Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The Ideology of Development



I just read William Easterly's article "The Ideology of Development" in this month's Foreign Policy, where he likens the development goals of the international financial institutions (IMF, WB, UN etc) to previous ideologies like Fascism, Nazism, Communism, and to previous economic growth paradigms (aid-financed investment, market reforms, institutional reform, etc). But Easterly seems to be talking more about modernization theory than the complex, multifaceted and tailored programs for development many organizations promote. As much as it pains me to side with the IMF, Easterly's 'hands off' model does a great disservice to history. He doesn't once mention colonialism in his entire article.

Modernization theory is certainly defunct (and should be relegated to what Easterly calls the "Museum of Dead Ideologies"). To suggest that there is a model for development that can be emulated in the less developed countries - and that this model can be derived from the development history of the advanced democracies is certainly not a dominant theory any longer. It ignores the drastically different context of the modern global economy in which the less-developed countries are currently trying to develop. Easterly also ignores the 'less than altruistic' design of many foreign aid programs. Easterly sites the abysmal record of foreign aid in helping countries climb out of poverty. However he fails to point out that much of this money (he cites $154 billion given to the Middle East from 1980 to 2001) is earmarked by donor governments for certain programs - cheif among them buying advanced weapons systems from the donor governments themselves (a convoluted way of keeping domestic industry in the advanced democracies thriving). By one way or another - much of the foreign aid that goes to developing countries comes back to donor governments.

There is a middle road between the straw man Easterly calls "Development Ideology" (which is really modernization theory, and doesn't accurately describe many of the development programs now in place in poor countries) and the hands-off; let them find their own way approach he is promoting. But it involves changes in the advanced democracies just as much as it entails any change on behalf of the governments of poor countries. Maybe the agricultural base in Africa would provide a source of surplus income if they could export more of their produce to the US or Europe (but they can't because huge agribusiness firms have lobbied to secure protections for themselves under the guise of 'save the family farm' campaigns). Maybe the textile industry in Africa (the next phase of industrialization after agriculture) could get a fair start if China didn't dump cheap goods at their door and if well-meaning philanthropists from the US didn't ship truckloads of used clothes into Africa.

True - as Easterly says, every country must find its own path to development, and the paths are as varied as the countries themselves. But no country can find its own way if the advanced democracies keep laying economic land mines along every possible route.

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