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Opinion - Perceived and actual development

2021-04-09  Staff Reporter

Opinion - Perceived and actual development
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Reverend Jan Scholtz


Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, the traditional perception that development is synonymous to economic growth prevailed. Accordingly, developing countries were urged to devote their resources towards enhancing and creating an environment that permits economic growth. Eventually, the benefits of economic growth would trickle down to the majority of the majority of the population.

Several developing countries experienced rapid economic growth in the 1960s and 1970s. Indeed figures on GDP, GDP/Capital growth rates reached targets set by the United Nations. By the economic growth approach, these developing countries were experiencing development.

However, despite this impressive rate of economic growth, a disturbing feature was evident in these economies. Economic growth was not ‘trickling down’ to the majority of the population as expected in the ‘trickle down’ theory. The benefits of economic growth such as improved standards of living, access to quality medical care and education etc, were enjoyed by relatively few people on the social ladder.

This situation led to increasing discomfort with the narrow view of development as synonymous to economic growth. There was obviously something wrong with this definition as evidence do not support the perception that economic growth automatically leads to development. It became necessary to revisit the whole issue of the meaning of development within the context of developing countries. Given the current context and status of developing countries, what should development be perceived as? This remains the central question in development policies of our time.

The current perception is that development must be viewed as efforts directed at solving the immediate problems confronting developing countries. Almost all developing countries face similar immediate problems that confront the majority of their people. These include inter alia massive absolute poverty, glaring income inequalities, chronic unemployment and the attendant consequences of the disease, ignorance, strenuous and short lives, illiteracy etc. Development should therefore be perceived as a consistent and direct attack on these conditions of human servitude. Accordingly, development in developing countries should mean national strides at eliminating absolute poverty, unemployment and income inequalities in the distribution of national income. Obviously, a growing economy makes the task of eliminating widespread poverty, income inequalities and unemployment that much easier. Economic growth must be seen as a service towards the eradication of these problems not as a goal in its own right. A succinct view of development in this context is expressed by Professor Dudley Seers when he stated, “The questions to ask about a country’s development are, therefore. What has been happening to poverty? What has been happening to unemployment? What has been happening to inequality? If all three of these have declined from high levels, then beyond double this has been a period of development for the country concerned. 

If one or two of these central problems have been growing worse, especially if all three have, it would be strange to call the result ‘development’ even if per capita income doubled.” (Quoted in Torado, 1992).

In developing countries, development or indeed under-development is not merely a statistical issue about levels of unemployment, income inequalities and levels of poverty. It is a physical state under which more than two-thirds of the world’s population live. 

It is a condition that millions of people are born into, a condition that shapes their livelihood and indeed a condition they unnecessarily die from and leave their children to restart the circle.

Dennis Goulet vividly portrays the situation when he states that, “Underdevelopment is shocking, the squalor, disease, unnecessary deaths and hopelessness of it all! The prevalent emotion of disease and death, of confusion and ignorance as one gropes to understand change, decisions govern the course of events, of hopelessness before hunger and natural catastrophe. Chronic poverty is a kind of hell and one cannot understand how cruel that hell is merely by gazing upon poverty as an object (bid).”

It is not possible to understand this “hell” merely by looking at statistics of unemployment, poverty, income equalities etc. It is an experience to be lived. Development must therefore be concerned as a multifaceted phenomenon in which major transformations in social structures, attitudes, national institution, eradication of poverty and disease, ignorance etc. occur. 

Indeed development is the process through which the entire social system, which holds people in servitude, is replaced by a better one that liberates its population from conditions of human bondage. 

Development should therefore revolve around certain core values that facilitate a more humane society. 

These values include life-sustenance, self-esteem and freedom. 

In conclusion, the concept of development should be redefined to mean resolving the most urgent problems that enslave the majority of the population. The concept of development as being synonymous with economic growth is clearly inadequate. Development should mean a direct attack on poverty, unemployment and income inequalities. Development is a much wider concept encompassing the whole process by which society is transformed towards a more humane society. The task for countries is therefore how to reallocate resources to ensure that the majority of the population directly benefit in terms of creating conditions that liberate them from enslavement.

2021-04-09  Staff Reporter

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