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What is development? Essay

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Development is a political theory, which traces its origins back to the aftermath of the Second World War. On January 29 1949, Harry Truman, President of the United States of America famously referred to the Southern hemisphere as being “underdeveloped areas”1 and that it was the duty of Western states to assist them in developing. As with most political ideas, it is widely disputed as to the actual meaning of development is and there is no universally agreed definition of the term in relation to this subject.

However what most people can agree upon is that the “underdeveloped areas” described by Truman are more commonly referred to as the Third World and include much of Asia, almost all of Africa and some countries in South and Central America. The majority of those who live in the Third World live in abject poverty, it is estimated that around 1 billion people are in a daily struggle to find enough food to eat, between 400 and 1400 million do not receive adequate food to survive and around 2 billion people do not have safe water to drink.

Around 40,000 children (around 10x the number of people who died in the September 11th terrorist attacks on America) die every day in the Third World! 2 Since President Truman’s speech over fifty years, the Third World has enjoyed considerable economic growth, at least in comparison to its pre-war state and some countries such as Taiwan, South Korea and Singapore have seen amazing success. Between World War II and the 1970’s infant mortality, literacy and life expectancy improved considerably.

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However since the mid 1970’s, progress has been on the decline and in some cases has actually decreased. 3 Most Third World countries have been unable to grow into self sustaining and prosperous nations and have little opportunity to get themselves out of debt, having loaned so much money from so called First World nations like America, Canada, Australia, Japan and Western European countries, Third World countries are spending the majority of their annual income just paying the interest on their debts which prevents them spending their income on improving healthcare, education and ending famine.

The theory of development can be divided up into two main fractions, on the one side is the orthodox or conventional development theory, which generally sees development through economic terms and is favoured by most Western countries and institutions. All that matters is how much money is pumped into the Third World, not what is done with it or whether it directly benefits the people of the Third World.

It’s opposite argument, the alternative or critical view of development, views development not in economic terms but in the improvement of healthcare and education and the increasing self-sufficiency of the inhabitants of Third World nations. The world’s economy is based on a capitalist market system, which has a very powerful effect on development. The market forces and the accompanying emphasis given to making as much profit as possible have lead to a great deal of inappropriate development.

If the aim of development is to raise the Gross Domestic Product per capita of a Third World country (by increasing the amount of economic activity) then much of the money offered by First World nations will be used to produce consumer goods that can be exported and sold in First World nations. While the effect of this will be that the Third World nation in question will have a higher GDP, it’s people probably won’t have seen the benefit of it, they still will be lacking sufficient food or safer water, which is a far more important necessity for survival of the people in the Third World.

Thus conventional development can be seen as a process, which automatically develops Third World countries to provide the rich in this world with what they want. Another major problem in why the Third World has failed to develop is not because of any shortage of resources such as land, minerals or even cash but because of the way these are distributed unevenly amongst the population. Only one fifth of the world’s total population live in developed countries, yet they consume four fifths of the world’s resources that are produced for sale.

This unbelievably unfair distribution of the world’s resources is largely because developed countries have greater wealth and are able to use it to ensure they get the best deal. The global economy has no interests in the needs of man but in who can offer the most money. This in turn reflects much of the so-called development in Third World Nations. While there has been a great deal of development of industry, it is not necessarily the most needed and beneficial industries to the Third World countries themselves.

Instead the industries developed are to provide goods for export to rich countries, which brings little benefit to Third World nations because the revenues produced usually are collected by First World businesses i. e. diamonds. This has been called inappropriate development. As we have seen, there hasn’t been a lack of development in many Third World countries; the main problem has been its inappropriateness. Conventional development theory views foreign investment as absolutely necessary for development.

However the critical view has a rather different viewpoint. While it clearly promotes development, once again the development is on the large inappropriate. Foreign investment goes mostly into producing things for the urban rich or for export to rich countries and not to benefit the people of the Third World. This has been the fundamental problem with conventional development theory because the assumption that a strong economy or high levels of trade suggests that a country is highly developed rarely reflects the amount of development that is actually occurring.

Countries such as Taiwan, South Korea and Singapore have achieved greater economic success through mass exporting of goods to developed countries at a cheaper price than the developed countries could manage to produce the same goods for themselves. Conventional development theorists argue that all third world countries should attempt this; however what they fail to take into consideration is that the market is not never-ending and that world trade has slowed down considerably. Increasingly it is accepted (most Western governments don’t) that development and quality of life can’t always be measured purely in economic terms.

Hundreds of millions across the world are malnourished, illiterate and without access to adequate health care. The theory of conventional development needs to change it’s single-minded focus on GDP and furthering free markets to a more humanised based outlook, which focuses on developing health care and education, protecting the environment on which we are all dependant upon, enabling people to feed themselves and their family and showing sufficient respect and concern for the many different cultures of the Third World.

This has lead to the creation of the Human Development Index (HDI) by the United Nations Development Programme. The HDI takes into account life expectancy, adult literacy, role of women in the society and local purchasing power, all of which it can be argued offers an equal if not superior guide to how developed a country is than the traditional GDP measuring of development.

UN reports show that there can be a vast difference between the GDP and HDI measurements of development, according to GDP measurement, countries such as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait (which have huge oil reserves, on which Western states are heavily dependant upon) are high on the list of the fastest developing nations yet they fair badly on the HDI measurement because much of the wealth has failed to reach the majority of the people and benefit them.

