“Since the mid-twentieth century, the idea of ‘development’ has operated as both a cognitive category and a relation of force to remap the terrain marked by the colonial encounter and the condition of post-coloniality. One has to be clear that the grammar of colonialism is in the genetic code of the development project. How could it be otherwise? After all, both capitalism and liberalism, hallmarks of modernity and founts of the development project, were constituted in and through the colonial encounter. Indeed, the very first use of the word ‘capital,’ in the sense of the grounds of capitalism as a new mode of production, was coined in 1766 in the context of capital-intensive though slave-hungry Antillean sugar plantations.
The development project is the latest variant of the 500 year-old project variously called ‘saving native souls,’ ‘the white ma’s burden,’ ‘manifest destiny,’ ‘the civilizing mission,’ and ‘the historical imperative of progress.’ Development is not just a theory about economic development and elimination of poverty, but also an ideological and institutional device to consolidate the domination of the Global North over the Global South.
One can configure the development project as the sum of three gestures. First, it demarcates a site of intervention of power by constituting abnormalities in the anatomy of the Global South. Second, through normalization of development within a knowledge/power matrix, a field of control is demarcated. Social issues are removed from the political realm and relocated as preserves of science to facilitate a regime of truths and norms. Third, institutionalization and professionalization of development at all levels is secured, ranging from international organizations and national planning bodies to local development agencies and NGOs. These institutions – a network of new sites of power – constitute an interlinked global apparatus of development.
We can conceptualize the development project as an institutional apparatus that links forms of knowledge about the Global South with deployment of particular forms of power. Once societies become the targets of these new regimes of power – embodied in endless programs and strategies – their economies and cultures are offered up as new objects of knowledge that, in turn, create new possibilities of assertion of power.
The development project is, above all, a way of thinking. Once consolidated, it determines what can be thought, said, and even imagined. The development project defines a perceptual domain, colonizes reality, and produces particular subjectivities. Development is not only an omni-historical ideological construct and a hegemonic global discourse, it is the primary instrument of cartography of post-colonial imaginary. As a full-service enterprise, with confident notions of time and space, of nature and culture, of society and the individual, of the good and the truth, development is a mechanism through which particular subjects and subjectivities are produced. In the process, and as a result, precluded are other ways of imagining, seeing, doing and living.”
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Perhaps needless to say, Mahmud is aligning himself with the right side of the title’s exclusive coordinating conjunction, suggesting the need for “alternatives to development.” The jargon (which, as such, is unavoidable) strikes me at times as opaque and thus obscure, but I think we can easily capture the gist of the argument, parts or premises of which, apart from the conclusion, I readily support. In keeping with the polemical tone of the piece, I respond here in favor of the left side of the conjunction, thus not abandoning the notion of “development,” but perfectly willing to question its historic capitalist and imperialist presuppositions and assumptions, the nefarious purposes to which it was sometimes put, which includes a dispassionate accounting of its myriad negative and positive consequences: psychological, moral, economic, political, and social. Economic globalization, for better and worse, will not go away, short of the apocalypse, and neither, I believe, will development of some sort. The questions, therefore, revolve around the setting of the terms and conditions of such development, the moral and social criteria intrinsic to our notion of development, and how such development incarnates the democratic dreams and wishes, the egalitarian hopes and aspirations, and the rational desires for justice and self-fulfillment (or eudaimonia) of those subject to and participating in its processes. Indeed, of primary importance is the extent to which the “subjects” of development, that is, those in possession of the common powers and capacities of human agency, are accorded a role in determining these terms and conditions (which may vary in some measure between countries and even to some extent within countries).
