For an Equitable and Autonomous Coexistence
At the end of last September, organizations of civil society from around the world met in Madrid in an alternative forum to the 50th anniversary of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, held there at the same time. envío offers the following critique of "development," a working document from that forum, because we consider it a lucid expression of the planet's "other voices," for whom we try to serve as a platform.
Aldo Díaz Lacayo
"Underdevelopment" Makes Its DebutIn his January 1949 inaugural address, President Truman used the term "underdevelopment" for the first time, to describe nations or groups whose capacity to produce economic goods was farthest below that of the United States. Millions of individuals from innumerable cultures and forms of subsistence, whose existence was laced with many and changing conditions of personal happiness or dissatisfaction, were suddenly catalogued as submerged in an unworthy situation they had as yet been unable to overcome, or from which colonialism had prevented their escape.
With that, the old word "development" culminated the long semantic migration it had begun two centuries before, starting in the field of biology (development of a living being), and moving through the worlds of social history (social development), political economy (development of the productive forces), urbanism (urban development), economic policy (economic development) and others, to finally reach a higher status, or synthesis, with a very precise meaning: the development of humanity conceived of as a continual growth of production by substituting traditional productive forms for others with more scientific and technological content, accompanied by the social and cultural transformations required to carry out this substitution and assure that society will enjoy the benefits it offers.
"Development's" AttributesIn this new historical context, the term development acquired a series of connotations and attributes that would henceforward be inseparable. First, it appears as a necessary process: no nation or human community can renounce it if it pursues its members' welfare. Second, it advances along a single straight road via economic growth: countries are at different points along this road, and the life of their citizenry will be more or less satisfactory depending on how for they have gotten. Third, it is based on dependence: as individuals and communities abandon their traditional forms of subsistence, they lose economic autonomy and accept new forms of dependence on the scientific and technical system, national or international markets, etc. in exchange for greater productive capacity and thus more material well being.
The idea is that applying the western model of scientific and technological progress can make possible an unlimited increase of production in the entire world, and that the changes in peoples' lives derived from this constitute the indispensable condition to make their existence happier.
By reformulating the concept of development in these terms, the United States believed it had obtained the moral legitimacy needed to exercise its new world hegemony. Insofar as the US economy was obviously the most "developed," the furthest along in the inexorable process of expanding its productive capacity, in which all of humanity was necessarily involved, its society was at the apex of social evolution and, by extension, natural evolution. US hegemony was thus a natural situation, and its historic mission or destiny was to extend its models of production and society to all humanity, offering the fruits of its superior scientific and technical capacity "to any extended hand, with no self interest whatever."
But the concept of development is, in fact, a self interested ideological and political construction, lacking real foundation and belied by experience. Its true goal is to legitimize the processes of capitalist exploitation and accumulation in the current stage of history, together with its associated mechanisms of social and political domination. The essence of this domination remains immutable over time, even when reproduced on ever expanding geographic and social scales.
From the moment of its introduction, development became the main policy objective of all countries in the world, to the point that one can properly speak of the Era of Development to describe this brief stage of history. Both its capitalist version (through the market) and its socialist correlate (through planning) served as ideological standards in the confrontation between the two antagonistic power nuclei in the Cold War.
These two ambitious political blocs soon designed development aid policies for the countries of the South. But what was really spreading through the world under the name of "development programs" adorned with successive surnames as each previous version failed had nothing in common with either the US life style or the kingdom of socialist abundance. It was rather the installation of mechanisms to interconnect and subordinate increasing fractions of the world's economies and resources to maintain the North's living standards and its powerful military complexes, to the detriment of the peoples of the South.
Capitalist Development's Key PromotersOn the capitalist side, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank and other development agencies (regional banks, etc.) served as the main disseminators of the ideology and practice of development between the 1950s and the 1970s the "development decades." They effectively helped replace innumerable forms of culture and subsistence around the world, ones based on autonomous use of their respective ecological and sustenance bases, with other, more "developed," specialized and productive ones that plugged better into the circuits of the world economy.
On the one hand, dominion over this continually expanding world economy allowed the governments of the capitalist North to feed the growing consumer society on which domestic social consensus in their respective countries was built. On the other, it permitted them to strengthen their military hegemony, so that at some future time they could completely unseat their Soviet rival.