On the other hand, countries which have traditionally been viewed as undeveloped, such as Cuba, China and Eastern European states have a high listing on the HDI slate yet relatively low on the GDP list, because although economically they are weaker, the people of those countries tend to have better healthcare, levels of education and life expectancy. 4 In contrast to inappropriate development, there is appropriate development.

Some of the essential factors that determine appropriate development are the development of the things which are most necessary to people’s needs and which will have a positive impact on their lives and raise their standard of living. Naturally GDP growth has because less important as a goal of development, because as we have seen it does not necessarily improve the lives of the people.

Another important factor which influences appropriate development is the ceasing to place emphasis on a Western heavily industrialized market economy dominated style society and instead focusing on developing self-sufficient local economies, which will enable individuals to survive by themselves. Appropriate development in the Third World will not succeed unless rich countries also aim to change their development programmes. At present, First World nations have attempted to place a limit on the ways in which the Third World has been allowed to develop.

However unless a time comes whereby First World nations are prepared to only use their fair share of the world’s natural resources then conventional development will only continue to do irreparable damage to the environment. Scientists have argued for over forty years that major damage has been done to Planet Earth and many First World nations have finally recognised this and acted to slow down any further damage. However in the Third World, huge damage is still being done with the destruction of entire forests and the resulting demise of complete species of animals.

In Africa, South America and Asia the destruction of the environment has already reached a disastrous level and is continuing to accelerate. Due to huge deforestation, rainfall has a detrimental affect on the soil, eroding it and causing landslides, greater flooding and then droughts. Furthermore because of the famines, floods and droughts caused by bad treatment of the environment thousands of people die each year while thousands more are forced to flee their homes because the environment is no longer able to support them and offer them safe refuge.

Although overpopulation and corrupt post-colonial governments can also be blamed, the most significant reason behind the environmental damage being done in the Third World is the unjust way the global economy functions and the inappropriate approach to development that rich countries in the First World have promoted it. First World governments have encouraged developing countries in the Third World to sell off their forests to purchase goods from rich countries, which has resulted in poorer countries getting into debt and thus forcing them to increase deforestation and logging “…

the Third World has had 40 years of development and things are not getting better… time after time development seems simply to modernise poverty at huge environmental cost… ” (E. Mayo, Seeking Out Those Developing Alternatives, New Economics, 27, 1993, p. 7). Not all those in the Third World are allowing themselves to be taken advantage of and have their environments destroyed. In the Himalayas, there is the Chipko movement, where groups of peasants hug trees in an attempt to stop them being cut down which has destroyed the soil and caused many more floods and mud slides.

In Mexico, there is the Zapatista lead by Subcomandante Marcos, who described the favoured Western idea of globalisation as a “haemorrhage that fattens the powerful”5; and even in First World nations, there has been backlash which has lead to the creation of a number of organisations, most notably the Jubilee 2000 Coalition, which is calling for a cancellation of the huge debts that Third World nations are expected to pay back.

Third World governments have also recognised that it is impossible for them to develop economically in the ways that the First World want them to, unless they ignore the future of the environment and live for the present as the First World did during their development period and the increase of industry in the 19th and 20th centuries. At the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, a major conflict emerged between First World leaders and the leaders of the Third World. The First World leaders wanted those in the Third World to concentrate on saving wildlife and forests but were unwilling to subsidise it.

Third World leaders knew they could not go back to their countries and destroy their economies and forcing millions out of jobs and at the same time not being able to pay back the debts owed to First World nations. Once again, the First World had dealt the Third World the bad card and attempted to tell those nations that they should not strive for the rich world’s industrialised, urbanised and affluent ways because it would have a hugely negative affect on the environment, yet at the same time, the First World was unwilling to cut back on it’s bad treatment own of the environment.

Obviously the world’s resources simply will not be able to support the entire world living in the standard that we in the First World take for granted, therefore it is important that the First World either compromises on it’s own overuse of the world’s natural resources or it subsidies the Third World to enable them to develop without using as much. To conclude, it is quite clear that the traditional view of development has not been particularly beneficial to the people of the Third World.

The current evolution in political thinking about development has been long overdue and absolutely necessary but there is still much more to do. FOOTNOTES 1] Richard M. Auty, Patterns ofDevelopment, Edward Arnold Publishing (1995) 2]www. 4tpgi. com. au/users/resolve/globalcrisis/3rdworld. html 3]www. 4tpgi. com. au/users/resolve/globalcrisis/3rdworld. html 4] John Baylis & Steve Smith, The Globalisation of World Politics (2nd Edition), Oxford University Press (2000) 5]www. theatlantic. com/issues/99dec/9912kapur. html.

BIBLIOGRAPHY E.Mayo, Seeking Out Those Developing Alternatives, New Economics, 27, (1993) John Baylis & Steve Smith, The Globalisation of World Politics (2nd Edition), Oxford University Press (2000) Nassau A. Adams, Worlds Apart : The North-South Divide & The International System, Zed Books (1993) Richard M. Auty, Patterns of Development, Edward Arnold Publishing (1995) Wolfgang Sachs, The Development Dictionary, Witwaterstand University Press (1993) http://www. twnside. org. sg/ www. 4tpgi. com. au/users/resolve/globalcrisis/3rdworld. html Show preview only.

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