not in our time: burn the magic blankets and smash the band wagons

To posit that poverty, even just simply extreme poverty, will end or has the possibility to end in our time borders on naïveté. There are many within the development sphere that would jump on Jeffery Sachs’ bandwagon only to find that there are no bands scheduled to play. Like a marching band without instruments, Sachs’ claims seek to present structural solutions to problems without addressing structural root causes. One cannot expect too much from those who want to present good ideas, but do not challenge the status quo or the pockets of power that drive the “development” agendas. If there is to be real social change that benefits people in development then power structures must be addressed. Philip McMichael focuses on the role of power within the development field. Making sure to note the master and subject relationship between those of the ‘modern’ world and those who have not grown in the same vein as that power strapped modernity. A key aspect forgotten in many development discussions is history, including the very history of development. Many enter a community or country and attempt to present a diagnosis before even researching how and why the country, deemed ‘developing,’ has arrived at the poor conditions viewed as the worst possible indicators for ‘development.’

Post-World

We are living in a society that is wrestling with the idea that everything once held in high regard has actually been a set of extremely violent and detrimental practices to both our fellow human beings and our earthly habitat. As a result we talk of post-development, post-modernity, post-materialism, alternatives to globalization, and anything that rejects actions of the past. Calls like these are nothing new and have been expressed and published for the past 30 odd years by various experts and activists. It seems we are only now beginning to collectively grasp the importance of these post-world analyses. However from all these post-analyses it is easy to arrive at scathing conclusions of past failures. What is not as easy is to move forward from the wrongs of the past into the present and future with a firm understanding of what needs to change. Many within the development field fall victim to this analysis leaving the real issues unaddressed and the violent structure intact.
Addressing Inadequacies Effectively

Jeffery Sachs stepped to the limelight of the development world with his once seemingly far-reaching and radical assertions that we, the wealthy world, could easily do so much more to help those in grave situations. He was undoubtedly correct, but few took the time to really look at how he was saying (or not saying) we should implement this help. In Chapter One of his book, The End of Poverty, Jeffery Sachs writes,

Today we can evoke the same logic [the ability of advances in technology to underpin continued economic growth] to declare that extreme poverty can be ended not in the time of our grandchildren, but in our time. The wealth of the rich world, the power of today’s vast storehouse of knowledge, and the declining fraction of the world that needs help to escape from poverty all make the end of poverty a realistic possibility by the end of 2025. (3)

Here Sachs’ greatest mistake is laid bare. He does well to note that the wealth of today’s rich world is needed to make a difference in reversing the trends of poverty. However, he nearly exclusively focuses on the wealth of today’s rich world and not on the innovation and ability of those being ‘developed’ to know best about their situation. He misses the greatest uplifting accomplishment of human nature; empowerment. Yes, the ‘developed’ and Western world has harmed much of the ‘developing’ world in its pursuit of power and wealth. However, the key is not then to dictate the uses of that stolen wealth, but to redistribute it to those who are effectively addressing the issues that they face.

Sachs is an economist and not a historian. He nearly completely misses the make and break issue of development – colonialism and its effects. His structured solutions that tote the nation-state do not take into account a colonial past or its present implications that hold back development. Sachs as an economist is also from the “centralized” economics camp. He studied under shock therapy and structural adjustment programs (SAPs) for failing economies and seems to have never left behind the idea that people in poverty cannot help themselves and require experts or professionals to get them out.

Contradictions are a constant in Sachs’ work, the biggest one being his call for decentralization (278). His new big plan is the Millennium Villages Project (MVP), which looks like a very promising model except for the fact that it focuses on getting experts into villages to ‘develop’ and modernize them as opposed to allowing the village community to develop itself with support from the West. He calls for decentralization, but constantly follows the regular flows of development experts in advancing the role of the state in controlling development, as opposed to the people. The MVP has a great potential to be a working model for decentralized development spurred by individual communities in autonomous villages working for sustainable living, but those at the village level must then be empowered as such.