In short, I’m in favor of “alternative development” rather than “alternatives to development.” I firmly believe individual and collective development (which must work in synergistic and dialectical relation with one another), both here and around the globe, and construed in terms psychological, moral, social, economic, and so on, is an intrinsically worthwhile endeavor. In other words, we need not, nay, should not abandon the idea of development. In fact, we should commit ourselves to it with a clear conscience, provided we are moved by the proper motivations…. By definition, this sort of development is capable of embracing, in principle and praxis, an untold number of ways of imagining, seeing, doing and living. What follows are some of the animating assumptions and principal reasons I’ll side with “alternative forms of development,” rather than eschewing development altogether:
A Marxist economist, Meghnad Desai, has given us succinct yet nuanced and accurate assessment of some of the virtues and vices of the capitalism intrinsic to most if not all conceptions of “development:”
“Capitalism is not a kind or a benevolent system. It is the most effective mode of production discovered so far in wealth creation [despite its endemic ‘cycles, with their manias, crashes, and panics’]. It has no overarching objective, since it works through the profit-seeking efforts of millions of capitalists. It generates economic growth, prosperity, and employment as side-effects. It also causes much misery and destruction in its tendency towards incessant change. But over the last two hundred years, it has achieved the largest gain in well-being in all previous millennia. For one thing, many more people are alive now than in 1800 (around six times as many), and they live longer on average—between ten to twenty years longer—than they did then. [….] If length of life can be taken as a crude measure of potential well-being, a billion people living, say, forty years on average in 1800 compared to six billion people living sixty year today speaks volumes for the success of capitalism. In 1800, perhaps two thirds of that billion were poor; today, at most a quarter of the six billion are poor. Yet the reduction of poverty is neither automatic, nor to be taken for granted. [….] Adam Smith was not wrong, however, in saying that the new system of natural liberty imposed the cost of inequality while delivering a universal betterment of living standards. More people have been brought out of poverty in the last two hundred years, especially since 1945, than ever before in history. The very idea that poverty could be eliminated could not have occurred in any precapitalist stage. Capitalism provides the means for eliminating poverty, but these means were not directed immediately, or evenly, in the course of its development.” From Desai’s Marx’s Revenge: The Resurgence of Capitalism and the Death of Statist Socialism (London: Verso, 2002)
China of late provides compelling contemporary evidence that capitalism can make enormous strides in addressing the question of poverty, but it has been purchased at the price of inequality (regional, income, and otherwise). The creation and persistence of new forms of “relative” poverty and inequality, the system’s “manias, crashes, and panics,” and the ecological and environmental problems we face today, are among the more prominent reasons we have to begin, with Marx, to look beyond (in an Hegelian dialectical sense) this system (although Marx had very little to say about socialism and communism, his analytical prowess being devoted to capitalism).
As Gandhi noted, the capitalist system of development brought with it, in Bhikhu Parekh’s words, a conception of private property
“subversive of the social order because it conflicted with the fundamental principles underlying and sustaining it. The customs, values, traditions, ways of life and thought, habits, language and educational, political and other institutions constituting a social order were created by the quiet co-operation and the anonymous sacrifices of countless men and women over several generations, none of whom asked for or could ever receive rewards for all their efforts. And their integrity was preserved by every citizen using them in a morally responsible manner. Every social order was thus of necessity a co-operative enterprise created and sustained by the spirit of sharing, mutual concern, self-sacrifice and yajna [sacred sacrifice or spiritual offering in general]. And its moral and cultural capital, available by its very nature to all members of society as freely as the air they breathed, constituted their collective and common heritage to be lovingly cherished and enriched. The institution of private property rested on the opposite principles and breathed a very different spirit. It stressed selfishness, aggression, exclusive ownership, narrow individualism, a reward for every effort made, possessiveness and a right to do what one liked with one’s property. It was hardly surprising, Gandhi argued, that its domination in the modern age should have atomized and culturally impoverished society and undermined the basic conditions of human development.” See Bhikhu Parekh’s Gandhi’s Political Philosophy: A Critical Examination (1989)
One axiomatic premise, therefore, is that we appreciate the distinction between capitalist development as such, and human development (that former may still in some respects be relevant to the latter, but in the subordinate sense outlined below).
An alternative form of economic development, that is, one outside the Neoliberal capitalist project, need not abandon the nobler intentions and salutary consequences found in earlier models, be they of colonial or post-colonial provenance or inspiration (in other words, their long-term effects, be they intended and direct or otherwise, were not entirely negative and thus sometimes beneficial). In addition, as Gandhi might have said, the economic criteria and standards of such development should be subordinate to and regulated by man’s moral and spiritual needs, understood in a manner close to if not identical with what Martha Nussbaum has proposed in her list of “basic human capabilities.” Michael Luntley put it this way:
“We must rearticulate the criteria, the goals, that define our agency in the social world and which provide the reference groups which alone can carry the traditions necessary for moral life to proceed. We must rearticulate the authority of the Good. In doing this we must articulate the more specific goals and standards for variety of human institutions we find in modern society and stand these goals in opposition to the market criteria of capitalist success.”
