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Mainstream, Vol. XLIX, No 29, July 9, 2011

In Search of Development Alternative

Sunday 10 July 2011, by Sunil Roy


I propose to focus on three sets of issues related to the development perspective especially with reference to countries like India. First, I would like to argue that the dominant development perspective has proved itself irrelevant and extraordinarily sick in practice. It is not necessarily due to it being market-centric, but mainly due to the absence of serious development debates. The development perspective is not static; it evolves over time with new ideas, understanding and insights. In other words, it witnesses an upward shift, historically speaking, with the creation of a new knowledge base that provides a new lease of life to the civilisation. More specifically, it provides space to all human beings in all respects, including social, economic and political, to harness the full potential of their lives. We, however, situate ourselves just opposite to it, prove time and again incapable of creating a new knowledge base. We are indeed eager to express our loyalty to the existing body of knowledge on the development perspective. One may appreciate our engagement with empirical research and constant search for the truth. But, I am not sure how much truth we have been able to discover about the disaster caused to the human beings and nature in terms of deepening their misery with complete adherence to the same old development perspective.

In the name of empirical research we tend to be drawn largely into mere narratives without bothering to seek analytical insights that might yield new understanding and tear our compla-cency with a deductive mode of explanation of the human behaviour. Nor do we bother to re-examine the relevance of social closure within which the development perspective, grown out of mainstream economics, continues to gain legitimacy through our empirical research. We continue to do what we are doing now. The problem, however, is that we do it without any out of the box approach. We are increasingly being drawn in to reproduce, not to produce, to recreate, and not to create. The culture of production of knowledge is now replaced by the culture of reproduction through colonisation of our creative impulses. As a result, what we are saying is what they want us to say. If they say we have to achieve the Millennium Development Goals by 2015, we say the same. If they romanticise development by what they call ‘inclusive growth’ we do the same, and if they say, you must increase the growth rate of the GDP which is the mother of all cures, we all say, yes, we are leaving no stone unturned to do it. Finally, when they say it is the market and market alone, and no other agency/institution that can resolve the development crisis, we express our absolute commitment to it.

Due to an absolute mortgage of our creative domain we have miserably failed to ask new questions. It is not that we are not asking questions, we are doing so, but essentially they are all old questions and we find our intellectual engagement in answering them within the same box. What difference would it make if India is a large depository of the stock of malnourished children in the world? And, at the same time, it is the world’s largest importer of arms? While the size of the box remains unaltered, the parameters of change are fixed and left only to be manipulated within the same social closure. If somebody expresses concern over the deeper structural and institutional issues which remain outside the box, the relevance of her/his intellectual prowess to create a new knowledge base is undermined, left to be treated as alien to the development discourse. Our intellectual sovereignty and excellence are determined by reducing ourselves into the ‘evaluator’ of the development process, but not the evaluator of the development paradigm.

The second set of issues is related to the critique of the market-led development under the forces of globalisation. While I want to emphasise that the latter is a process of capitalist development, it is undoubtedly an epochal shift in several ways. However, my purpose here is not to elaborate it or develop an argument against it in view of its devastating effect on the human beings and nature. I would like to briefly focus on two aspects of social degeneration that question the relevance of the fundamentals of the dominant development perspective.

THE first one is that while being swayed by ‘market fetishism’, we tend to devalue non-market transaction/interaction which in practice is disproportionally very high in countries like India. No doubt, there is a considerable amount of non-market transactions/interactions which are exploitative. But, at the same time, one has to recognise the fact that there are many such transactions/interactions that are far from being exploitative. For example, transactions that take place within the community institutions that are breaking down due to the onslaught of the market forces ensure survival of the deprived ones even at a low transaction cost. Now, the market-centric development perspective dictates that the same ethos of community-culture and institutions must be brought under the ‘capital circuit’ of the same market forces. Hence, their survival and growth are to be regulated not by the community norms but by the capital circuit. This is nothing but an attempt to incorporate those who were not primarily dictated by the market forces for their survival and growth. The net result is obviously perpetration of a sense of rootlessness and loss of social identity that leads to social disequilibrium. Can the market-led development perspective bring back social equilibrium?

The second one is related to the loss of the essence of human species or what Marx called ‘species-being’. While plurality and dynamism are the intrinsic essence of the species-being of humans, promotion of mutual survival through engaging in multiple activities with a greater sense of interconnection is a natural choice of the individual. However, as a result of deepening incidence of social alienation owing to the most aggressive form of articulation capitalism has ever witnessed, ‘species-being’, the essence of human species, is on the wane. The individual is left to be threatened to remain no longer under the protective cover of mutuality and reciprocity of the same community institutions. She/he is alienated from it, being reduced to an element whose relevance to the society is to be understood based on the logic of commodification. If she/he fails to go by this logic and adapt to the market, she/he is not fit for survival. She/he is robbed of her/his natural endowment only to be converted herself/himself into another form of human species to make each other’s living insecure in the planet earth. Can the market-led development perspective restore the essence of human species, the ‘species-being’?

The third set of issues is related to my anxiety for seeking development alternatives. While my engagement with this exercise continues, I must confess that I am one of those who do not believe in a single conception of life and, therefore, a single law of development for all socio-economic formations that differ from each other. In other words, I may begin by arguing that universali-sation of the laws of development as espoused by all ideological persuasions including capitalism and socialism is antithetical to human progress. The rules of development that originate from the same development perspective/paradigm, once implemented across different cultural contexts, results in what I call ‘develop-ment miscarriage’. To remain away from the latter, development alternatives need to be determined primarily by the local cultural context. While, however, principles of equity, mutuality and reciprocity are invincible and, therefore, they are to be brought to the centre of the development alternative, development of each locale is to be conceived within the framework of ‘economics of solidarity’.

Anti-globalisation movements the world over offer a new epistemological base for reworking on a new system of thought of development economics. It is the economics of solidarity—solidarity between labour (human beings), land (nature) and capital. This is a new paradigm that must determine the course of economic action, not based on the principles of maximisation of self-interest which is central to the dominant development perspective, but by being based on ‘altruism’ (‘reciprocal altruism’). The essence of human species now has to come to the centre-stage of the new development discourse and lay the foundation for reconstructing development economics. I perceive the emergence of a new institution in such a situation from the “pores” of the old institution—a shift from the principles of maximisation of self-interest to that of altruism as the mode of explaining human behaviour and progress. The manifesto that was written by Albert Einstein, before his death in 1956 with Bertrand Russell reverberates the same: “There lies before us, if we choose continual progress in happiness and wisdom. Shall we, instead, choose death, because we cannot forget our quarrels? We appeal as human beings to human beings: Remember your humanity, and forget the rest. If you can do so, the way lies open to a new paradise: if you cannot, there lies before us the risk of universal death”.

[Based on the presentation made by the author at a ‘Development Meet’ organised by the Central University of Bihar, March 11-12, 2011]

The author belongs to the Institute of Development Studies, Jaipur.

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