Category Archives: Development

Is China’s Authoritarian Capitalism Better Than Liberal Democracy?

(No it isn’t: just like trying to earn a living by gambling is not better than having a salary, even if potential returns are much higher)

Is China’s authoritarian capitalism better than liberal democracy (as “the condition and motor of economic development“)? That’s more or less what Slavoj Žižek, co-Director of the International Centre for Humanities at Birkbeck College, asks in the Letters section of the London Review of Books (Vol. 30 No. 8 · Cover date: 24 April 2008), at the end of a singularly even-handed description of the Tibet-China relationship (that by the way only victims of their respective propaganda machines will believe to be a story of good guys vs. bad guys).

Fareed Zakaria has pointed out that democracy can only ‘catch on’ in economically developed countries: if developing countries are ‘prematurely democratised’, the result is a populism that ends in economic catastrophe and political despotism. No wonder that today’s economically most successful Third World countries (Taiwan, South Korea, Chile) embraced full democracy only after a period of authoritarian rule.

Following this path, the Chinese used unencumbered authoritarian state power to control the social costs of the transition to capitalism. The weird combination of capitalism and Communist rule proved not to be a ridiculous paradox, but a blessing. China has developed so fast not in spite of authoritarian Communist rule, but because of it.

There are a few i’s to dot, and t’s to cross in Mr Žižek’s discourse. First of all, Taiwan, South Korea and Chile became “today’s economically most successful Third World countriesafter getting rid of “authoritarian rule“. So from those examples it appears that dictatorship may gestate a successful economy, but more often than not “Authoritarian Rule” transforms itself into a suffocating mother, if not an evil stepmother.

More importantly, China itself is in a sense only the last manifestation of a truism: an (economically) enlightened dictatorship can be much more efficient than the collection of dirty tricks known as democracy. Voltaire likely believed in that, just as Plato and countless others, and even if it does sound like an elitist concept, it is obvious nevertheless. An intelligent, caring, politically and economically wise Prince can decide for the best of everybody in minutes, rather than wasting months trying to convince, negotiate, win over people, perhaps in interminable parliamentary committees.

Such a Prince can also guarantee decades of good governance, truly a blessing for his (or her) people.

There is a small matter though. Say, your Prince is Octavianus Augustus and peace and prosperity is for everybody. Then comes Tiberius, and things start out ok: only, to worsen with his increasing paranoia.

Then you’re stuck with Caligula. And Nero is not too far away either.

Things haven’t changed much in the intevening 2,000 years. The trouble with authoritarian rule, hence with authoritarian capitalism, is not its ability to generate prosperity: rather, its perfectly equivalent capacity to degenerate, quickly because almost without control, thereby hampering the growth of that prosperity if not killing it off entirely.

Speaking the language of the financial world: just like a new CEO can resurrect or destroy a Company, so a despotic Prince (or committee of Princes, aka the “Communist Party of China Central Committee“) is a recipe for increased earning opportunities and, for the very same reasons, for an increase in risk.

And that’s something that should definitely be factored in in any judgement about what to choose as “the condition and motor of economic development“. After all, who wants to continuously gamble all of one’s wealth?

The Death of Climate Change

G-8 leaders are preparing to go through the motions about “doing something against Climate Change” (presumably, with similar successes as their wars on poverty and drugs). Countless pacts, accords, international conferences have not meant much as yet, and in all likelihood they won’t make any perceivable difference in the future either.

In the meanwhile, the “science” of Climate Change is as clay-footed as ever. A leading IPCC reviewer publicly states “We should respond prudently to the threats from climate change“. The NASA top honcho Michael Griffin commits the cardinal sin of saying the obvious against all “consensus”:

I’m not sure it’s fair to say that [global warming] is a problem we must wrestle with […]

I would ask which human beings—where and when—are to be accorded the privilege of deciding that this particular climate that we might have right here today, right now, is the best climate for all other human beings.

In a further sign that something is amiss, there is not even the suggestion of designing a satellite capable of collecting global data and possibly evidence of global warming / climate change.

GoreSat itself is not mentioned anywhere, despite sitting ready to fly for the past 7 years.