Relying on the market to help people is also a great failure of many current development economists, especially Sachs. If the market worked as it was supposed to, then wealth would redistribute itself through the structure to those without. This does not happen, there are cracks between the fingers of the invisible hand, and no markets are truly ‘free.’ Again Sachs fails to address power structures that drive markets and economies. The modernist approach with an individual at the helm driving his or her own advancement in society completely destroys the idea that people have a linked and interdependent existence. While Sachs critiques the magic bullet approach, he instead presents a magic blanket to cover the world of development issues without regard to power structures, colonial histories, or failures of the market (309). Sachs comes from the ‘development as modernization’ approach and he cannot seem to kick the habit.

Death by Consumption

Anyone with a basic understanding of the world can easily tell you that the way we currently live is extremely unsustainable and violent if the human race and world as we know it are to continue with future generations. Our practices destroy environments, force the extinction of animal species, destroy the lifestyles of those without, and kill people. We are essentially killing ourselves with the power hungry system we have established across the globe. When it was a wealthy minority that propagated the globalized stratification that we now see, it has become a collective “we” with a responsibility to change. In Chapter One of his book, Development and Social Change, Philip McMichael writes:

We are at a critical threshold: Whether consumer-based development remains a minority activity or becomes a majority activity among the earth’s inhabitants, either way is unacceptable for social (divided planet) or environmental (unsustainable planet) reasons or both, Development as we know it is in question. (1)

McMichael’s statement that, “We are at a critical threshold,” is not a new one. This sentiment has been echoed with the same calls for action for the past 30 years as many watched the earth deteriorate and society fracture across lines of income.

To overcome this threshold McMichael goes into the racist policies of colonization and talks about the benefits of decolonization in relation to development. The most important idea to cover here is the notion of modernity and the rise of neo-colonial practices funded by foreign aid. Are developing peoples modern? Can they be modern? How can those developing be considered modern if they never had a hand in developing what it now means to be modern? This is a very post-modern perspective, but I think a very valid one. If ‘developing’ societies want to effectively develop into sustainable communities that account for both the needs of people and their environment then they will need to reject every notion of being modern. Just because a Rwandan can use a computer doesn’t mean that s/he is modern mostly because s/he is not accepted as such in the global system. ‘Developing’ countries and communities need to also look at the implications of becoming modern: environmental degradation, liberalized and open economy that does not benefit everyone, exploitation of labor, the desire for things un-needed, and the fracturing of society in relation to wants, gender, and class.

The global world has come to commodify everything, including your much needed breakfast in the morning, possibly very soon your life could be legally bought and sold on the market. If everyone became modern and consumed at the rate that the wealthy do now – we will join the ranks of species made extinct by the human race. Those who have the highest power and wealth in society need to recognize and reduce their desire, while those without power and wealth need their basic needs provided.

McMichael’s writings focus on the impact of development projects and policies on people, and as such also the habitats of those people. Where most developers look beyond people straight to the nation-state and the increases in GDP, McMichael offers real life examples of development at work and models for sustainable development. McMichael doesn’t attempt to present any grand plans or solutions but instead focuses on case studies of groups and communities resisting global development and attempting to spur their own development (231).

Dichotomy: Will Modernity or Tradition Save the Day?

The potential solutions are many and the ideas just keep coming, but what really works and what is just a stack of papers, a nicely written book, or a pile of garbage. If we focus solely on the ideologies of Sachs and McMichael, I think it is possible to marry the two ideas for solutions to creating models for sustainable development and moving towards a more equal and mutually beneficial society.

Sachs will have to make some concessions if the marriage is to last beyond the honeymoon however. When Sachs calls for decentralization (278), he has to really mean it. His MVP model needs to embody this idea that small-scale groupings of people can create their own solutions for development. As McMichael writes, models of self-organizing development need to be adopted as opposed to the dominant centralizing version (239). In the same vein of decentralizing needs to be the idea of localization. McMichael writes of Wolfgang Sachs’ idea of ‘cosmopolitian localism’ where diversity is embraced at the local levels. A great example of ‘cosmopolitian activism’ is the advent of cooperatives that infuse democratic values and respect for local ecology.

In a case study in Ghana, McMichael outlines this idea better (248). Local farmers switched from growing a national crop of cassava to growing corn for the local markets. This was in a sense a slight rejection of the state economy and global economy to ensure a sustainable local community. The goal of many developing countries related to the environment is to create alternatives to the capital and energy intensive agro-industry and sustain local ecologies by building alternative models to top-down bureaucratic systems (249).