In Development as Freedom (1999), Amartya Sen has begun, I think, to formulate the fundamentals of such a conception of development, one that does not eschew the generalizable virtues of participatory and deliberative democracy while recognizing the importance of human rights: civil, political, social, and economic. Sen’s book should be read in conjunction with at least the following:
- Alston, Philip, and Mary Robinson, eds. Human Rights and Development: Toward Mutual Reinforcement. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005.
- Bardhan, Pranab, Samuel Bowles, and Michael Wallerstein, eds. Globalization and Egalitarian Distribution. New York: Russell Sage Foundation/Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2006.
- Barry, Christian and Thomas W. Pogge, eds. Global Institutions and Responsibilities: Achieving Global Justice. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2005.
- Bhala, Raj. Trade, Development and Social Justice. Durham, NC: Carolina Academic Press, 2003.
- Compa, Lance A. and Stephen F. Diamond, eds. Human Rights, Labor Rights, and International Trade. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2003.
- Cottier, Thomas, Joost Pauwelyn, and Elisabeth Bürgi, eds. Human Rights and International Trade. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001.
- Darrow, Mac. Between Light and Shadow: The World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and International Human Rights Law. Oxford, UK: Hart, 2003.
- Dasgupta, Partha. An Inquiry into Well-Being and Destitution. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993.
- De Greiff, Pablo and Ciaran Cronin, eds. Global Justice: Transnational Politics. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2002.
- Drèze, Jean, Amartya Sen, and Athar Hussain, eds. The Political Economy of Hunger: Selected Essays. New York: Oxford University Press, 1995.
- Flanagan, Robert J. Globalization and Labor Conditions: Working Conditions and Worker Rights in a Global Economy. New York: Oxford University Press, 3rd ed., 2006.
- Gaventa, John. Globalizing Citizens: New Dynamics of Inclusion and Exclusion. London: Zed Books, 2010.
- Gottlieb, Robert and Anupama Joshi. Food Justice. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2010.
- Held, David. Democracy and the Global Order: From the Modern State to Cosmopolitan Governance. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1995.
- Miller, Richard W. Globalizing Justice: The Ethics of Poverty and Power. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010.
- Nussbaum, Martha C. Women and Human Development: The Capabilities Approach. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2000.
- Nussbaum, Martha C. Creating Capabilities: The Human Development Approach. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2011.
- O’Brien, Robert, Anne Marie Goetz, Jan Aaart Scholte and Marc Williams. Contesting Global Governance: Multilateral Economic Institutions and Global Social Movements. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2000.
- Santos, Boaventura de Sousa, ed. Democratizing Democracy: Beyond the Liberal Democratic Canon—Vol. 1 of Reinventing Social Emancipation: Toward New Manifestos. London: Verso, 2007.
- Santos, Boaventura de Sousa, ed. Another Production is Possible: Beyond the Capitalist Canon—Vol. 2 of Reinventing Social Emancipation: Toward New Manifestos. London: Verso, 2007.
- Santos, Boaventura de Sousa and Cesar A. Rodriguez-Garavito, eds. Law and Globalization from Below: Towards a Cosmopolitan Legality. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2005.
- Shaikh, Anwar, ed. Globalization and the Myths of Free Trade: History, Theory, and Empirical Evidence. New York: Routledge, 2007.
- Shiva, Vandana. Biopiracy: The Plunder of Nature and Knowledge. Cambridge, MA: South End Press, 1997.
- Sunder, Madhavi. From Goods to a Good Life: Intellectual Property and Global Justice. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2012.
- Unger, Roberto Mangabeira. Free Trade Reimagined: The World Division of Labor and the Method of Economics. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2007.
- Wright, Erik Olin. Envisioning Real Utopias. London: Verso, 2010.