———

The above clearly indicates that “Climate Change” as a real issue has died already, or is at a terminal stage.

At best, it has revealed itself as a proxy for something different, at worst a smokescreen, ancillary issue.

———

Let’s give everybody involved the benefit of the doubt. What is the real problem they are concerned about, then, if “Climate Change” is just a proxy?

Possible candidates include: (1) the will to counteract the power of global companies by establishing some kind of (toothed) global government; (2) a general feeling tha Humanity must be cleansed of its sins, especially of greed and of disrespect for the Environment; (3) a way of keeping the development of places such as China and India in check, by making their lives difficult with newly-fangled emission caps.

———

But the one trouble I am presently more inclined to consider, it’s (4) the worry that there simply are too many humans alive at the same time, and their numbers keep on increasing: at the same time, we have the attitude but not the tools nor the will to provide them all with a decent life.

That’s a much more interesting topic than silly measures of atmospheric carbon dioxide and unreliable, patched-up, secretive historical temperature recordings.

Old World Bank

An interesting if somehow obvious and subdued debate today on the BBC World Service’s “World Business Review” about reforming the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the International Finance Corporation and the International Development Association.

I do not have much faith in any reform at any of those institutions. Just as the UN’s Security Council, they are still stuck in the 1950’s and will keep themselves that way unless some major international crisis changes the lot.

Fact is the whole system has been managed (if not designed) in order to keep the international Order firmly in the hands of Americans and Europeans.

After all it is not far-fetched to say that the whole ideas of “Third World” and “Development” were not with us until the end of World War II, the start of the Cold War and most of all the end of Colonialism.

Why would the Old Boys want to relinquish their control right now? It’s just much simpler to leave things as they stand. “Development” in this respect is a side show, as demonstrated by the absence, after six decades, of any idea on what actually can push a country out of abject poverty (apart from luck, location, and luck of location).

Shermer wins against Sachs in the July 2006 Scientific American magazine

Date: Wed, 26 Jul 2006 15:44:23 -0700 (PDT)
From: “Maurizio Morabito”
Subject: Shermer vs. Sachs on the July 2006 magazine: Shermer wins
To: editors@sciam.com
CC: “Michael Shermer”
Dear Editors

Still puzzled by your choice of providing Jeffrey D. Sachs with a full page of your magazine _not_ to talk about science, I could only appreciate the (unintentional?) irony of seeing the Sustainable Developments column juxtaposed with Michael Shermer’s (definitely science-related) Skeptic musings.

And especially so in the July 2006 magazine: on the left side, Mr Shermer discussing how skepticism should be applied to politics, because “partisans twirl the cognitive kaleidoscope until they get the conclusions they want“.

On the right side, Mr Sachs…twirling “the cognitive kaleidoscope” until he got the conclusions he wanted.

For example, Mr Sachs mentions the Darfur crisis saying “the deadly carnage…has roots in ecological crisis directly arising from climate change“.

That is not given out by Mr Sachs as a possibility or a hypothesis: rather, it is clearly described as a “fact”

Would you mind asking Mr Sachs where he took that “fact” from?

I know that the relationship Darfur-“war on scarce resources” has been mentioned recently by some clergy members in the media. But it would be big news indeed to hear that _that_ has been “demonstrated”, let alone accepted as a “fact”

Mr Sachs goes on to more politicized statements, such as “A drought-induced famine is much more likely to trigger conflict in a place that is already impoverished“. Could you please ask Mr Sachs to provide a list of all conflicts triggered by drought-induced famines, say, during the last 100 years?

Please do follow Mr Shermer’s suggestion: and do control for “confirmation bias” on all your contributors, _including_ those writing about something else than science
 

Limits to Front-End Beneficiary Participation in the Development Process

Prepared for the course “Development in Practice”, Birkbeck College, London March 2006

Introduction

The global sustainability debates, a turn towards a deliberative/communicative academic approach to Development [15], disillusionment with traditional blue-print planning [9]: these are some of the reasons behind the ongoing popularity of Front-End Beneficiary Participation, i.e. the involvement in a project, long before its design stage, of the people that are going to benefit from it (the Beneficiaries, communities and individuals).