To assure acceptance of their development policies around the world, the international institutions relied first on the brilliance of the new myth itself, as reflected in the "American way of life." A global mass media system perfectly controlled by the hegemonic powers (press agencies, the film industry, advertising, etc.) exalted and presented this myth as a universally attainable aspiration.
Second, they enjoyed the enthusiastic support of national governments and their economic elites. Obviously interested in increasing the size of the modernized and monetarized or "developed" segments of their respective economies, on which their authority, budget capacity and, above all, power is based, these forces have acted as "national development agents" in their own territories, facilitating the deployment of the programs designed by the international institutions.
Third, these institutions had the faculty, reserved to them and the huge transnational corporations, to impose the required modifications on the institutional frameworks (relative prices of raw materials and other goods, fiscal systems, trade regulations and various other kinds of adjustments imposed via the IMF's stand by credits) to help expand the new production forms and make the traditional ones unviable.
And, finally, in extreme cases where not even these mechanisms succeeded in putting an end to local resistance to "modernization," they relied on force, a resource that has been repeatedly used to expel autochthonous populations from specific zones targeted for "development," or to prevent them from using certain traditional sources of subsistence, now converted into commercially exploitable "natural resources" in the modernizing process.
The 1970s: Development in CrisisAfter several decades of application, with such contradictory results that the emphasis put on diverse aspects of development had to be periodically revised and new adjectives added (global, social, integral, integrated, endogenous, local, etc.), the development myth fell into deep crisis in the 1970s.
From the perspective of the capitalist North, the unviability of the development project as a mechanism to indefinitely expand the economy under its control began to be apparent as its motor forces wore out. The depletion of natural resources, the collapse of the model of productive and technological competition associated with mass consumption, and the falling yield in various categories of North South exploitation due to the progressive weakening of the South, seriously eroded the North's accumulation process. The East, meanwhile, was sinking under the weight of its own bureaucratization and the speeded up arms race urged on by the West. The South, increasingly impoverished and economically and culturally subordinated to the North, watched its hopes for equalization fade from view forever. These hopes had been sparked decades before, at the beginning of the development process which, by no accident, coincided with the official end of colonialism.
Faced with this situation, the lead sectors of the North tried to revive the aspects of the model that were most crucial to their own interests by revving up its worn out motors. They increased the level of natural resource exploitation on a world scale; they launched a supposed technological revolution more hype than real to revitalize the capacities of their productive apparatus; and, above all, they intensified their exploitation rates in the peripheral countries and later in the formerly socialist ones.
The 1980s: the IMF Takes the ReinsSince the 1980s, the IMF has been the North's main instrument to reach this higher rung of exploitation. The chief policies imposed by the North and administered by the IMF to get the global model functioning again have been the liberalization of the international financial system, the structural adjustment programs to which the countries of the South were subjected, and, later, the conversion of the countries of the East into new marketplaces of primitive capital accumulation to compensate for the exhaustion of the overexploited countries of the South.
Virtually all of these policies were imposed without leniency, and attained some of the short term goals they pursued. For example, the North managed to export the most virulent effects of the 1970s' crisis to the South, drastically reducing raw material and energy prices, and reversing the direction of world financial flows until the net balance was traveling from the South to the North.
This initiated a cycle of economic reactivation, supported by a strongly deregulated international financial market that gave wings to speculation. Social faith in the system, which had cracked under more than a decade of crisis, was temporarily restored.
Nonetheless, the IMF's basic economic policy principles failed totally to gain any of the institution's more profound stated objectives if anyone ever believed them to be more than mere publicity. The IMF is far from installing the cleansed and active international economy and sustained development that was supposed to follow the sacrifices of adjustment, as promised in the neoliberal catechism it preached. The North has continued its slow social and economic decline, interrupted only by fleeting and contradictory surges of economic activity and capital profit, while the South and the East, taken as a whole, have been drawn ever further down a blind alley. Officially the development myth still stands, because it was consciously constructed, but, as someone noted, it seems increasingly like a lighthouse in ruins, from whose toppled tower no one can any longer expect either light or guidance.
