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Which development facing poverty?

Opinión
03/11/2008
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When we speak of human development and the reduction of poverty, we must not refer to the unleashed consumption of goods (from cars, computers, increasingly powerful cell phones down to an almost unlimited variety of any product), but to the fact that every human being should be able to satisfy his basic needs of food, health care, housing, education, for example, as well as having enough leisure time to enjoy culture and the arts, carry out enriching social relations, make our legitimate vocations come true in any field we chose, and also have enough time to rest. This is an idea of human richness, and therefore of poverty, which goes much further than the field of economy and its monetary or commercial evaluation.

 

Instead, the development model that is being imposed by the current globalization of the market not only does not decrease poverty, but it puts an accent on productivism and consumerism which are destructive for the environment and for social cohesion and solidarity, as well as of man, reducing him to the unidimensionality that Marcuse denounced in the 60s of the past century (1). The capitalist model of development which is predominant nowadays, is really about the "development of underdevelopment" (2) or the "underdevelopment of development" (3), to the extent that the development of the richer implies the underdevelopment of the poorer and that what the present globalization of the market really does is to widen the gap between them, increasing social and economic inequalities more and more, as well as the relations of dependence and domination. In any case, we could speak of the failure of development, especially in the Third World, and mainly in Africa (4). There are some who go even further, at least in the semantic field, when they discard the word "development" because they consider it is unavoidably linked to capitalism, in other words, to the "westernization of the world" (5) or its growth (6), which is the "truly existing development". In this sense, the "anti-developmentalists" propose a "society of ungrowth" in order to stop the devastating productivism that destroys the planet and therefore rebuild the world, recovering its roots.

 

At the same time, there are authors who share most of the criticisms of the anti-developmentalists, but who indicate that the alternatives to development that they put forward are too similar to the model of alternative development proposed by the supporters of the endogenous or culturally self-centered development (7). They proposed a type of development different from "western-style" development, which started from tradition, because they consider that the aims of development and not only the means to achieve its fulfillment must not be imported from "developed" countries. This is why the goal of development must be adapted to a given society within the dynamism latent in the system of values of that society: its traditional beliefs, its significant systems, local institutions and common practices. In this sense, the goals of this alternative development must focus on improving in every possible way the standard of life and society in a way that the community understands this, and somehow reestablishing the harmony with nature which has been seriously damaged because of the depredation caused by this artificial nature which is modern technology.

 

In any case, it is arbitrary to conceive development, as well as poverty, in a merely economical sense, like the promoters of the current commercial and financial globalization do; that is, without considering the environmental, cultural and political dimensions, and only limiting it to the economic field, not taking into account its redistributive dimension focused on achieving a greater social equality or fairness, and therefore, eradicating poverty. On the contrary, the development of people and communities must be understood as a process that creates and favours the conditions that promote the full deployment of their physical, cultural, political, economic and environmental faculties (8).

 

Economic growth does not guarantee development or the decrease of poverty

 

In many cases there are countries where economic growth not only does not lead to the improvement of the standard of living of the more vulnerable and poorer sectors, but makes it worse, and where important resources are used to repress those who dare protest. Such is the case of several African states with important mineral or oil resources (Nigeria, Congo, Equatorial Guinea, etc.) or diamonds (Liberia, Sierra Leona, etc.), which are usually immersed in serious internal conflicts which lead to blood-shedding civil wars financed precisely with the funds obtained from the export of these resources of their subsoil, a great part of which is used for the purchase of arms and the training of military and paramilitary forces used in the repression and annihilation of opponents (such as Colombia in Latin America, for instance).

 

Human development must be characterized by transparency, fairness and non-discrimination, facing other kind of processes in which the only goal is growth at any cost, without considering its human and environmental cost, and if the benefits will be fairly distributed or not. According to U.N. expert on the right to development, there can be a spectacular increase in the export industries with larger access to world markets, but which don’t integrate the more underdeveloped economic sectors in the growth process and don’t overcome a double economic structure; moreover, they come hand-in-hand with increasing inequalities or disparities and an ever-growing concentration of wealth and economic influence, bringing no improvement in the indexes of social, educational, health development, gender equality or environmental protection (9).

 

Thus, it is necessary to balance economic growth with social development and respect and preservation of the environment. An authentic and sustainable human development is not possible if all the economic, social and political rights are recognized and respected, because this is the only way to achieve the necessary social balance in order to have lasting peaceful coexistence. This is why it is necessary to combat the belief which has been intentionally promoted by the hegemonic powers, that economic growth must be promoted above any other consideration, assuming that everything else will automatically happen after that: nothing could be more uncertain, since, as we have already indicated, there is no automatic link between economic growth and progress in matters of development and human rights, as well as in the decrease of poverty.

 

In sum, high growth can mean little development, while small development could be enough, if there is a fair redistributive policy, to improve human development and reduction of poverty. Besides, economic growth is not so much a precondition for development and reduction of poverty as a more equitable redistribution of wealth could be. In other words, the redistribution of wealth through fairer redistributive policies carried out by public powers in favor of the poorer, vulnerable and defenseless groups or individuals is positively a necessary condition to achieve development in its human, social and sustainable sense, and therefore, of the reduction of poverty.

 

Economic growth can be necessary to the extent that the construction of adequately equipped schools, health care centers or other social services imply economic growth. The same happens if the so-called "invisible" jobs, because they are not paid a regular wage such as domestic chores and social and family assistance carried out mainly by women, are included into public and private accounting. In any case, economic growth must be demystified as an essential panacea, especially in relation to the eradication of poverty, since, as we said before, the present financial and commercial globalization may well promote economic growth, but not only is it not eradicating poverty, it is causing a tremendous increase in social and economic inequalities. Likewise, this globalization model is destroying natural eco-systems and degrading the environment at a tremendous pace, without considering that natural resources are limited and the increase in their exploitation plays against the interests and the enjoyment of the human rights of all, mainly the more vulnerable and unfavoured.

