Friday, January 12, 2007

What is Development?

After World War-II if there is one topic gathering most attention in the circles around us, it is “Development”. While a lot has been said and written about development, there is no consensus on a single definition of what is an dhow it is measured. However, there is no doubt that the term “development” is used for countries, regions and societies that are technologically not as advanced as many of their western counterparts. This seems to be a very narrow view of development for a simple reason that the scope of development is reduced to just technological advancement and its measurement.

Is development the same as economic growth? Let us consider one fact before delving into the development any further. Of the world’s 6 billion people. 1.2 billion live on less than $1 a day. About 10 million children under the age of five died in 1999, most from preventable diseases. More than 113 million primary school age children do not attend school – more of them girls than boys. More than 500,000 women die each year during pregnancy and childbirth. More than 14 million adolescents give birth each year[1].
[1] World Development Indicators – The World Bank Group

Development and Economic Growth
In his book, Society, State, & Market, John Martinussen argues that it is a myth that the early development economist maintain that they viewed growth as identical to increasing per capita income[1]. On the contrary, increasing production and consumption was thought to increase employment and improve the standard of living. Hence, the national income translated into the average per capita income was thought to be the right indicator of economic development. However, the World Bank found a flaw in the approach and argued against the view on several grounds. The reasons varied from being unable to gather right data in developing countries to a situation where the high-income groups witness growth and low-income groups face stagnation on decline in incomes. Uneven distribution of growth socially as well as geographically too contradicts the fact that the increase in aggregate per capita income is an indicator of economic development. But there’s a consensus on the notion that growth in per capita income of a country over long periods of time with simultaneous reduction in poverty and inequality in society reflects economic development.

Most economists believe that economic growth benefits all the citizens of a country equally and hence reduces poverty. However, besides the notion in being wrong in itself there is a fundamental flow even if it is accepted. If economic growth raises the income of everyone in the society in equal proportions, then the distribution of income does not change. Growth is most likely to lead to the reduction in poverty when the economic assets of a country are distributed relatively equally and or when economic growth is based on intensive employment of abundant factors of production, which for most countries is labor[2].

While economic development is just one aspect of the over all development process human development has also been argued to be an additional objective not to be omitted. The first human development report from the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) defined human development as a process of people’s choices. For these, the attention is concentrated around the opportunity to lead a healthy and long life, the opportunity to acquire knowledge, and the opportunity to have access to resources needed for a decent standard of living. In addition to these, political freedom and human rights, human development for men and women, environmental and other aspects of sustainability, and themes regarding citizen’s participation and opportunities to affect the political decisions in society have also been added.

With the same argument as before, development again cannot be restricted to just the two spheres of economic and social conditions. To justify the cause, it must of holistic in approach and must at least include:

  • Economic development,
  • Social development,
  • Political development,
  • Technological development,
  • Development of formal institutions, and
  • Development of informal institutions.

Echoing the concerns of many scholars like Amartya Sen, Mozaffar Qizilbash in his paper on Ethical Development[3] very rightly expresses that development must be:

  • Consistent with the demands of social justice,
  • Consistent with the demands of human freedom, and
  • Concerned with human beings as ends rather than means and with human well-being.

Amartya Sen argues that justice and poverty should not be thought of in terms of commodities and incomes. Those who live the most “constrained lives” are those who suffer from a failure of basic capabilities.
[1] Society, State & Market – A Guide to Competing Theories of Development. John Martinussen. Pg. 36 ISBN: 1 85649 442 X.
[2] Does Economic Growth Reduce Poverty?
[3] Arizona State University e-Journal. World Development 24:7 and the references within.

Developed Nations and Development
It is a very important observation that most of the individuals see a picture of the developing and underdeveloped world when thinking about development. While it is true that development as we know it is most needed and sees most activity in those parts of the world, the development of formal and informal institutions should also be considered in the developed world. Development in the developed world is not an end in itself. It is a never-ending process where a continuous struggle for improvement in conditions is necessary.

Development in true sense is a relative phenomenon, where in a country and a society envisions reaching a goal. While some of them set goals for technology related issues, others set them for issues related to society as a whole. With the economic might that the western developed countries have got, they continuously evolve in the technology they use and make their societies more productive. In the process, if by any means, the standard of living falls or the proportion of national population below the poverty line increases or remains constant, it is negative development. There is a concern in these developed societies about the diminishing occupational opportunities because of a globalization of markets and the division of labor on the international stage. Is this development in true sense? Are these governments ensuring that there are enough opportunities being created in the country and the employment rate is decreasing?