The 1990s: Enter the International Trade OrganizationThe new economic policies that can prolong the Center's hegemony can now be based only on rapidly assimilating the human activities and natural resources that are not yet fully plugged into the world economic circuits, so as to achieve a huge new and final expansion of the global economy and the Center's mechanisms for accumulating wealth and power. [See the section below subtitled "What Is a Globalized Economy?" for a more detailed description of this process.]
Taken individually, these activities and resources are not particularly valuable from an economic perspective, since they would have already been incorporated into the world system if they were. But they are the means of life, the productive capacities and natural resources of millions of individuals. Properly converted into monetary values, they could result in international economic flows of sufficient size to support accumulation and growth processes not to be scoffed at. In any case, they are all that still remains outside the sphere of the capitalist structures.
The international institution called upon to direct this process is GATT, effectively backed by the new trade blocs that are being built at break neck speed in various regions of the world (the European Union, the Free Trade Agreement, etc.). It is also no accident that GATT was elevated to the rank of an international organization right now, with the creation of the International Trade Organization (ITO), an old project shelved since the 1940s. This new organization will have a powerful and stable bureaucratic apparatus, as well as coercive powers that would have been hard to set up through GATT itself, a mere international agreement.
For decades, the World Bank and the regional and sectoral development banks had been molding extensive national and regional productive structures to be integrated into the world economy. In the 1980s, the IMF used the mechanism of blackmail regarding the foreign debt to subject these structures to a higher scale of exploitation to serve the North's commercial and productive needs.
By themselves, the new intervention forms that the IMF designed for application in this stage (structural adjustment programs, debt renegotiations, etc.) would have fallen into a vacuum were it not for the multitude of such productive spaces or islands already developed in the countries of the South. The IMF was able to milk new advantages in exchange relations, capital flows, raw material supplies and the like out of them by using essentially financial, monetary and political mechanisms, with military backing.
To accomplish the enormous expansion of the global economy that the North needs in the coming years, the new ITO has at its disposal not only these modernized and monetarized productive structures set up by the development banks years ago, but also the regulatory frameworks that the IMF established more recently.
Dismantling protective tariff barriers and, above all, a new leap in the control of economic activity by transnational corporations based in the north objectives pursued first by the Uruguay Round and now by the ITO would be of little use were it not for an already deregulated international financial market, the removal of some exchange rates from national control, unprotected national and local markets and shrunken or totally eliminated levels of state intervention in the economy. In sum, the national economies are now fully open to international competition. Customs tariffs are virtually the only remaining generalized protection, together with some protective labor legislation in some zones of the world both of which are now targeted for elimination.
What Is a Globalized Economy"?What is known as the "globalization of the economy" is the attempt to plug individuals' productive and creative capacities and the infinite resources and means they use to satisfy their needs into the world economy circuits on a far greater scale than ever before. Its first ideal objective is to translate any human action anywhere on the globe into a monetary exchange requiring the cooperation of intermediaries. The second is to pass this monetarized intermediation into the hands of transnational corporations that are interlocked among themselves and with the international financial system. These are the two inseparable faces of economic globalization.
Simply monetarizing an economy produces economic growth, the main indicator of development, all by itself. Autonomous resolution of people's needs by individuals or communities in direct solidarity however good the quality, quantity, security, independence and sustainability achieved has no monetary expression because it does not go through the market and is thus not tallied in the accounting books of growth and development. But when these needs are resolved through monetary exchange, "production" and "consumption" with a monetary expression arise from nothing and are computed in the economic accounts.
For example, if elderly people live with and are cared for by their own families, this does not presume any economic "production." But if they move into a senior citizen residence, the economic sector of assistance services increases its production and the national economic books register the corresponding "growth." The development level thus climbs, since its measure is the total volume of monetarized production. It matters not a whit if the quality, quantity and other attributes with which these necessities are now resolved are inferior to what was achieved autonomously. Monetary growth between zero and something is always positive, even if the real growth of personal satisfaction obtained before and afterward is negative.
If, furthermore, the new monetarized production can be introduced into the national or international economic circuits and arbitrarily valued by the constellation of monopolies that control the world economy, the resulting growth and development could go as high as those monopolies want. At the level of monetary fiction, the room for statistical manipulation is boundless.
