The concept of development

Stabroek News
December 13, 2000

In his book The political economy of nationalism (l983) the economist Dudley Seers, then Professorial Fellow at the Institute for Development Studies in the University of Sussex (he died that year), and with wide experience as a consultant in developing countries noted that the purely economic dimension of development tended to be greatly exaggerated. Certainly, he agreed, it is difficult to solve social problems without increases in certain types of production but, he argued, the pattern of growth is the economic factor most significant for development rather than growth itself.

To take a well known example, finding oil has enabled some countries to achieve a spectacular growth in production. However, where the revenues have not been wisely used they have emerged years later with little to show for them. The revenues have been blown on consumption or on other projects that were not well conceived and have failed and the skills were imported and were not left behind.

Real development takes time. There is an increasing view that it must involve a major emphasis on education. That does not mean just or mainly spending money on schools. It means first of all having a clear idea of what you hope to achieve with the educational system and the kind of people you hope to produce, in the broadest sense of course, not like broiler chickens. What should the core curriculum be, how important a role should science have, do you want to put the emphasis on an open-minded, liberal type of education. How much will it cost, where can teachers be found, in the Caribbean or further afield if necessary, and so on. In other words, if you consider that a well educated population is a crucial part of any development programme you have to factor it in in great detail. What Prime Minister Lee Kwan Yew had done in Singapore would be a significant precedent though there was an authoritarian element there that would have to be avoided. Seeking to cultivate a nation of Socratic philosophers is an acceptable development option in the purest sense of that word though it might be hard to win many votes at an election on such a programme. But in the context of Guyana today giving birth through education to children who are independent, not deformed by prejudice, seekers of knowledge and capable of making up their own mind would surely be the highest possible form of development, laying a foundation for a caring, liberal society.

Health and housing are clearly an important part too of real development. Apart from anything else a housed and healthy population will lead to a substantial increase in productivity. Of course all the politicians want better education, health and housing. What is usually lacking is an insight into the nature of the problems and a failure to establish priorities.

There is also often a naive, economistic approach to development which suggests that if you get a few new industries started that will change everything. Of course that is valuable, it provides jobs, it may help the balance of payments if money is brought in and invested and if the products are exported but if, for example, most of the skills are foreign and business can pull out at any time the contribution to development may be a lot less than it seems.

One must not overstate the case. What is at issue, perhaps, is an attitude to and an understanding of what development really means. In the final analysis development depends on political stability and the quality of the population in terms of education, vision, technical skills, an understanding of the world and how it works, and the ability to adjust and change course quickly and intelligently and to seize opportunities as they arise or are perceived. This is of supreme importance in a small, developing country. Without that, progress will always be fortuitous and dependent on factors completely beyond our control.

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