With a group approach, FEBP can in theory encourage self-reliance among Beneficiaries [3][16][9], guarantee wider reach and involvement, and achieve “higher production levels“, a “more equitable distribution of benefits” and a reduction in recurrent costs “by stressing decentralization […] and self-help” [16], apart of course from helping in the adoption of innovations and even supporting social peace [12].

However, to fulfill its potential, FEBP must allow Beneficiaries to move up the Ladder of Citizen Participation, beyond tokenism [2] to let them have an effective say in the definition, control and verification of what is done, and how. But who really has that “power“? For example, what are the consequences of internal power dynamics [9] among Beneficiaries? With the above in mind, FEBP’s limits are evaluated here with the help of published literature and an analysis of the experience of Concern.

A Development Organization: “Concern

Started by Irish priests after the Biafra famine of 1968, Concern is a “non-governmental, international, humanitarian organization dedicated to the reduction of suffering“, with as goal the “elimination of extreme poverty in the world’s poorest countries” [8]. Its Beneficiaries are typically living in extreme poverty in States in the bottom forty of the UN Human Development Index; often in a rural setting, dependent on agriculture, lacking essential services in health and education and denied fundamental rights [1]. Emphasis is on lifestyle improvements sustainable without “ongoing support from Concern” [6], and on the promotion of gender equality [8].

Projects (covering Health, Basic Education, Livelihoods, HIV/AIDS and Emergency Response) focus more on matters of necessity than efficient use of resources [1]. The work is organized “directly with beneficiary groups or “a wide range of intermediate organizations” [5] in alliances such as FairTrade and MakePovertyHistory. Usually, research is carried out by answering questions such as ‘Does this [proposal] fit our mandate?’, ‘Can we intervene?’ (security, skills, funds, relationship with host government), ‘How much should we spend?’ and ‘How should we intervene?’ [4].

Results: The Limits of FEBP

FEBP at Concern – For Concern, FEBP is fundamental, “not only important but imperative” [1]. As stated in the Project Cycle Management System and several policy papers [1], any analysis “should include the involvement of those living in poverty” [4]. The actual implementation depends on targeting –scale, level and mechanism of involvement [6] – and is usually achieved through the following tools [1]:· Participatory Rural Appraisal, with local knowledge, analysis and plans [17]· Participatory Learning and Action, with local people learning their “needs, opportunities, and […] the actions required to address them” [14]· Community-Based Participatory Development, i.e. engaging existing structures

· Gender and Development (GAD), seeking the “participation of women and women’s groups at every stage of the process” [1]

· Goal Oriented Project Planning (ZOPP), with the involvement of all stakeholders

· Rapid Rural Appraisal, interdisciplinary teams with local involvement [11]

· Other tools of best practice depending on appropriateness and skills

Methodological Limits - Concern’s attention to GAD reveals how important issues of power are in the techniques of FEBP. In fact, Participation runs paradoxically the risk of disempowering people “already without a voice” [7], for example if the Development Organization approaches the Beneficiaries just as yet another “interest group” lobbying its way to being listened to and catered for [10]. Additional problems relate to on Development workers’ lack of awareness of participatory principles and methods [1], combined with a plethora of not-easy-to-select available tools. There are also the usual difficulties with “issue remoteness” (Beneficiaries don’t get involved unless policies/actions have an immediate impact in their lives) [9]; and “consultation fatigue” (projects ask too much and too often to and from their participants) [10]. Any implementation of FEBP is also bound to the particular Organization that is sponsoring it, to the Project that will be designed [9], to the Community whose participation is requested; and by the natural, human resistance to change of the Development workers, their cultural baggage and their linguistic abilities. FEBP may also suffer from uncertainties on “what is a group” and the “group’s” internal cohesion / homogeneity (the “myth of community”) [9].

Beneficiary-side LimitsThe outcomes of FEBP approaches are in fact greatly influenced by complex psychological group dynamics [9], such as exchanges (between the community, its members, the Development Organization and other “actors”) of their “relative power”, the capacity to control, influence, and decide. For example, as FEBP is done through groups, certain individuals may feel less prone to fully participate, if they don’t see that as part of their contribution to the society. The community itself could feel inclined to express its “needs” in terms of what the particular Development Organization is expected to deliver.