Hence the vital character for the world economy that, with notable sincerity, negotiating officials and their governments have been granting to the closing of the Uruguay Round, the first act of this new phase of global capitalism. Hence, too, the social and economic reach of the sectors included in the negotiations (agriculture, services, intellectual property and the like) and the virulent way they have been developed.
The Popular Republic of China's flashy development is the great paradigm of this process right now, but all industrialized countries went through a similar stage during the initial phases of their own development.
Cleaning Up Their ImageGlobal capitalism's three big institutional pillars the IMF, the World Bank and GATT/ITO have effectively complemented each other in the successive stages of subjecting the world's peoples and cultures to the mechanism of development. Were the origins of this sequencing not so complex and unpredictable, one would think it had been carefully programmed. But it is more likely a series of adaptive reactions by the system's central institutions to the way the situation they themselves fostered has evolved.
But each of these institutions, after playing a crucial role in a certain stage of the process, logically becomes the main target of criticism by the affected populations. It is interesting to watch how each one continues to carry out its function with full powers, but discreetly tries to fade into the background as a belligerent institution, giving its public image a scrupulous facelift. The World Bank, for example, after effectively contributing to the planet's ecological razing, has now become the great defender of "ecological sustainability." For its part, the IMF now offers "socially responsible" adjustments, ones with a "human face." This, of course, after its unvarnished structural adjustments had already done their job of readying the national economies for the massive intervention of GATT/ITO.
Neither the South Nor the North has Really DevelopedAlthough development as a necessarily uniform and linear advance of all humanity in the same direction toward the same form of universal happiness in a chimerical kingdom of abundance simply does not and cannot exist, development policies do exist and are applied daily.
For half a century, these institutions have been intervening to change people's way of life, in the name of the development myth but with the very real goal of establishing new forms of dependence that assure the subjection of peoples and cultures to the interests of the lead classes and powers of society. Since this is and always will be the true nature of the economic policies they apply all over the world, their results can be none other than what has been observed in reality.
In the name of "development," millions of people in the Periphery have been despoiled of their resources and means of autonomous subsistence over the past 50 years, so that these can be transferred first to the national economy's circuits and then to those of the world economy. To make this pillage possible, the local cultures have been put in a subaltern position with respect to western culture, inducing a sense of inferiority in their members' consciousness. This supposed "underdevelopment" also lacks any real basis or existence, but is no less paralyzing and socially destructive for all that.
This has made it possible to fully subordinate entire regions of the planet to the interests of the lead powers of the Center and a handful of local leaders allied to them. The continuation of "development" will only take the peoples of the Periphery ever farther along the same path of dependence and destruction.
Meanwhile, in the Center, the urbanization and salarization processes that supported the successive leaps of capitalist industrialization and modernization prior to the Development Era had already put an important fraction of the population in a dependent position. In the last half century, the new formulation of this process under the concept of development extended this situation to virtually the whole population. This ended up producing an unsatisfactory and unsustainable society in which the conditions that really contribute to people's happiness are absent. People uselessly try to substitute for them through compulsive consumption of banal goods and services in a social structure that is increasingly fragmented and lacking solidarity.
In sum, if the development myth's own barometer of the relationship between a society's production capacity, its long term viability and the happiness of its components were applied to the Center's society, it would have to be called, without palliatives, profoundly underdeveloped. The perspective that the continuation of economic development offers the countries of the Center is merely a progressive sinking into this authentic social underdevelopment.
Inequality and Ecological CrisisThe Development Era has stretched the inequalities between the peoples of the world to extremes never before known in history. It has also propelled the planet toward a generalized ecological crisis, destroying the local bases of sustenance for innumerable peoples and cultures and breeding a huge set of problems with global reach. These two features, inequality and ecological crisis, are the main characteristics of the latest period of humanity's history.
Development has manifested its inability not only to spread abundance in the world, but even to cover the minimum needs of an important fraction of the population. The green revolution, industrial agriculture and international food trade have brought hunger to numerous peoples and zones that had historically been functioning in equilibrium with their natural surroundings.