Conclusion

The solution will not be a large-scale plan that is facilitated by the West or modeled by modern advances. The solution will be in decentralized, small-scale, local villages and communities working collectively together to preserve their ecological habitats and meet everyone’s basic needs. The state will become irrelevant, the global economy will be allowed to collapse, and people will seek to be closer to one another in their shared natural commons.

Works Cited:
McMichael, Philip
2004 Development and Social Change. Thousand Oaks, California: Pine Forge Press.

Sachs, Jeffery
2005 The End of Poverty. New York: Penguin Press.

young people are the key drivers of social change

Harry S. Truman Scholarship Policy Proposal by: Alex B. Hill

Problem Statement
International development is a vast and complex issue. With over 18 million people dying each year from the lack of development assistance in health infrastructure something new needs to be done. Within the US there is a trend that foreign aid dollars are coming more from private NGOs and nonprofits as opposed to official government agencies. For so many years international development was tackled in simplified single-issue campaigns, which only created any effect in the short-term. This can be attributed to the fact that most Americans have a limited worldview. Most Americans have not traveled internationally, especially to developing countries. Therefore international development issues remain remote and abstract to most Americans. International development is a long-term issue. It is inherently complex and difficult to understand. There is no single enemy, and outcomes are rarely clear-cut or translatable through numbers. Faced with this challenge, some countries have opted to undertake broad-based efforts to build increased public understanding of development issues.4 There are a number of programs that promote volunteering and global engagement, such as the Peace Corps and Volunteers for Prosperity, through USA Freedom Corps. While these programs offer opportunities for highly educated and skilled Americans there exists a great void for those who are inspired and motivated, but may not have the degree or skills to qualify for these programs. The way to bring about increased political will on development issues in the US will lie in the creation of a long-term cultural and social movement, spurred by young people, to change the way in which many Americans think about international development. If this movement is to achieve change, it will be vital to increase the knowledge and understanding of development issues among the public.

Proposed Solution
Young people are the key drivers of social change. Considering this fact, there needs to be a policy focused on engaging young people in order to build a domestic constituency for international development that will create lasting connections. The policies on education and participation related to international development need to change. Young people have grown up with internet, global popular culture, and easier communications and travel, which has made the world smaller, more connected, and more accessible. Young people, specifically college students, have the opportunities to study abroad and are almost constantly encouraged to participate in global exchanges. Young people are left out of the equation when they exist as the greatest asset to making change in the development sector. If the problem is to be remedied then there needs to be a two-step plan. The first step needs to be increased support for a development curriculum in middle and high schools. This is where the US has fallen far behind Europe. European education efforts have focused their resources on offering learning initiatives for young people. Focusing on youth has been a key strategy of both European NGOs and government for many years. Countries that have embraced a long-term vision of youth-focused development education have the highest public awareness and support for development. According to the OECD the US spends less per capita on development education than any other OECD country. The second step needs to combine the learning activities of the school curriculum with action opportunities. The traditional classroom will not be enough to keep the engagement necessary to build an active constituency for change. Having action programs for youth will be a great method of measuring the success of the educational component. Pivotal to both steps will be increased support for a collaborative body dedicated to promoting development education. The US Development Education Alliance has been largely ineffective because it lacks support from both NGOs and the government agencies. This body needs to be coordinated at the national level and networked internationally so that efforts can be combined for maximum effect.

Major Obstacles/ Implementation Challenges
The major challenge facing this policy proposal is the US education system. In the US is largely determined locally, as opposed to Europe, where national governments set education policy standards. This will be the greatest difficulty in implementing a development-oriented curriculum. The next challenge will be government support. Having a coherent government platform to support development education will lend recognition and incredible support to the effort. Without a government backing, the policy will likely fail. Likewise, the US Development Education Alliance will need greater support from NGOs and government agencies, such as the USA Freedom Corps, Peace Corps, and USAID, in order to push for a change in policy.

Check out the Development Education Association, based out of the UK, it is a network of all development education organizations.