THE FAILURE OF DEVELOPMENT
By Roland Watson
The nations of the world are often divided into the developed and developing, or the developed, lesser developed and least developed. Furthermore, the value judgment implicit in these comparisons is that the former are best and the last, if not the worst, then are certainly the most primitive. But, given the measurements that are being used, of corporate profitability and cubic meters of concrete poured, this is a spurious judgment. To the extent that the last nations preserve their traditional cultures, and retain extensive natural habitats, they are actually among the best - the most valuable - of all.
For the developed world, including Western Europe, the United States, Canada, Japan, Australia and New Zealand, we can say that an extensive social infrastructure has been established, but at a great cost. There has been widespread environmental and cultural destruction, and the former is assuredly still taking place. Also, many of these societies have as much class structure and inequality as ever. However, on the positive side they are stable (power is transferred non-violently), the lower classes have a say in the government through democracy, and ethical behavior and values are of great public concern. But, common and individual happiness is still ephemeral, subject to disruption from the slightest shock, and as to the idea of accumulating savings to create a state with such a large amount of wealth that people could basically live off the interest, this has not even been considered. (It is certainly the objective of many individuals, but it has never been promulgated as a national goal.)
For the lesser developed nations, including all of Latin America; Central and Eastern Europe; the Middle East; North, East and South Africa; and much of Asia and the Pacific; excluding the most remote places in these regions; one can comment as follows: such societies remain absolutely riddled with bias, bigotry and class structure, and they are greatly under stress from overpopulation. In the Pacific and Latin America, democracy can be considered to be established, with little chance of its backsliding into autocracy, but this is not the case in Africa, the Middle East and Asia. For these regions authoritarian rule remains the norm. And, because of this, infrastructure and commercial development efforts are being skewed towards some groups (those in power) and away from others. In fact, many of the national economies in these areas are based on unfair advantages and exploitation, and over time this will be insupportable. It will inevitably lead to even greater poverty and resentment, and hence more rebellion.
Furthermore, these economies are not efficient in the first sense that was described: they are highly wasteful, both in resources and labor, and work is never accomplished to the highest standard.
Of course, it is true that many of these economies, particularly in Asia, have experienced explosive growth in recent years, but it must be remembered that they began from a very low base, and also that the growth was fueled by externally supplied investment capital. But this is also insupportable. As has recently been seen, such investment sources abandon these types of economies at the slightest sign of danger. In addition, they regularly leave anyway when they realize that they are being victimized, as through corruption, or when their expected returns do not materialize because the goods that they have produced, of shoddy quality, if low price, are rejected in the international marketplace. And, finally, when the external sources of capital depart, there is no possibility of an internal replacement.
An economy can only succeed over the long-term when there is:
- The rule of law: contracts are honored.
- Minimal corruption.
- Fair compensation and decent working conditions for employees, so they are encouraged to work efficiently and to provide quality goods and services.
But, even with all of these problems, this is still not the complete picture for these parts of the world. In most of these nations economic growth is being fueled by one or at most two factors: resource exploitation and labor cost advantages. However, both of these are only temporary conditions. Resources are being exploited non-sustainably: they are being used up. And with development, wages are rising and the labor cost advantage is being lost to other, still lesser developed, countries.
It is arguable that nations get only one chance at development, at real development, at building a proper social infrastructure and at creating strong democratic institutions. If they have not been established while the countries retain some natural resources, and before the labor cost advantage has been used up, they will never get another chance. Building the infrastructure will be too expensive, beyond their means, and there will be a greatly increased risk of unrest, which could well lead to anarchy.
And this, unfortunately, is what is happening in many places, especially in Asia. Development is being pursued only to serve the interests, to enrich, the elite. It is concentrated on export industries, which are built to overcapacity (market efficiency!), rather than on creating an infrastructure that would benefit the entire population, and provide the foundation for sustained progress towards prosperity without requiring any external assistance at all. And meanwhile, political reform towards democracy moves at a snail's pace.
This is an untenable situation, completely at odds with creating a social equilibrium. The net effect will be a dramatic lengthening of the period required to create a structure capable of satisfying basic human needs, and with a great potential for serious political shocks, even conflict, along the way. Also, in such times a society's general level of ethics, not to mention happiness, will decline markedly. Ordinary people will feel compelled to resort to anything to survive.
Finally, in the third group are the least developed nations, and the non-developed regions of the lesser developed nations: the remote pockets of Asia, the Pacific and Latin America, and much of West and Sub-Saharan Africa. In many cases the people in these areas have been little affected by the modern world. Their economies are largely undeveloped, and they are basically pursuing their traditional lifestyles that, in the absence of external shocks, are in equilibrium and produce a high level of social contentment and individual happiness. True, they may have minimal access to the real benefits of technology, such as better nutrition and health care (although these are provided to some extent by NGOs), but they have to-date avoided many of its excesses and also much of the exploitation of unsustainable development for the elite. It seems clear that their position is actually superior to much of the second group. They have seen this group's experience, the terrible consequences of unregulated commercial development, and can learn from it. Also, they retain much of their natural resources, and cultural traditions, and they have the lowest wages and prices of all. They have yet to proceed through the modern cycle. And, to the extent that they can implement democracies, and control their population growth, before undergoing commercial development, they will be far more able to make such development subservient to the accomplishment of social goals, rather than independent of and in conflict with them.
Who knows, maybe they won't even want "development." They may recognize, among many things, that low pre-development prices are a strength, and reflect a level of equality that is destroyed by economic development and its inevitable consequence, inflation. (When prices go up they go up for everyone, but in such a society only a minority of people, in the cities and industrial centers, get more money.)
Let's also hope that they don't want television. In many least-developed societies there is little urbanization. People stay in their villages. They are not attracted to the "better life" in the cities (and which actually turns out to be shanty town slums). The reason for this is that they don't know about it: the fantasy of a better life. They haven't been exposed to the form. Such images - such lies - are conveyed through the television, which they, fortunately, do not have.
© Roland Watson 2016