The portrait of vast areas of the planet facing problems of housing, access to potable water and minimum energy needs is no prettier than the food picture. In many cases, these problems were directly provoked by the development programs themselves, in that populations have been uprooted from their natural environment, where they could find their own solutions to their needs. At the same time, the health and education programs that seemed to be advancing in the first stages of the development process have been increasingly lost in the last two decades in many regions of the world. In those areas, the current situation is even worse than during the colonial period which was, quite justly, considered inadmissibly precarious in its day.
The full development sequence, from dependence and the monetarization of the ways of life of individuals and communities to their forced linkage into the global economy, faces a crucial problem: it is ecologically unviable. Development and economic globalization can advance as long as only a fraction of the world's population and resources is affected, but, beyond a certain limit, they become intrinsically unsustainable from the ecological viewpoint.
Traditional local or autonomous ways of resolving human needs are usually reasonably adapted to the natural conditions of their surroundings. In its secular consolidation and perfecting process, this adaptation is obligatory if the solutions are to be really efficient and last over time. But economic globalization forces a specialization of economic activities in each place to satisfy the world market's requirements, not those of the natural conditions in each production locale. It matters little if the activities imposed on a given region deplete its natural resources as long as the benefit obtained prior to the definitive exhaustion of the resource base is great enough to justify that production at that moment and in that place. Such production, extended to more and more regions of the world, is obviously not sustainable over time.
If the ecological conditions of production at the local level put an ceiling of iron on economic globalization in the medium and long run, the ecological limits at the world level impose other, no less rigid constrictions on it. To allude to only one of these limits, globalization depends heavily on transportation and thus strongly stimulates the growth of this activity one of the most destructive to the world's environment. Transportation's strong dependence on fossil fuels becomes absolute in the case of long distance transport on a world scale. Its influence on the greenhouse effect and climatic change is already very worrisome; evidence of the need to radically curtail it is mounting.
In summary, economic globalization not only does not help improve people's living conditions, it objectively tends to reinforce their dependence, and thus sooner or later deteriorate the living conditions of the dependent population. The globalization process is also intrinsically unsustainable from the ecological point of view. This explains the international institutions' growing emphasis on "sustainable" development. In the absence of mechanisms that can slow the rhythm of environmental destruction associated with development and economic globalization, ecological unviability will become manifest much sooner.
Chaos: "Development's" LegacyDevelopment has also triggered the concentration of half the world's population into huge, unsustainable cities and capitals totally dependent on vital outside supplies that neither the existing natural resource funds nor the world economic system can assure. This urbanization process continues unabated, spurred by the destruction of local cultures, the multiplication of military conflicts and the peasantry's growing vulnerability.
The inevitable evolution of development into incipient globalization has already brought about thousands of traumatic dislocations of productive activities around the world, and the resulting establishment of huge zones of hyper exploitation, with indescribable labor and environmental conditions.
All these social dualization processes and ecological crises at a planetary scale have barely served to expand the crass consumerism of the majority of the North's population and not at all to satisfy their vital needs. Their real success has been to allow a disproportionate accumulation of wealth and power by certain privileged classes of the North and the leadership elites of the South allied in the universal dissemination of the development myth. The imbalances and tensions of all kinds that have been accumulating over the last half century are becoming so great that a "slide toward chaos" is shaping up on the horizon as the world's most likely evolutionary tendency in the medium run.
Maintaining the Myth is a Capitalist ImperativeEven in the face of all this evidence, society's leading powers and institutions are pledged to maintain the ruinous development myth as the inexorable destiny of all peoples and the only solution to humanity's problems. It is indispensable to somehow legitimize or justify the forced linkage of all human activity even the aspects previously considered marginal to the global economy.
But the enormous discrediting of the myth now obliges new versions of it to be invented with increasing frequency, with the corresponding upbeat adjectives. Some important benefit must be promised in exchange for this new global wave of "development."
Two such new versions have been launched in the international political arena just in the past few years. The first is "sustainable development," which aims at protecting development from the effects of the ecological crisis it has itself provoked and will go on aggravating as long as it remains in effect. The second is "human development," which insists on classifying the world's population in a new closed and unidirectional list, using universal evaluation criteria from which no one can escape: capacity for economic production, with nuances of literacy and life expectation. Next year, in a new world conference on development to be held in Copenhagen, the launching of yet another official version is expected, now with two adjectives instead of just one: "socially sustainable" development.