Poor, poorly educated, poorly skilled, subsistence-farming beneficiaries may also not have enough time or other resources, to become fully aware of participatory principles and methods, and to dedicate the appropriate amounts of time to FEBP. And on top of the usual cultural/linguistic barriers, Beneficiaries have to deal with the unfamiliar terminology of institutional language and the jargon of Development [9].

Mitigation The shortcomings of FEBP restrict its possibilities, leading at times to “formulaic”, “religious” [9] applications of “rigid” methodologies [1]. Participation could transmutate in political co-option: “talking” a previously-neglected community (often, its already overburdened female members), into providing cheap labor [9].Good Participation evidently depends on Good Governance of FEBP, starting from lessening the consequences of power dynamics: by giving due consideration to the “relative bargaining power” of the Participants, Beneficiaries included [9]; by delegating decision-making to a local level [1]; and by building close personal relationships with individuals, not only communities [9].

Knowledge, effectiveness and flexibility can be improved via a “Lessons Learned” process: with FEBP appraisals and improvements as ongoing tasks; with their results pushed out to the whole Organization; and with the replication of successful participatory programmes [1]. “Lessons Learned” must also include the spreading of the awareness of the limitations of FEBP itself, and lead to the exploration/investigation of alternatives [9].

Conclusions

In the face of its many advantages Front-End Beneficiary Participation has specific limits and is no panacea for the efficient and effective development of communities:

· Limits of FEBP come both from the approach taken by the Development Organization; and from the conditions of the Beneficiaries themselves

· Issues include Power, Awareness/Information, Flexibility, and Culture

· When limitations are native to FEBP, improvements or alternative approaches should be considered

· A continuous re-evaluation of methodologies an increased attention to individuals may help overcome some of those constraints

Bibliography

[1] Deering, K. (UK Head of Partnership Development at Concern Worldwide UK) (2006) Personal correspondence with the author.

[2] Arnstein, S. (1969) A ladder of citizen participation. Journal of the American Institute of Planners, 34: 216-225

[3] Chambers, R. (1984) Putting the last first. London: Longman

[4] Concern Worldwide (2000) How Concern Targets Countries for Poverty Elimination. Dublin

[5] Concern Worldwide (2001) Capacity Building Policy. Dublin

[6] Concern Worldwide (2002) Concern’s approach to emergencies. Dublin

[7] Concern Worldwide (2004) Programme Participant Protection Policy. Dublin

[8] Concern Worldwide (2005), Policy Statement. Dublin

[9] Cooke, B., Kothari, U. (2001) “Introduction”, in Cooke, B., Kothari, U. (Eds.) Participation: the New Tyranny. London: Zed Books Ltd.

[10] Croft, S. and Beresford, P. (1996) “The Politics Of Participation”, in Taylor, D. (Editor) Critical Social Policy: A reader, London: Sage, pp175-198 (cited in Cornwall, A., and Gaventa, J. (2000) From users and choosers to makers and shapers: Repositioning Participation in Social Policy. IDS Bulletin 31 (4): pp 50-62)

[11] Crawford, I.M. (1997) “Chapter 8: Rapid Rural Appraisal”, in Marketing Research and Information Systems. (Marketing and Agribusiness Texts – 4). Rome: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations

[12] De Soto, H. (1989) The Other Path: The Economic Answer to Terrorism. New York: Basic Books

[13] Healey, P. (1997) Collaborative Planning: shaping places in fragments societies. Basingstoke: Macmillan

[14] International Institute for Environment and Development (2003) What is Participatory Learning and Action?. London: IIED

[15] Mbiba, B. (2006) Participation: The ladder of citizen participation and limits to participation. Lecture Notes

[16] Van Heck, B. (2003) “Why Participation and What are the Obstacles?”, in Participatory Development: Guidelines on Beneficiary Participation in Agricultural and Rural Development. Rome: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations

[17] World Bank (1996) The World Bank Participation Sourcebook, Appendix I: Methods and Tools. Washington, D.C.