Development in the developed societies is perceived to be an oxymoron. It is not; granting voting rights to African-Americans in the United States of American in the 1960s is development in true sense. Even after being technologically advanced for decades, until 1963 only men could get Harvard degrees. The manifestation of these laws into affirmative action, today, is a reflection of social development in the developed societies. Australia is one of the technologically developed countries that has underdeveloped social formal institutions. The native Australians (Aboriginals) still do not have equal rights and are segregated from the mainstream.

Hence, development in true sense should be nationally responsive. There are certain benchmarks that have to be achieved before national responsiveness can take precedence. Development is its true essence does not necessarily require elements of westernization and modernization beyond a certain threshold.

What should be developed?
Development is the emulation of the developed western societies to achieve positive freedom[1] and to recognize the dignity of human being. In his paper, Ethical Development Mozaffar Qizilbash has written:

In the context of development debate, I suggest a list of prudential values: (1) certain, at least minimal levels of health, nutrition, sanitation, shelter and security (2) certain at least minimal capacities including (a) literacy and (b) certain basic intellectual and physical capacities (3) self-respect and aspiration (4) positive freedom or autonomy (5) negative freedom of liberty (6) enjoyment (7) understanding or knowledge (8) significant relations with others and some participation in social life, and (9) accomplishment.

In order to achieve the above said, emphasis should be laid on educating people. This education should not only encompass awareness of the surroundings, political conditions, human rights, but also literacy so that every person is able to read and write.

The spectrum of development is very broad. The scope of development starts from the very embryonic effort of a literacy drive in countries like India and Bangladesh and goes as far as formulating and implementing laws for protection of intellectual property in the relatively technologically developing countries like China and Russia. Whereas the efforts in the underdeveloped countries should be towards decreasing the infant mortality rates and ensuring that every child that is born grows up into a healthy human being, the efforts in the developed western societies should dedicate steps towards taking care of ageing elderly. For the developing countries like India and South Korea, the next steps should be to concentrate efforts in directions previously unthought of, like prevention, rehabilitation, and equalization of opportunities for the disabled.

Considering the social setup of societies in different countries and taking into consideration the stage of evolution they are in, both socially and technologically, development policies should be framed that best help them emancipate the sorry conditions they are in and takes them to the next stage of developmental evolution. International organizations like the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, and the United Nations have all been actively monitoring and aiding numerous developmental projects across the globe. As expected the projects are very well divided into different areas of execution and there are various parameters that reflect the success of developmental efforts. While these statistics are a boon to us in order to understand the intensity of underdevelopment in a society and decide the magnitude of efforts required, we should not mistakenly use these statistics to misinterpret the extent of development in different societies. While a simple statistic like the number of ‘internet users per thousand people’ is a good indicator of development and should be used to compare the extent of development in countries like Norway and the United States, they are meaningless in countries like societies of East Africa and Asia, simply because there is a generation gap between the development stages in technology in both these cases. Hence, while each and every parameter used by these international organizations carries a lot of weight and significance, care should be taken in selecting the right set of measures to evaluate developmental progress.
[1] Ethical Development. Mozaffar Qizilbash
World Development, Volume 24, Number 7, July 1996, pp. 1209-1221(13)

Development is one field that has been attracting attention of all around the world. Every one of us thinks of development in some aspect or the other. Many of us are still held up with notion that it is just the developing and the underdeveloped that need development. Keeping in mind the next wave of shift (to the knowledge economy and society) in the drivers of growth around the developed world consider the following statistics about the United States:

  • Forty three percent of the fourth-graders cannot pass a basic reading test,
  • Forty two million adults are functionally illiterate,
  • Ninety percent prisoners cannot read,
  • Over twenty percent children live in poverty, and
  • Purchasing power of a thirty year old individual with a high-school diploma has dropped by over one third over the past two decades.

Hence, development is needed ubiquitously and at different levels and arenas. Development is the building process where the foundation, which is composed of basic human needs and rights and not necessarily economic growth, has to be laid foremost. Everything else stands on it. If this foundation is weak it would not be long before all other efforts collapse.