The Free Market: A God of WarFree trade is probably the most revered idol of all those populating the temple of economy. From the time it first appeared before the fathers of economic science, this typically western divinity has had legions of fanatic followers willing to accept any sacrifice in its name. Faith in this prodigal and avenging god is periodically inflamed to the point of hysteria, giving way to veritable tidal waves of economic fundamentalism. The economic world is going through one of these periods of religious fervor right now, in which the eternal idol is being worshipped particularly through the advocacy of international competitiveness and competition.
Nonetheless, the most convincing analyses of the true meaning and function of international competition are scored in a military key, not a religious one. The economic iconography shows Free Trade as a just and rational god, who distributes wealth among individuals and peoples proportionate to their labor, ingenuity and other merits of all kinds. But economic history shows this same god with a totally different face, that of a warlike and arbitrary divinity who grants success to the strongest, to the detriment of the weak. Its true attributes are not the hoe, the distaff and the nest egg, but the lance and the fist.
It is hardly worth trying to translate these metaphors to the level of economic argument, since the debate about competition and competitiveness is situated on the plane of beliefs, which has no room for logical discourse. Apart from what the economic theories that preach the virtues of free competition suggest or try to demonstrate, the only thing observed up to now in the real world of capitalist economy is a succession of predatory actions directly or indirectly backed by the force of arms. On the global economy's defined and regulated battlefield, giant corporations fight among themselves, grabbing or divvying up markets, advantages and benefits based on the relations of strength existing in each place at any given moment.
This is the only evidence and the only reality that endures over time, beyond anecdotal episodes in which some astute or gutsy player honestly obtains small and ephemeral benefits in some remote part of the arena. But in the sphere of beliefs, evidence has no more weight than arguments, and faced with both, believers remain faithful unto death or until some personal commotion makes them start asking questions.
Reality and observable experience do, however, serve to teach what can and cannot be expected from the way competition functions as a regulating instrument of economies, particularly the international economy. What can be expected is a still greater concentration of wealth and power in the transnational corporations and the governments that back them, as well as some transmission of these benefits toward the well off classes in the Center countries. These are obviously the strongest fighters, with most backing on the battlefield of the global economy, and they do not and never will hesitate to use their strength.
As a result, a general tendency toward greater dispossession of the peoples of the Periphery can be expected, although, at some stages, certain places may appear to be moving toward equalization. What obviously cannot be expected of international competition is a process that leads, even over a very long time, to equal access by all peoples on the planet to economic goods and natural resources.
A "World Government"?The point of departure for building a resistance movement against the new deployment of the capitalist world economy is a questioning of the three essential ideological pillars on which that global system is built: development, maintained as the objective and universal destiny of humanity as a whole; globalization of the economy, accepted as a historic necessity and the only way to extend development to the whole world; and competition in the free world market, considered to be the only instrument that can optimally regulate the functioning of the globalized economy.
Set upon these pillars, an idea is taking shape and being presented from very diverse perspectives as the logical arrival point of world thought: given the inexorable tendency toward a globalized economy and the planetary consequences of numerous environmental problems, it is necessary to construct some world rank regulatory system that can order the universal scene and the behavior of the various actors participating in it. The apparition of some form of "world government" is thus beginning to loom on the horizon as a necessary response to globalization.
The institutions that represent world capitalism are among those making incipient suggestions about the need to reinforce the international control mechanisms, but they are not alone. Given the ecological and social consequences that globalization and free international economic competition already have and will go on having, many independent individuals and organizations are, for different reasons, talking about the opportunity to establish world institutions that can oversee environmental conservation and protect the vital interests of the weakest by controlling the behavior of the strongest and establishing certain redistribution mechanisms.
Two reasons make this proposition explainable up to a point. First, as was to be expected and as experience shows, the process by which wealth and power is concentrated in the North tends to accelerate at an exponential rate when left to its own dynamic in the absence of effectively operating mechanisms of containment and redistribution at a world level. Second, experiences related to the construction of "welfare states" in some countries of the North in recent decades seem to indicate that a government committed to redistributing wealth can considerably smooth the differences between citizens, even establishing relatively balanced societies.
