25 June, 2022


Deconstructing Development

By Sumanasiri Liyanage –

Sumanasiri Liyanage

The welfare of the people in particular has always been the alibi of tyrants. ~Albert Camus

The Minister for Economic Development in presenting Divineguma Bill to the Parliament tried to portray the government’s effort to economic development as a ‘second war’, the first was the one waged against ‘terrorism’ i.e. the LTTE insurgency. The phrase ‘the war for development’ or ‘the developmental war’ sounds paradoxical. ‘Development’ is generally depicted as something ‘good’ while ‘war’ is portrayed as something essentially bad. Immanuel Wallerstein once remarked: “There is perhaps no social objective that can find as nearly unanimous acceptance today as that of economic development. I doubt that there has been a single government anywhere in the last 30 years that has not asserted it was pursuing this objective, at least for its own country. Everywhere in the world today, what divides left and right, however defined, is not whether or not to develop, but which policies are presumed to offer most hope that this objective will be achieved. We are told that socialism is the road to development. We are told that laissez-faire is the road to development. We are told that a break with tradition is the road to development. We are told that a revitalized tradition is the road to development. We are told that industrialization is the road to development. We are told that increased agricultural productivity is the road to development. We are told that delinking is the road to development. We are told that an increased opening to the world market (export-oriented growth) is the road to development. Above all, we are told that development is possible, if only we do the right thing” (Capitalism and Development edited by Leslie Sklair, London: Routledge). On the other hand, according to A J P Taylor, “wars are much like road accidents’ so ‘they have a general and particular cause at the same time’. Hence, like road accidents, these conflagrations have resulted in tens of millions of deaths and destruction of wealth. In case of Sri Lanka, the first war killed around 100,000 people and made a similar number injured. I am sure the Minister may not have implied that the second war, the so-called war of development, would produce the same outcome even with different trajectories. Hence, in what sense, did he portray the current development effort as a ‘second war’? Do adding one positive and one negative generate something positive? How do we resolve this conundrum? How do we reveal the phrase’s inapproriable difference or repressed other  as that which may yet to come to transform whatever we inherit from the conventional discourse?  This article proposes to look at the notion of development from a different perspective through deconstructing the very notion of development.

Of course one may argue that it is justifiable to equate development with war as the development effort, as in war effort, needs concrete situation analysis, precision planning and timely execution of it. Hence it also requires hierarchical structure and centralized commanding officer caste. I assume that the Minister for Economic Development meant this when he talked about a second war. And his views are visibly reflected in the Divineguma Bill. If development is an objective with unanimous acceptance, can it be equated with a war just because of the above similarities totally negating war’s destructive effects on humankind? Can it be possible to argue that the equation holds partly because of negativity of development? If the answer to this question is in affirmative, the exploring the ‘repressed other’ meaning of development is imperative. Hence the question: why has this ‘other’ meaning been constantly repressed? Economic development and the associated process of modernization in the last three hundred years or so have undoubtedly produced obvious improvements in people’s living standards, educational and health conditions, and transport and communication. As Kaushik Basu noted, “by most counts, the world is a better place today than it was in ancient times” (Beyond Invisible Hand: Groundwork for New Economics, New Delhi, Penguin Books). Of course, these achievements are unevenly spread among different classes and between different regions and countries. However, one may argue that almost everyone received some share of it either directly or indirectly. H. W Arndt made an illuminating observation that the development discourse had undergone a radical change when the concept was used in colonial context. In classical discourse, economy develops; but in colonial context it has to be developed. Hence, in the colonial context, development is posited as a structural transformation of the economy to be brought out by conscious, rational and purposeful action the objective of which has to be an achievement of the standard set up by the developed countries in the West. So the West will show the path the Rest should take. In this sense, economic development is oftentimes defined as a process of catching up of already developed countries and the per capita GNP/GDP is regarded as the target to be achieved by underdeveloped countries. This poses so many questions. Jose Mujica, the President of Uruguay, put this in clear and explicit language in his address to Rio+20 Summit in June 2012. The followings are excerpts from his speech. “We’ve been talking all afternoon about sustainable development to get the masses out of poverty. But what are we thinking? Do we want the model of development and consumption of the rich countries? I ask you now: what would happen to this planet if Indians would have the same proportion of cars per household than Germans? How much oxygen would we have left? Does this planet have enough resources so seven or eight billion can have the same level of consumption and waste that today is seen in rich societies? It is this level of hyper-consumption that is harming our planet.” He accused most world leaders of having a “blind obsession to achieve growth with consumption, as if the contrary would mean the end of the world” . In my opinion, Mujica who is known as the world’s poorest president (his car is VW beetle 1987 model) has blown up the dominant paradigm of development by revealing the ‘repressed other’ meaning of it to which I will turn presently.

Reflecting on the development process in the world including the development process in the former ‘socialist’ bloc countries in the last three hundred years or so, I would define development as a historically determined social process organized and controlled by a hierarchy of power aiming at a ruthless exploitation of human labour and nature for the purpose of maintaining and advancing the existing structure of power. As a by-product of this process, many positive changes that have often been posited as the fruits of economic development have occurred. Since these positive changes are well recorded, I do not think repeating them here is required. This definition takes us to the repressed other meaning of development. Development is essentially exploitative and a contradictory process. It exploits labour by appropriating and expropriating surplus value and nature by destroying natural resources and disturbing nature’s imminent balance. Hence, war and development cannot be depicted as distant processes. Wars have also produces positive by-products as many new communication innovations were war-related.

