learning does not occur in social evolution, people are gradually distanced from the process of development and an element of self- interest destroys the spirit of the community. Human beings have achieved enough potential to assure every person the opportunity for a secure life and liberty consistent with the earth’s biodiversity. But, at the same time, the yawning inequality generated by them has led majority of people to suffer and dash their hopes for the future by a growing sense of loss, despair and powerlessness.
Vision and Choices: The renewed debate on development has recognized the centrality of the will of the people. Development means people’s choice, to allow the people participate and decide what is best for them. It is because only the empowered people can protect their cultures, economies, and ways of life and exert democratic influence on national, regional and global governance. The empowerment process is also central to strengthening the bonds of civil society and enlarging the circle of its allies, such as, self-help groups, communities, voluntary organizations, non-governmental organizations, environmental advocates, human right groups, etc. A balanced societal development equally calls for the mediating role of third sector, non-profit organizations, between political and economic societies that can easily consort to human values.
Development grounded in grassroots units and initiative definitely underscores productive economic activities and increases the wealth of society essential to foster adequate opportunities in addressing their common problems. This is the way to promote development from below and command popular legitimacy and support for broader economic reform initiatives as well as to enable the people to protect the social fabric of society from the ‘creative’ destruction that free market spawns. The development policies, however, need to continue from the premise that any assessment of the right to development involves the regaining of diversity and plurality of social values, culture, institutions, and identities of each nation and people and reinventing the ideals of genuine interdependence based on social justice, cooperation and independence. People ingrained in a particular ecological and social setting must invent their own concept of development. This means development policy must identify, nurture and sustain indigenous potential, means, resources, and institutions to express the diverse needs of society. External resources and advice can only complement, not substitute, this. Only then, the process of development can contain the options for the poor and overcome their powerlessness. Exclusion of people from technology, knowledge, and resources holds the government responsible for bad governance. The notion of governability has become acute as unrestrained globalization process has begun to engulf the social economy and shifted the locus of economic power from family, society, community and nation to global regimes, and consequently, fuelled the existential risks of ordinary people toward their future and their children. The growing reality of the persistence of the First, the Second, the Third and the Fourth Worlds in a majority of nations is in itself a reflection of the erosion of good governance inducing popular search for power and wealth beyond the boundaries of traditional institutions.
Neither increased imports, nor external dependence, not even accelerating economic growth has moved policies to increased equity and sustainability. Increasing dependence of poorer nations in the unjust international system has signaled the signs of deforms on the lives and culture of the people by aggressive surge of bureaucratism, commercialism, and organizational centralism. This is the compelling reason behind social development discourse. This discourse, however, involves a number of substantive questions: what are the obstacles to wealth creation that make the people poor and powerless? How is human interest generated to fertilize people’s strength for creativity? And, how consensus is formed among the government, media, academia, donor community, and the civil society for creating an enabling environment for social development?
The new poverty associated with economic reforms and technological change must be properly addressed to prevent the breaking of social cohesion and to open opportunities for a new vision of social development through the measure of poverty alleviation, employment generation, and decentralization of power for good governance and social integration. This infers that the leitmotif of development must be rooted in the culture of freedom and wider accountability, not paternalism of various actors concerned. But, above all, the human factor alone can contribute to a cohesive and adaptive society for it has proved so far to be a powerful engine for accumulating social capital as well as raising people’s confidence in partnership for collective action.
The cravings of human miseries are the spirit of today’s techno-economic modernity that has lost touch with the needs of ordinary people, failed to provide hope and sense of community in a world of free market materialism.. What worries the development thinkers now is not the intellectual tendency for disciplinary bias, display of arrogance, or ignorance toward public interest, but a deepening conviction that something is missing from modern life-the civic touch of society to human dignity. No matter how complex technologically, politically and economically nations are, if efforts to reconcile with social needs of majority go unmet, answers to the questions of development remain just meaningless.
For the majority of people the word ‘social’ is, therefore important. It reflects the simple recognition that they find something to cling on to with the solace of hope even in appalling conditions, a hope that ignites the meaning of development in the face of people. The messages of the Earth Summit, World Social Summit, and world conferences on population and development, human rights, indigenous people and women consistently suggest that development is not only the growth of a few parts but also the evolution of society as a whole. People are, therefore, subject of change in this evolution process. The UN Conference on Human Settlement (Habitat II) which convened in Istanbul in June 1996 was the last UN global summit for the century to enforce these ideals for a better national and world order.
The social orientation of state and international institutions is important for continuous dialogue and negotiated reform as this helps the developing countries reshape policies for escaping from a low- income, low savings, and low investment trap and foster a sense of accountability thereby ensuring long-term investment on the infrastructure of development- education, roads, communication, hospitals, social benefits, safety-nets for the poor, etc. To put it mildly, wealth creation is essential to carry out civic obligations for the future generations on which the vitality of political stability is constantly reshaped. In a globalised environment, a pro-active statesman with a clear vision and moral strength is central to encourage the creative potential of people in the economic process of collective self-reliance, responsibility and initiative and to discourage the growing frustration of people from their leaders and the transformation of every social good into a marketable commodity.
A better standard of living can be best ensured by reshaping values and working together in the cost and benefit of evolving national, regional and global processes. Failure to redress them in the 20th century (the last century) means embracing the same problems and envisioning almost similar possibilities for the 3rd millennium. For the ordinary people embracing the same means there is nothing hopeful, noting new. But, developing any point of view about the future is an ongoing process that can be sustained by continuous debate like this one. The legislation of The Copenhagen Alternative Declaration of civil society has come forth with a different point of view proclaiming that liberal ideology of free market espoused by official declaration cannot address the causes of poverty, joblessness, and social disintegration. Does this mean that the 3rd millennium will be a replication of the past? Or, a mere increment on the past? Or, a combination of the past and future? The causation theory of development indicates there will be additional causes of underdevelopment. Optimistic predispositions alone cannot circumvent growth in the causes unless the entire context of those causes is changed. This article was penned by the author some seventeen years ago. We found it still relevant and thus published: Chief Ed.