The first reason is so obvious that it is precisely what is moving global capitalism's lead powers to propose that control mechanisms be strengthened. Aware of the risks of a "slide toward chaos" accompanying an unrestrained global deployment of capitalism, they are taking small steps to put together some kind of world government. The embryo of such a future government is already taking shape under the United Nations umbrella. It is made up of the World Bank and other development banks, the IMF, the new ITO and various other regional and sectoral organizations. The Gulf War made clear that the anything but embryonic US army is its military arm. This worldwide institutional system is the only one that could emanate from the existing international political situation, and its ideological principles and priorities for action are both well known.
The second of the two reasons quickly falls of its own weight when the true nature of the social sharing on which the creation of the welfare state is based. In essence, what was distributed in the North was not the wealth created or appropriated within each country by its privileged classes. It was the flow of wealth that came from the South through colonial or neocolonial channels, entering each country through its privileged classes, which had kept control of the enterprises charged with exploiting the South. Each change in raw material prices, terms of exchange or North South financial flows favoring the North allowed the welfare states in the North to expand more, until the exhaustion of these feeding mechanisms began to truncate the process.
Who Wins, Who Loses?But the countries of the South do not now and will never have new Souths on which to renew this game. A supposed world government committed to redistribution at a global level would thus have to genuinely redistribute wealth, in a zero sum game in which "what some win, others must lose." In this game, only a severe cutback in the wealth of the North's inhabitants would allow a redistribution that could palpably benefit the South's numerous inhabitants. And as things stand, only a world government backed by a hegemony of the South or at least its military parity could impose such a process. This possibility is not even glimpsed, nor is it desirable to pursue. All peoples of the world should reject any solution supported by an arms race or use of military strength, because sooner or later it will boomerang.
In summary, encouraging the advance toward some form of world government that springs from the current political situation only legitimizes the very proposals of capitalism's lead powers, and accelerates the consolidation of political structures that the world's individuals and peoples could never control. Such structures would simply lead more firmly than the current ones to the spread of capitalism in predictable terms, attempting to stop the inevitable slide into chaos built into its own program by whatever peaceful or violent means are necessary. Any attempt by the South to mount a massive frontal attack on the North, on the other hand, would be a senseless adventure that would end in horrible suffering for the population.
The solutions to this apparent dilemma exist, but they are not of this kind. They do not go through world governments or any kind of "new world order," much less through a generalized military conflict. Such solutions are eminently based on processes of cultural transformation, social leadership, economic self sufficiency, direct solidarity and individual and group resistance to political subordination. All of these features must be expressed in generally peaceful terms, though they could be effectively backed by concrete insurrectional attitudes, expounded at the right time and place.
The End of Development – A New BeginningThe development myth has been dashed in many people's minds around the world mainly because the passage of time has provided evidence that not all of humanity can reach this goal. The moment has come to grasp that, in reality, development is unreachable by everybody, whether in the North, the South, the East or the West, precisely because it is nothing but a myth, lacking real existence.
Even the countries that have supposedly "already developed" are far from achieving or even glimpsing on the horizon definitive social equilibrium and the satisfactory, full, assured and stable individual satisfaction that constitutes the development myth's essential message. For decades, these countries have been sliding down a slope of economic and environmental unsustainability, social disintegration and increasing personal dissatisfaction and anguish, the bottom of which is not predictable or even imaginable. More and more people in the so called developed countries are asking themselves if what they have lost in the development process wasn't more valuable than the possibilities of crass consumption they have gained.
The Era of Development has failed for the common people and peoples of the World. To begin solving the world's problems, we need to move beyond this era. In the first place, the very term "development" as a political objective must be abandoned, renouncing once and for all the endless search for adjectives that try to invest meaning in it without daring to drop it altogether. It is more than evident that the term cannot be freed of the content and connotations that the dominant institutions and powers have been bestowing on it in the political and economic spheres for the past half century.
