Welcome to JP Melville's review, experience, and statement on foreign aid and the international development industry. A conservative faith in family. A love affair riding the riotous tensions between money, personal freedom, the majestic travesty of our specie's ecological footprint, and economic politics. Selected writing of both prose and poetry, anecdotal travel log to rhetorical essay, dating back from the 1980's to the present. Enjoy!

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Economic Development

Donkeys and Carrots

People are not essentially economic creatures.  They have to be created as such.  They then must be maintained as such.
People must be successfully convinced that economic development is in their best interest.  The world can be better than that which already exists.  That there can be a better world depends on the ethical assumption that there should be a better world.  And the rewards of economic development have to be tangible, visible, and just within reach.  These convictions are the single most important accomplishment of the economic development machine.  Perpetuation of those convictions, with or without their realization, is what keeps the purveyors of economic development in power.
Economic development is a keystone in the foreign aid industry.  It is not wholly important that the institutions of foreign aid realize claims that they are responsible for improvements in the quality of people's lives.  What is important is that each purveyor of economic development, more or less, actively engages people in the rituals of such development: meetings, trainings, visible project activities, reports, or the formalities of accepting various gifts (e.g. water wells, grain mill machines, storage buildings).  In the least, it is certain that each purveyor is obliged to ensure that the rituals transpire if they are to maintain and receive the benefits of their administrative position.
Economic development differs from economics in the following ways.  Economics is a word reflecting the fact that people engage in trading relationships.  Different cultures have different premises on which that trade is based.  Trade may be barter, redistribution, profit, tribute payment, political communication, and more.  Economics as a goal in itself, as a science, and as the operative manner in which people relate to each other is a reflection of a particular culture and, where such economics is actively promoted, a reflection of a particular interest group.  Nobody promotes something unless it is in their interest to do so.  Not your interest.  Their interest.
For the purveyors of economic development it is necessary that the majority of people believe that such development is good and natural.  Just true.  Like God was once true.  Development must also be naturally monetized.  Money is its measure.  True + natural + a way to measure + universal = monolithic.  Which is how we get to this thing called : the marketplace.  Not a bazaar.  Not Adam Smith’s market, which was a physical place.  Just a place that everyone has to believe in.  So they sell to it, borrow from it, invest in it rarely, but never actually own it.  The purveyors of economic development depend on the acceptance of those beliefs.  That is, the hopes of the ignorant and pauperized must rest in promises and doctrine.
An analogy:  Someone builds a house and calls it development.  An improvement has been made.  In order to call the building of a house an improvement, what preceded the house had to be perceived, or made to be perceived, as undesirable or inadequate.  Under the guise of economic development, the building of a house contributes to economic growth (the cumulative production of one more dwelling unit - a good) and satisfies a basic human need.  Alternatively, if putting a roof over one's head is simply a way of life, the state of being perpetuated, there was no vacuum, no need to be satisfied.  One is simply doing what one does.  This is not an improvement on being human.  There was no cumulative measurement of one more house, meaning more equals better.  Having a roof over one's head, or having ten roofs over ten people's heads, remains utterly human.  Perhaps this explains in part why in provincial towns, even cities like Bamako or in much older countries like Turkey, the urban infrastructure exudes a sense of a village bursting its seams.  Invariably, no matter how colossal a city like Istanbul, you can walk to what you need.
Housing only becomes ‘development’ through definition, a definition of what a human need is or what a better house is.  People must be taught that they have needs and taught to desire what they do not have.  Under the rubric of economic development, people have to learn that accumulation has greater value than moderation.  Whatever happened to building a house and calling it home?  Only recently did some people start calling bricks and mortar a need to be fulfilled through economic development.  We sink even deeper when we begin talking about housing markets.
The promise of a brighter future that is materially attainable is strikingly similar to appeals made by ideologies of persuasion other than that of economic development.  Access to a spiritual paradise, always just beyond the moment, often only after death, is mediated by third parties in other contexts.  Careful consideration should be given to this parallel.  It is the promise maker who experiences palpable benefit now, not the promised.

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