Free the Poor from Social Housing

Why would the poor remain poor?

Surely even they must be able to understand the obvious advantages of being rich? And so is it right to treat them with condescension, as a fellow member of a mailing list once wrote “If they're born into and stay there, then they stay there by choice”?

Choice? What choice?

People born in squalid conditions, "educated" in squalid conditions and inhabiting in squalid conditions…aren’t they obviously less likely to take advantage of opportunities for the mere fact that they simply cannot see them?

Because they have seen few of them in the past, have been "taught" to live in squalid conditions, have had little exposure to people that "made it" (apart from successful drug traffickers and other gangmasters)

Not to mention the fact that "opportunities" are hard to take advantage of when the daily struggle is how to avoid having one's apartment taken over by crazed drug addicts

There is some data showing that in the UK the people of Afro-Caribbean descent less likely to be poor nowadays are the ones whose families were unable to get a flat in those gigantic housing complexes for the poor (that have since then turned in labyrinthine no-law areas)

For more than a decade after blacks began to arrive in Britain in large numbers, they were excluded from public housing and occasionally from private rented accommodation too. By 1971, 44% had bought properties. Fortunately for them, many of those properties were in central neighbourhoods that have seen enormous price increases. […]

Many of those who fought their way into public housing, on the other hand, have become stuck in the inner city. Having been placed disproportionately in high-rise blocks, surrounded by criminality and malfunctioning schools, they lack the means of advancement. Black women's finances are not helped by a rate of lone parenthood that is more than twice the national average.

I say, let’s destroy asap all old-style social housing projects. Redistribute the people in the real world, as intermingled with other social strata as possible. And especially at the beginning, help their children 24/7 to find a way out of what life has taught them so far.

A tragic result that should make us think twice about the bovine application of simplistic socialist ideals

Do services degenerate faster in an informal economy?

In conventional thinking, there are many advantages in living in a formal economy, where entrepreneurs and laborers work together according to established rules agreed by everybody through the involvement of the State.

This is supposed to guarantee fairness and more recently, a widespread care system centered around protecting the poorest, most vulnerable and the most elderly members of the society

On the other hand, a more or less completely informal economy is the day-to-day experience of hundreds of millions if not billions of fellow humans, especially (but by no means only) in so-called emerging and developing Countries.

In an informal economy, certain types of income and the means of their generation are “unregulated by the institutions of society, in a legal and social environment in which similar activities are regulated.”

It is usually a sign that the State is locally very weak. So income (including salaries) is received without paying taxes; work arrangements do or do not follow lawful standards, there is no apparent provision for old-age pension

And more often than not, one has to have cash at hand to guarantee speedy treatment of one’s issue for example in a state court: in what we call corruption

However scandalous to the average well-disposed thinker, this is a system that a) is very widespread and b) appears to be working more or less smoothly. In fact, there is an element of trust: however small or big the bribery, it would not get paid if the service would then not be provided

This obviously applies to specific cases. You can call it “salary informalisation”, where things get done quickly only when the “customer” pays directly into the pocket of the employee on the other side of the counter, rather than through the State for example via taxes.

Other circumstances are completely different: think of the police officer that threatens to impound the car unless offered money; the politician cutting 15% on a nation’s foreign contracts, “otherwise they won’t get signed”

These are two different kinds of corruption. The former is about asking additional money in order to provide a service. The latter is greedy intimidation into paying in order to avoid getting oneself into a dangerous position. This is far worse, as it sucks money away with very little to show in return

Corruption as parasitical intimidation is what stiff sentences and worldwide campaigns against corruption should concentrate on

What are the drawbacks then of the more benign kind of corruption, the “salary informalisation”? At first glance, it is quite tempting to accept it. If (and when) it works, it is much more efficient than having to deal with a far-away incorporeal entity called “the State”. Even fairness can be far superior than in the formal economy, as rules are ready to be renegotiated and can be bent to be just in every occasion, not only as described by the necessarily incomplete Law.

