Friday Oct 20

EXCERPT FROM End of Development: A Global History of Poverty and Prosperity By Andrew Brooks: What Does the End of Development Mean?

There are two perspectives to the end of development. The first is observing that new processes are superseding the previous Western-led International Development programmes. The second is looking towards an agenda for radical change.

First, a growing cast of actors are shaping life in the Global South in new ways. African elites practice extraversion and use their position as intermediaries between national and global markets to their own benefit.26 For example, leaders like the Mutharika brothers in Malawi or Guebuza in Mozambique were neither handmaidens to the West nor were they entirely powerless in the face of market forces. At the same time international capital has become more capacious. Multinational corporations including CNOOC, ExxonMobil and Kosmos are tapping into Africa’s natural resources with renewed vigour, contributing to the phenomenon of GDP growth without jobs and social progress. In Mozambique and other ‘rising’ nations international donors and local elites use the Orwellian language of double-think to portray failures of development policy as successes. New philanthro-capitalists bring ideas and funding that is qualitatively and quantitatively different to state and multilateral led International Development. They are more evangelical about the power of new technologies to transform life in poor regions, yet deliver less capital than the loans and grants provided by governments and development banks.27 More significant is Chinese involvement alongside the engagement of other emerging powers who are doing much to shape economic and political life in Africa. The ability of Western governments and the US-dominated multilateral agencies to dictate policy is being diluted by the presence of other assertive interests.

International Development assistance, as a Western-led project that dominates life in Africa, is going to come to end. Yet in the same way that colonialism ended, but the long shadow of imperialism is still cast over the South, International Development will not just go away, but will leave its own imprints. The darkest episode in the history of International Development is the debt crisis and structural adjustment. The 1980s is often dubbed the ‘lost decade of development’ due to the declining livelihoods of that period. But rather than being an ideological defeat it was actually a successful phase in the history of capitalist expansion as it opened up new territory to flows of capital by enforcing economic liberalization. Through promoting structural adjustment the West paved the way for the BRICS to invest in Africa. The emergence of China and the continual restructuring of the global economy away from US hegemony presents a terminal challenge to Western-led International Development, and forecloses the opportunity for African nations to follow the East Asian developmental state approach.

Capitalist development will continue and will produce inequalities across space. New maps of relative wealth may look different to the familiar divide between Global North and South.

The rise of East Asia and other places of accumulation like the oil-rich Gulf states means the old geographical relationships between North and South based on the colonial past are breaking down. Despite this changing cartography the issue of inequality is not going away, there is no equalization of income across space. Instead geographic differences in prosperity are becoming greater. Importantly this happens over different scales and terrains, yet humanity is contained within one shared environmental system.

In Africa the number of people in poverty is growing, and their vulnerability to environmental change is increasing; the world’s poorest will be hit hardest by global warming. People living in precarious agricultural lands and marginal peri-urban settlements are exposed to new risks associated with climate change and increasing market volatility. The influence of social change and technological advances on the environment is now so great that humans have brought about irreversible change to the global climate. When policy makers attempt to embrace the unwieldy issue of global environmental change they are inevitably hamstrung by the reality that capitalist development and environmental preservation are incompatible.28 What results are botched and limited attempts to balance growth and sustainability. Flawed policies include those inspired by the SDGs as well as ill-conceived approaches to use the market to correct environmental problems through the hopeful promotion of new phases of green modernization. Over consumption is a global problem that will not be overcome by market instruments. On an individual scale the global obesity crisis, which is most apparent in the United States, is emblematic of the logic of relentless consumption that drives present social relations. If we cannot temper our hunger for fried chicken and other fatty foods it appears unlikely that the capitalist market will reduce its thirst for oil.

