There is a lot of talk of “development” by the parties on the hustings. What is the background to this holy grail we are looking for?
Development practice is not new. Ironically, it dates back to the same European colonizing enterprise, when colonizers enforced a “civilized,” ordered, white, male, Christian ethic. Development is dialectically linked to underdevelopment. Organized, ongoing development aid followed during the post-colonial period.
Development theory, however, came along much later, emerging as a stable, academic field of inquiry only after World War II, when European countries were trying to keep their former colonies at arm’s length. Throughout these years, development theory and practice was strongly characterized by the transmission of moral values from industrialized countries to less-industrialized, rural countries.
The development field has always been highly influenced by economic thought, as exemplified by the fact that development has been primarily measured by increases in gross national product (GNP). According to Dennis Rondinelli, during the 1950s and 60s, development intervention assumed that “successful methods, techniques, and ways of solving problems and delivering services in the U.S. or other economically advanced countries would prove equally successful in the developing nations.” Therefore, at the very start of development theory, there was a notion of direct transferability, or a “one size fits all” type of development assistance . However, delivering aid was not just a technical matter; it also involved political concerns. For example, during the Cold War, U.S. provision of aid was largely directed to those countries that were, or could come, under Soviet influence.
The 70s were marked by rapid growth of American and European multinational companies in the developing world. While these companies expanded markets and made new goods available, they also exerted predatory competition on indigenous industries. Two theoretical debates emerged in developing countries, especially in Latin America: the dependency theory and the center-periphery theory. For dependency theorists such as Paul Baran, Andre Gunther Frank, and Fernando Henrique Cardoso, developing countries were trapped in a cycle of dependence on international capital in which there was little room to maneuver. The center-periphery (or metropolis-satellite) theory developed by Immanuel Wallerstein, argued that movement within and between the center and the periphery was possible. This theory introduced the concept of a world economy, and said that movement within and between the strata of this economy was regulated by market forces.
Such movement became especially difficult, however, in the 1980s. Due to the financial crisis of that decade, many developing countries (like Guyana) could not pay their external debts, and had to adopt economic adjustment measures imposed by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank in order to borrow money. Such measures included cuts in public expenditure, and the development of a more efficient, transparent and accountable state. The World Bank conditionalities resulted in large cuts in states’ size and functions, but little or no increase in accountability and transparency.
During the 90s, the IMF maintained its structural adjustment plan, while the World Bank gained a deeper understanding of other factors that can affect economic performance. Academics focused on transaction costs, property rights, institutions, non-market behavior and welfare economics in their development theories.
In the 90s, this renewed focus on institutions was combined with a series of world summits organized by the United Nations to discuss development. Environment and development was the theme of the 1992 Rio de Janeiro summit. In 1993, a human rights conference took place in Vienna. Cairo hosted a conference on population and development in 1994. Social development was discussed at the Copenhagen 1995 world summit. Gender issues, especially the role of women, were discussed in 1995 in Beijing. The last conference, Habitat-II, took place in Istanbul to discuss urban issues.
Finally, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were established by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) in 2000 in order to help developing countries promote change in eight core areas that would help reduce poverty and improve peoples’ livelihoods by 2015.
The politicians should debate their development proposals and the history of the concept within the context of how far or close we are to achieving the MDGs.