The problem is of course in those two words: IF and WHEN. An informal economy works well only as long as there is no excess of abuse on one side or the other: otherwise the requisite of fairness disappears, and we fall back in the “corruption as greed” trap.

And in fact, is not that what too easily happens when the Rules and the Laws are not enforced appropriately, exactly when the State is too weak to do so? Worse, the usual cures evolved the world over can be worse than the malady: as soon as “Groups of Mutual Help” arise to protect the members against unfair treatment, their intentions are hijacked turning them into Mafias, with further damage to the economy

This is not a necessity. But an informal economy is simply too fragile: its services may disappear at the whim of the providers, and organized crime can only thrive without a clear, enforced set of rules called the Law

An informal economy can never be considered a good, healthy economy

What’s wrong with Development Studies?

It is hard to think “Development Studies” (“DS”) as a proper “science” at the moment.

In fact, the one thing that comes out clearly of a rapid analysis of the evolution of DS thinking, is that most if not all “Development Breakthroughs” look much like a “flavour of the decade” list rather than solid processes valid most of the time

Here’s a quick review:

  • 1950s “Development” substituted colonialism as a way for Western countries to keep control and a presence, also against the Communist threat
  • 1960s “Rising income with own growth”. Huge investments in infrastructure. Large loans from private sources, but growth did not take into account distribution
  • 1970s Focus on poverty and “basic needs” with redistribution. Further borrowing
  • 1980s Switch to aid as poverty of people and States became entrenched. World Bank and IMF pushed for Structural Adjustment Programs. Start of NGOs
  • 1990s “Development” started to include non-financial indicators (Freedom, Democracy, Environment Damage). Focus on participatory programs.
  • 2000s Idea of the State back in focus. “Development” as power dynamics, considering also Women and Universities

What shall then we make of today’s mantras of DS such as Beneficiary Participation, Gender Issues, etc etc?

Obviously I am not suggesting they are not worthwhile and appropriate.

But what’s out there to indicate they will not simply be substituted by new fads, in a few years?

And of course the big counterpoint is that the one and only thing that has changed, ever, is the “Own Interest” of the most powerful countries, ready to defend it no matter what (and no matter what their stated intentions on getting people out of poverty)

This is doubly disturbing, if we consider that at the end of the day enormous resources will keep being wasted in following the latest fashion, rather than in making people get out of a life of poverty and high risk

A thorough rethinking of the whole field of Development and Development Studies is in order

The Hypocrisy of “Unsustainable Development” (aka Wrong Pulpit, Sir!)

Here we go with another environmental conference yet again hearing of impending Doom&Gloom

TERRADAILY – Earth Forum Hears Dire Warnings Of Environmental Collapse

Addressing the two-day forum's main topic — the feasibility of sustainable development for billions of people worldwide — [Jeffrey Sachs, director of the UN Millennium Project] painted a grim picture of systemic environmental collapse, coupled with war, famine and pandemic disease. The astonishing pace of economic growth in Asia and the increasing demands of development in the industrialised world will in a matter of decades, Sachs argued, impose a burden far beyond that which the world is already woefully failing to carry. "It is the central challenge we face on the planet," he said. "Every single major ecological system we have is already under profound stress."

This is not today's news.

I remember Clare Short, former UK minister, making a similar point

And the point is, "sorry guys but if you're poor today you must stay that way"

This is an incredibly baseless remark. Let's put aside the fact that apart than in the mind of the environment-as-religion lobby, there is little indication for any impending gloom. Let's also put aside the fact that economic development has in the last few decades taken millions out of poverty

The biggest hypocrisy is that neither Mr Sachs, nor Ms Short have shown any intention to show the way, move to a remote area, and live off the land to eliminate their own contribution to this baseless "disaster"

I remember those in the 70's, preaching collapse by overpopulation, to whom the only serious answer should have been "when are you going to help the world, and eliminate yourself?"

Obviously we don't need Jeffrey Sachs to act so drastically.

But who would accept Marie Antoinette talking of there being not enough bread, while eating croissants?

What is the meaning of telling humanity that it can't get rich, from the pulpit of Columbia University's Alfred Lerner Hall?