If capitalist development is not coming to an end what is the second way of looking at the opportunities presented by the end of development? Critical theorists have previously put forward the possibility of a ‘postdevelopment era’. This term, coined in the 1990s, denoted both the failure of conventional capitalist development and the alternatives to International Development. Postdevelopment scholars advocated that interventions in the Global South should not take place solely ‘under Western Eyes’. Rather than relying on modern ideas and technical experts, ordinary people should be involved in constructing more humane, and culturally and ecologically sustainable worlds. Social movements and grassroots mobilizations could provide new political structures and the bases for moving towards such a revolutionary era.29 Postdevelopment serves as a useful critical term to disrupt the meta-narrative of development. While this verb may work in an academic context, it is unlikely to be translated into policy documents or popular discourse and has had little impact over the last two decades. Instead another approach is needed.

Practical opportunities are limited in terms of a fightback against the inequalities of capitalist development. Confronting capitalism head on through peaceful revolution is not an option at the present moment. The history of the twentieth century was marked by horrific warfare which erupted whenever the energies of capitalist development were seriously constrained; starting with the First World War. What comes after confrontation could further amplify the gaps between the world’s rich and poor. The ballot box offers hope, but the pessimism of the intellect outweighs the optimism of the will. Left-wing political activist movements in Europe and America have not led to sustained changes in state policy and they are primarily focused on pressing domestic issues.

Those on the center left, such as within the US Democratic Party or the Labour Party in the UK, tend to revert to siding with liberal economic policy on development issues. The solution to poverty posed by liberal economists is to promote the entrepreneurial spirit. The poor may be ingenious and resilient, but abandoning them to the market depoliticizes their plight. When people who are poor survive against the odds it is a sad indictment of society, not the basis for progress. This conclusion is deeply depressing. It paints a picture of a perpetually uneven landscape of affluence and impoverishment. Yet there is potential for optimism if we understand that inequality is hard wired into the very fabric of capitalism, as we can then begin to think about different ways of organizing society.

The answer to some of the challenges of global poverty lie within historical experience; reducing economic liberalism, nurturing industry and resisting the temptation to borrow more money to fuel consumption. As a Chinese envoy to Malawi, allegedly frustrated by individuals, NGOs and government departments asking him for assistance, astutely told Malawian reporters: ‘No country in the world can develop itself through foreign aid. That is a fact. To develop your economy is your job, you have to do it yourself.’30 That Chinese diplomat knew the lessons of his own nation’s rise. China owned its own capitalist development. Health and education were prioritized before liberalization and the state retained a strong grip over the market. The temptation to accept new International Development assistance either from the West or China, or elsewhere, and swap this money for further loss of economic protection and independence should be resisted at all costs by nations such as Malawi. As otherwise, if African leaders continue with the current policies of new borrowing, their successors will face another debt crisis in the near future. For now this is the immediate solution African countries need to deploy if they want to progress and own their own capitalist development: regulate the market, curtail borrowing and avoid another lost decade.

The central problem of capitalism is that it reproduces inequality, but this can be regulated and tempered. Regulated capitalism does not mean reduced dynamism. A model of a state- managed economy where capitalism is guided and constrained offers a better approach for economic growth. Annual growth in world GDP per person was 2.8 per cent from 1948 to 1972, during the period before neoliberal reforms. In contrast the economic liberal period up to the last financial crisis (1972–2008) had a growth rate of just 1.8 per cent. Dogmatic and irresponsible liberalization undermines global stability as it has increased current account deficits and the frequency of banking crises.31 A rolling back of economic liberalism in Africa could stimulate more equitable growth while capitalist social relations continue. In the short term this offers the best practical solution for African economies trapped by the declining terms of trade. Once the spread of liberal capitalism in the guise of International Development has been abandoned, there is the opportunity for different ways of organizing political society and combating poverty to emerge. History demonstrates that the current trajectory of capitalist development is not going to provide a meaningful future for the millions of Africans of tomorrow. Now is the time to think about more progressive and equal models as the alternative is further and renewed exploitation of the poor by unbridled capitalism, led by new and different constellations of capital and power. Call it post-capitalism or something else, but it can only happen after the end of development.

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