When development is defined in this manner as a dialectical process, it cannot be viewed as a process without an end. It has to be stopped at some stage. It is clear, the world economy as a whole has reached this point of exit although many of its constituent countries are yet to reach that stage. In the last decade or so, many economists recognizing the ecological impact of development and continuous growth have argued for the need of adopting a zero growth strategy for economically developed countries. On the other hand ‘occupy wall street’ has focused on the second dimension, ie., exploitation of labour. Although the average per capita income in the USA exceeds $ 40,000 mark, poverty, unemployment and inequality have increased proving that development in itself is not a solution to those miseries. Similarly, the people in many EU countries are today experiencing the cost that they have to pay for economic development. Austerity measures are suggested as a solution to economic crisis those countries are facing. So it seems that the sphere of economy has now become the new battle field in which new wars have to be waged.

*The writer is a co-coordinator of Marx School, Colombo, Kandy and Negombo. e-mail: sumane_l@yahoo.com

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Latest comments

  • 0

    The whole budget is a hoax and an eye wash. Prepared by the Croo..s, from the Croo..s, for the Croo.s. Just ornamental show-off development won’t take us anywhere except creating more 50% crook commission modalalis. My 8th grade son will do a better job.

  • 0

    Thanks Sumane for this – development should be about HUMAN development and not Economic Development!
    The Divineguma Bill is the wrong approach to poverty reduction in Sri Lanka for the following reasons:
    1) Given declining numbers of poor people in the country (9 percent from 23 a decade or so ago), there is a need for a streamlined, flexible and targeted poverty reduction program, using new information technologies for cash or in kind transfers that can be monitored in line with new approaches in the field of poverty reduction in Asia and internationally, rather than the huge, over centralized agency proposed under the DiviNeguma Bill.
    2..”Participatory and inclusive”, rather than ‘top down” approaches, methods and institutions are particularly necessary at local levels, for genuine poverty reduction through village level consultation and poverty recipient lists should be available at the Grama Sevaka Office so the right people get the assistance. Poverty reduction has been highly politicized in Sri Lanka as is now the case with Samurdhi
    3. In this regard the importance of Right to Information for transparency, accountability for effective and efficient poverty reduction is obvious, but the DividNeguama Bill wants to do secret poverty reduction.
    4. It is a shame that the NGOs that work in the field of poverty reduction – particularly the Center for Poverty Analysis – have been silent on this matter of policy and the obviously WRONG APPROACH being adopted to poverty reduction in Lanka under this Bill.
    5. Clearly, the the so-called Minister of Economic Development knows nothing about appropriate and sustainable Development or economics and is merely intent on capture of public funds to fund election campaigns at the local level!

    • 0

      How right you are Dodo! The poverty NGOs like Center for Poverty Analysis (CEPA) have buried their head in the sand and are busy re-inventing the wheel – good for their poverty business as usual!
      Re-imagining development, old hat is the new song sung by the pathetic organization CEPA – at least 30 decades old! Oh the poverty of their mental and moral capacity – director down!

  • 0

    It is an interesting article. At the bening of the article, the writer attempts to build a link between the “second war”or economic development with divineguma bill. Then he provided various thoughts or ideas of economic development that are in the literature of development economics. Then, attends to the notion of sustainable development and shows current development pattern is not sustainable. However, it is not clear what is the main mesaage of the article

    (i) Does writer mean that the current development effort or second war is not consistent with sustainable development? if so, this is not a novel idea. we all know that current development pratices are not consistent with sustainable development

    (ii) To me Sri Lanka did not properly adopt strategies such as ISI (Import substition Industrail strategy) or EOI export oriented industrial development strategy. Even today, Sri Lanka does not follow any systematic economic approach for economic development.

    (iii) Sri Lanka even does not think about sustainable development. As writer’s shows there are limits for economic growth. Thus, we must think about our natural capital stock and environment to maintain sustainable economic growth in the future.

    (iv) Sri Lankan development model is politically motivated and highly subjective. The role of the scientists like Prof. Liyanage should be building an objective development model for SL which is not based on party politics

  • 0

    the second war is DIVINESUMA.
    if it is not peace oriented and how should it be comparable to a development.

  • 0

    The budget presented does not convey the idea that it is the result of focussed thinking or long term plan. It is simply a balancing act to hoodwink the people and continue the wasteful expenditure as at present. It does not give any cuts in govt spending whereas it promises to further swell the ranks of unproductive govt servants by employing more and more graduates without any complementing increase in work and productivity. It proposes to implement another monster called divineguma without any plan or blueprint, just vague utterences about gramaya raj and families.

    It seems that the govt has run out of options. Mahinda Chintana abandoned? Idiri Dekma abandoned? Samurdi abandoned? Now a new toy to play with Divineguma? No plan for education or development of agriculture and industry? Govt is living on selling land to foreigners. Now a satellite station in Kandy. Better send these idiots to the moon without a return ticket.

  • 0

    Politicians will always twist everything to sustain aspirations and hopes among their subjects, regardless of their true intentions or agendas.

    People on the street have to assess if their lot has improved over the years, in terms of real incomes (not just the amount of currency received via wages and salaries), the cost of living (of common commodities), purchasing power of their currency against other international currencies, improvement in their quality of life, opportunities for the future of their children, life expectancy,easy access to modern clean hospital facilities with well-stocked pharmacies and surgical facilities, comfortable public transport in airconditioned buses and trains, affordability to save funds from income for endowing to the children etc.

    If the people decide that over the years their lot has not improved, then they should make efforts towards changing the status quo in their favour. Heeding empty rhetoric of honey and milk only makes them look stupid in the eyes of the rest of the world…

  • 0

    Can I see your International indexed jouranl article publication list? Because Professors are not appointed without PhD from good ranking Universtities and minimum 15 publications in high indexed journals.If you have this, you are a real professor and we accept and read what you write.

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