Shaking off the concept of development does not necessarily imply pledging oneself to active campaigns against it, or constantly denouncing the use of this term by other institutions or organizations. It is an unnecessary waste of political energy, since events will take charge of sweeping it away eventually. For now, it is simply a question of ceasing to use such an empty concept, which contributes nothing positive to the resolution of people's problems and only provides ideological cover to so many destructive institutional policies and interventions around the world. The character of these interventions and policies are what should be the object of continual denunciations and active campaigns, avoiding a sterile debate about whether they do or do not contribute to development, be it true or false, sustainable or unsustainable, human or inhuman, etc. Nor is it necessary to find a substitute term for development as a universal project of humanity.
"Humanity" if such a concept makes any political sense is too diverse to be embraced in a universal project. Each community or group, at any geographic or population scale, should seek its own satisfaction, prosperity and happiness in accord with its own cultural and ecological framework, autonomously and independently transforming its own culture and economic, social and political structures over time.
Autonomy and independence do not imply isolation or reduce the possibilities of cultural exchange and collaboration among all kinds of groups and communities. On the contrary, they are indispensable conditions for egalitarian exchange and collaboration, free of any kind of subordination, and thus equally fruitful for all parties that collaborate.
Renounce Development, Not BettermentNot only should the concepts of development and underdevelopment be definitively rejected, but so should those of advanced and backward countries, and more favored and less favored nations. In fact, any euphemism should be rejected that tries to organize the world's peoples in a hierarchy based only on their monetary wealth, forgetting other, far more important expressions of wealth and poverty (cultural, social, natural, etc.). In international relations, these false hierarchical categories should make way for other concepts with genuine content, ones that express the differences and problems that really do exist instead of classifications on which cultural subordination rests.
Some examples of genuine content are: the level of viability and sustainability of diverse economic and social models and their adaptation to the local ecological base, the level of autonomy and self sufficiency of individuals and communities, the state of conservation of their own cultural estate and vernacular knowledge, the level of solidarity and internal cohesion, and the level of responsibility in using the global funds of available natural resources.
Bringing the Development Era to a close in no way means renouncing any attempt to better people's living conditions, especially in nations, communities or groups with greater needs to cover. It means exactly the opposite. It means starting to pursue the betterment of these living conditions in the easiest and surest way: by stimulating the self confidence of individuals and communities on whatever scale (local, national, continental), so they can deal with resolving their own needs in the most autonomous way and at the nearest scale possible, without relying on the supposed benefits that are promised always in the future in exchange for accepting new and more profound forms of economic and cultural dependence.
It also, however, means renouncing any reflection of autonomous ways of resolving needs in indices of monetarized production and all other technocratic and economic indicators, as well as any national or regional classifications based on them that the experts might draw up.
Space for the South, with or without PermissionGetting beyond the development myth, self centering economic systems locally and ignoring the technocratic economic indicators does not presume any perpetuation of the status quo between the supposedly developed North and the supposedly underdeveloped South. More goods and services should obviously be produced in the South, and should be done largely to satisfy its innumerable unresolved needs.
The countries of the South should, with or without permission, occupy the ecological space that is indispensable to shelter such production. Thinking of their own interests, however, they should organize it in conditions adequately adapted to the local ecological environments and not in the irresponsible and unsustainable way the North has organized its productive system, fully dependent on outside plunder. Above all, such production should basically be generated and consumed at the local level the one on which human needs are expressed rather than sending it to feed world markets whose owners only return a tiny part of its true value to its creators.
Looked at from this perspective, it is quickly observed that the hardest problems to solve reside in the North. That is where the most drastic changes must be introduced if viable societies on a shared planet are to be built. The societies of the North have gone the farthest in pursuit of the development myth, most seriously deteriorated their own resource base and those of others, led their inhabitants into greater levels of dependence and loss of autonomy and lost more of their cultural estate and their ability to adapt to their own environment.
The societies of the North must confront these extremely serious problems without delay if they want coexistence on this planet to be satisfactory for both them and others. But they are culturally defenseless against the crumbling of their own model, and terrified of the evidence that societies of the South have before them a thousand indirect ways (cultural, demographic, migratory, economic, ecological...) to respond to their domination, and are prepared to use them.
The end of the Development Era will be harder for the North than for the South. If we take the level of social outbursts, fear of the future and people's unsatisfied vital needs as general indicators, it probably already is.