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Opinion

June 21, 2018

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Notions of development

In modern times, tall buildings, shiny commercial plazas and dazzling shopping malls are considered to be symbols of progress and advancement. We never ponder over the costly price that nature and the toiling masses have to bear for this reckless ultra-modernism, driven by the senseless concept of the growth economy.

This philosophy of unplanned growth leads to islands of prosperity. But these islands appear in the midst of an ocean of starvation and abject poverty. So, can a state be described as prosperous if it has a few billionaires and millions of poor people? Can a city be called ‘modern’ if its shanty towns exist alongside sophisticated gated housing societies? Should we not question the concept of development that allows a few wealthy individuals to spend millions of dollars to make trips to space while a million others have never been to any other town except the one they were born in?

This should prompt people to ask more questions – which they, unfortunately, don’t. For instance, should the development of India be cited as a model because it has produced a few billionaires even though more than 243 million people are living below the poverty line and more than 600 million others are struggling to lead a decent life? Should we declare the US as an advanced country for producing the largest number of e rich individuals and simply ignore the ghettoisation of Latin American and black people, and the personal insolvency of the working class due to inflated medical bills?

We need to redefine the concept of development or, at the very least, challenge it. Like any other term within the social sciences, development should also be viewed as a relative concept. For some, development may mean the mushrooming of tall buildings, the rampant growth of shopping malls and a phenomenal rise in GDP. But for others, it should be a means to access education, health, decent housing and other amenities. In a developed country, the mass majority should be able to enjoy their leisure and get involved in creative activities. Development should promote sustainable economic growth instead of lethal consumerism, which has led to the ruthless exploitation of both nature and the people.

For the elite of the world and their stooges – the intellectual middle class – London, Paris, New York, Tokyo, Shanghai and Mumbai may be the pillars of opulence and prosperity. However, for more than 800 people across the globe who live below the poverty line, the existence of these ultra-modern centres of capital is just a chimera. For the vast majority of people, an isolated Cuba, which has attained phenomenal success in curbing child mortality and preventing the transmission of HIV from a mother to her newborn, is still a beacon of hope. Havana may not have been able to eliminate poverty, but it has managed to ‘socialise’ poverty.

Despite the ruthless blockade of the socialist country in the 1960s and beyond, the Castro-led government startled the world by achieving one of the best results in terms of the Human Development Index, leaving advanced capitalist countries behind in some aspects of healthcare. This is a country that has not only been a victim of deleterious imperialist propaganda but has also fallen prey to the CIA’s conspiracies to dislodge the revolutionary government.

We need to consider that if the most efficient intelligence agency in the world failed in its attempts to topple Castro, it could partly have been attributed to the miracles that the socialist country had demonstrated in delivering social services. While these services may not be excellent from the point of view of most advanced countries, for people who belong to the bottom layer of social stratification, they were no less than a blessing.

In 1979, a pro-people revolutionary party called the Sandinista National Liberation Front came into power in Nicaragua. Washington imposed an insurgency in the country and threw its weight behind a terrorist group called the Contras. Washington was, on the one hand, bankrolling the Osama-led Afghan jihad and, on the other, pumping money into the Latin American country to destabilise the nascent popular government. Despite the state of insurgency, the Sandinistas did an excellent job in the health and education sectors, earning appreciation from international bodies. Although revolutionaries were kept out of power for several years, people still remembered their services in the social sector. The Sandinistas were once again voted into power in 2006.

Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and his successor may be lambasted for their economic policies – which went some way towards thwarting the onslaught of loot and plunder by international monopolies that are politely called multinational companies. But in reality, Chavez’s decision to spend his country’s wealth – or some portion of it – on the marginalised sections of society infuriated Western capitalist countries. They hatched conspiracies to send the popular government packing. Once again, it was the services offered in the social sector that saved the pro-people rule.

The purpose of this debate is to show that for the marginalised sections of any society, the concept of development is completely different from the notions held by graduates of prestigious business schools and the champions of progress and prosperity. For the former, development lies in achieving free education, medical facilities and other amenities. Whoever provides these benefits to the people becomes popular among them.

It could be argued that a society where nobody sleeps on a footpath and sells his/her blood, organs or children to end poverty, should be considered developed and prosperous.

The new concept of development should also link progress to environmental protection. Any development – whether it is in the form of megaprojects or the extraction of natural resources – should also be seen through the prism of the environment. The degradation of the environment, which this growth-driven economy has introduced, is pushing the world towards annihilation. A record number of natural disasters have hit various parts of the world over the last four decades. But the champions of development and progress are least bothered about Mother Nature, which is, in a sense, the source of all wealth and prosperity. Our seas are badly contaminated, our forests are fast disappearing, our glaciers are melting at an unusual speed, and our air is spitting venom and gifting human bodies with diseases instead of pure oxygen.

The claimants of modernity and progress have burdened the globe with lethal arms and destructive weapons besides triggering a senseless nuclear arms race. The experiment with such arms has already pushed the Maldives towards destruction and the country stands the risk of being wiped out, partly because of the nuclear detonations in the South Pacific Ocean. Any form of advancement in arms arsenal is not a form of sophistication, but is a step towards retrogression.

At the micro level, we need to ask: if the world is developed, then why are more than two billion people forced to live on less than two dollars a day? Why does the concept of progress prompt us to pump trillions of dollars into wars, gambling and marketing? Why does it prevent us from spending a meagre $50 billion to improve education, health and sanitation, which could help millions of people in the developing world? Why are the turnovers of big corporations larger than those of several states? Under what principles are the 500 richest men of the globe allowed to amass the wealth of more than three billion people?

There is a famous political slogan: freedom is useless if it cannot create the means to feed people. The same idea can be applied to development. A concept of development that doesn’t provide people with the basic necessities of life is nothing but a chimera.

The writer is a freelance journalist.

Email: [email protected]

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