Does The Traditional Notion Of ‘Development’ Need A Revamp?

In order to compare various development theories and provide a perspective on them we must first unlearn everything we know about development so far. This is mainly because our understanding of the word development is very hegemonic.

When we hear the term development, we mostly think of an increase in the gross domestic product (GDP) or that the economy is flourishing, etc. This belief of associating development only with the economic benefits needs to be demolished as it is a very narrow view of it, and this is where the various development theories come into play.

By learning about them we will see how successful or how unsuccessful they have been in addressing the many issues related to the term ‘development.’

Let us start with the Human Capital Approach (HCA). It is based on the assumption that humans are agents of wealth production, and the skills and knowledge they acquire are forms of capital. For example, the Ministry of Education is now the Ministry of Human Resource Development. It reduces humans as agents of economic development. Investment in education is also seen as the human resource development index.

The individual’s passion is not seen as important a value as the number of degrees one has. People are respected based on their usage values, which means how economically productive they are. It suggests a very top-down model for eliminating human deprivation, i.e. the trickle-down hypothesis. It assumes that by creating employment opportunities indirectly the problems like unemployment will be solved.

Creating industries that will hire them rather than getting them jobs in the government sector, which is done without the understanding that development cannot take place without growth. This approach’s failure in understanding development led to the emergence of another theory, which is the Basic Needs Approach (BNA).

The Basic Needs Approach suggests that the increase in gross national product (GNP) is not sufficient to eliminate the problem of poverty, and relies on the assumption that by increasing and redistributing production the problem of poverty can be solved. The term “basic needs” itself is very ill-defined. Whose basic needs are we talking about?

As basic needs differ from country to country, region to region, and culture to culture. Even within these cultures there are certain subtler diversities, which will require a deeper understanding of these cultures.

Our understanding of the basic needs of people are from a macroeconomic lens. It needs to be from the microeconomic lens for starters, even then we cannot expect to know all the problems related to development. The basic needs approach is leading collectivist societies to be individualistic.

We are increasingly becoming homogenised by our wrong ideas of development. Thus, this theory can be seen as an extension of the HCA and no real improvement can be achieved if we keep on looking at the problems of the poor from our own lens.

Modernisation theory would be another such example of it. It can be seen as an abstract movement that has been happening around us, which is again trying to move us all towards homogenisation. People are losing their traditional values, as all modern industrial systems will develop similar major institutional features (convergence theory), which will lead to institutional homogenisation.

Not all traditions can be considered good, for example, the practice of sati in India and/or female foeticide, but there are traditions that need to be preserved (such as the traditional farming knowledge) which are more environmentally sustainable and are being threatened by the idea of modernity as we keep substituting farmers local and traditional knowledge with machinery and economically profitable alternatives. Thus, traditions can be seen as an antithesis to the idea of modernity.

Traditions are considered backward despite them having their own strengths. A very simple yet good example of it could be that Indians now mostly have Western style toilets in their homes even though our own toilet design is considered to be good for the body’s posture.

We are all becoming one despite our differences. While the first-world countries modernised without the aid of global powers and economy, it often overlooks the negative effects it has on traditional societies, the west-inspired modernised third-world countries.

Thomas Robert Malthus introduced the Entitlement Approach, which said that famine will occur if there is a failure between balance in endowments and entitlement of population. And this was based on the assumption that the power of population is more than the earth’s power to provide and that population should be kept in check through positive and preventive checks.

This idea was later challenged by Amartya Sen, who said that it is not that the earth’s resources that will get exhausted but it is about the ability of the population to access those resources that matters.

Sen first developed the Human Development Approach (HDA), which was built on the ideas of Mahbub-ul-Haq. As development was being measured only in terms of GDP it came to light that it does not reflect the real picture of people’s condition. Economic growth became important after the second world war and GNP became the goal of development.

The per capita growth rate became the sole measure of development. The question of promoting individual well-being receded and, as time passed, distribution was altogether forgotten and the argument of trickle down was made to defend its neglect.

The solutions given to it were all superficial narratives. The HDA thus takes into account that development should not be measured by income measures alone, but it should take into consideration social and human welfare criteria also.

India’s rank in the Human Development Index, released by the UN, is 129.

But this very idea is used not in its true sense but for political gains as it is very appealing to take human aspects into consideration while talking of development, but nobody talks about development being humane. The HDA and the Capabilities Approach (CA) are often used interchangeably, which is incorrect. The capabilities approach talks about enhancing freedom and opportunities in one’s life.

Certainly, there have been changes in the way we viewed development earlier and the way we view development now. Rather than just taking economic aspects into considerations and treating humans as economic entities, we now talk about their welfare; we talk about happiness index. But has there been any difference in our treatment of humans except in theories?

Will taking these factors into consideration bring change? These theories need to be applied. Sen talks about building capabilities of humans but every human is already capable in one or the other aspect. The West has taken away the capabilities of the countries it has colonized and now they want the very same countries to be developed. They are now trying to come up with various development interventions to help these so-called underdeveloped countries to become developed.

This idea of development is again from their lens, which is giving rise to many problems. Even the development interventions are directly or indirectly harming us. These countries dump their waste in less-developed countries.

Countries like the USA is responsible for deforestation in the Amazon because of its high demand for meat and we all know that trees help in reducing the harmful impacts of global warming, which are felt more deeply by less-developed countries like India.

Farmers facing low-agriculture productivity can sometimes be attributed to climate change as monsoon rains don’t occur on time. Such practices take away their inherent capabilities from them. Capability revival rather than building should be the terminology.

State and market are also increasingly becoming one, and the civil society is bearing the brunt of it. Even now that development is taking into consideration human welfare, environmental welfare is not anywhere in the picture. It is from the environment that we are able to develop economies of which we are so concerned.

But before we blame others for their false ideas of development, we should also take a look at ourselves. We as humans tend to undermine other human beings. If you observe people around you it will become clear. Take for example Indians making fun of people who can’t speak English when it is not even our first language, there are many such examples.

Now if we compare this with the market exploiting us and our resources, our understanding will be clearer.

I, as a human being, undermine my fellows maybe at a very negligible scale whereas the market does it at a large scale, so it is apparent. But if we look all around us everyone is doing it. It’s just that there is a difference in the scale of the exploitation. There must be a radical change in the way we treat ourselves, our fellow human beings and our planet.

All these theories will amount to nothing if we keep up with our current practices. A kind word from a stranger is known to prevent suicides. Let’s respect one another and most importantly our environment from which we sustain ourselves, on which our very existence depends. Let us not look at numbers when we talk about poverty because even one human living in poverty is a failure on our part as human beings.

Let us not be driven away by the charm of the profits given by the market, which is momentary, and instead focus more on the humans and their environment, which is everlasting.

Featured image for representative purpose only.
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