 

Besides, the current productivist and consumerist model of the more industrialized countries is devastating and non-exportable because reasonable limits have been largely surpassed, for if the poorer countries consumed and produced with the same intensity as the richest ones, we would need a much bigger planet in order to support it. Indeed, considering as a starting point the fact that the natural eco-systems have a limited capacity to recycle, reabsorb or recover from the pressure they are suffering due to industrial activity and human consumption, and that these could be measured in the necessary surface to uphold such consumption, a U.S. citizen needs an average 9.6 hectares for his daily consumption (the "American way of life"), a Canadian, 7.2; and a European, 4.5; while the estimated limit on a planetary scale is 1.4 hectares. At the present time, we would already require an area equivalent to 120% of the Earth’s actual surface (10). If the entire planet consumed and produced like the U.S. we would need a planet four or five times bigger. Therefore, the present model of economic growth can only favor a lucky few, to the detriment of the majority of the population, including the middle classes, and above all, the poorest, thus promoting an increasingly unequal and unfair society.

 

The indigenous peoples, as well as the populations of many less industrialized countries are the living proof that a worthy life is possible without falling into the consumerism of the highly developed countries that devastates the environment and the human being. Human rights have also been created –among other reasons- to make possible these alternative ways of human development, of living as human beings with dignity and well being, without damaging the environment and not participating of the consumerism and an economic model which in its actual neo-liberal version, does not tolerate the freedom to live differently, that is, off of the constant trading, of the stock-market casino, of the labor overexploitation and the plundering of nature.

 

The present economic globalization implies an extension of the market relations not only in its geographic and demographic dimension, but also in the most internal and intimate spheres of man. Everything is on sale, even the genome and human life: money is freedom and with money you can do and know whatever you want. On the contrary, without money you are a nobody in the market. But perhaps the worst part is that the expansion of market to all the corners of society and the human being is done at the cost of denying the possibility, the freedom to refrain from participating and depending on this market and the money. This is why those peoples, cultures and people who still choose to maintain their customs and traditional, ancestral or particular ways of life are currently where they can still survive, slowly and unavoidably agonizing before the inexorable increase of the market and money, which leads us to an increasingly more chaotic, unpredictable and unorganized society, for the benefit of a privileged minority.

 

In sum, the model of economic globalization that is being imposed on all corners of the planet is a tremendous limitation –not to say an almost total annulment- of the freedom of each nation to choose the model of development that fits their own characteristics better. Development and poverty reduction policies should be drawn mainly by the people and groups they affect because they are the ones who will understand better than anyone else what their circumstances and their specific needs are. All the peoples and the cultures are part of the heritage and the common wealth of the world and deserve the same respect and consideration regarding their preservation. Likewise, environmental considerations should also be taken into account, for ecosystems are also part of the common heritage of humanity and of the peoples who live there.

 

- Nicolás Angulo Sánchez. Author of El derecho humano al desarrollo frente a la mundialización del mercado, [The Human Right to Development Facing the Globalization of the Market] editorial Iepala, Madrid 2005 (http://www.revistafuturos.info/resenas/resenas13/derecho_desarrollo.htm)

 

Translation: Mirada Global

 

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(1) See MARCUSE, Herbert: El hombre unidimensional, ed. Seix Barral, Barcelona 1972.

 

(2) See HARRIBEY, Jean-Marie: Quel développement pour une société solidaire et économe?, in: "Les autres voix de la planète", magazine, periodic publication of CADTM (Comité pour l'Annulation de la Dette du Tiers Monde), N° 23, June 2004, Liège (Belgium).

 

(3) See GUNDER FRANK, André: El subdesarrollo del desarrollo. Un ensayo autobiográfico, collection "Cooperación y Desarrollo" N° 12, ed. IEPALA, Madrid 1992.

 

(4) See AMIN, Samir: El fracaso del desarrollo en África y en el Tercer Mundo. Un análisis político, colection "Cooperación y Desarrollo" N 9, ed. IEPALA, Madrid 1994.

 

(5) See LATOUCHE, Serge: En finir, une fois pour toutes, avec le développement, in: "Le Monde diplomatique", Mayo, 2001.

 

(6) See FERNÁNDEZ DURÁN, Ramón: El desorden se dispara, in the book "FMI, Banco Mundial y GATT, 50 años bastan. El libro del Foro Alternativo. Las otras voces del planeta", ed. Talasa, Madrid 1995.

 

(7) See GOULET, Denis: Ética del desarrollo, ed. IEPALA, Madrid 1999.

 

(8) See MARTÍNEZ NAVARRO, Emilio: Ética para el desarrollo de los pueblos, ed. Trotta, Madrid 2000.

 

(9) See United Nations document E/CN.4/2001/WG.18/2.

 

(10) The 2006 Report of the World Wildlife Fund, "Living Planet", which includes a summary of the present state of the natural world, indicates that "according the actual projections, by the year 2050, Humanity will be using twice the value of the natural resources of the planet, in case these resources haven’t been completely used". It also confirms the tendency of the loss of biodiversity which had already been mentioned in prior reports (see La huella humana es demasiado grande para la naturaleza, in "Rebelión", section "Ecología Social" (www.rebelion.org, 12.11.2006)).

 

(11) See TAIBO, Carlos: Cien preguntas sobre el nuevo desorden, ed. Punto de lectura, Madrid 2003.

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