Development a Multidimensional Concept
It was once a worldwide belief that development is primarily concerned with economic growth, meaning that once there was economic growth a country would develop. This was so firmly believed that a number of theories, which were put across to explain development and how to achieve development, such as modernization theory, and dependency theory centered on economic growth being the key factor in development. There is no one definition of development, as persons have different interpretations of development.
In Portest’s and Kincaid’s interpretation of development, they stated that it should involve a reduction in unemployment and the extension of fundamental rights and freedoms for the population. Another definition of development, according to Garrett Nagle, is a number of characteristics such as demographic change, economic growth, increased use of resources, modernization, higher levels of technology and political freedom. Economic growth, which is measured by Gross Domestic Product (GDP), occurs when there is an increase in GDP over the previous year.
Although the assumption that development is primarily concerned with economic growth is incorrect, it is understood why this assumption was made in the first place. All countries that are now termed developed have experienced more or less consistent economic growth to their reaching to the point of developed. In addition, all of the ‘developed’ countries have high GDPs, which are considerably greater than developing countries’. For example, Caribbean neighbor, the United States of America, in the year 2000 had a GDP per capita of US$ 34, 142, while Caribbean island, Jamaica, in that same year had a GDP per capita of US$ 3,064.
GDP per capita refers to the amount of money each person supposedly earns or is spent on each person, when the total population divides the GDP. Another argument that supports development as being solely concerned with economic growth, is that resources needed for development come at a cost. It is argued that how can their be improved technology, shift from subsistence to commercial farming, expansion and improvement in infrastructure and so forth if there is no money to fund these moves.
Indeed many of the resources needed for development such as incubators in the health care sector and increased number of schools to improve literacy is expensive. There is no way these things can be accumulated without economic growth accumulating first, developed countries in Europe, such as Switzerland have excellent roads and first class medical equipment which all come at a high cost. It is also argued that economic growth attracts more economic growth, an assumption that has much credibility.
If a country experiences economic growth the country may invest that increased money into building, more factories which will in turn increase production and economic growth. Also, if the GDP of a country is increasing and the country uses that money to improve physical and social infrastructure this will in most cases attract investors. Investors want easy access to shipping ports and good amenities to facilitate their businesses, which among other things provide jobs for the countries’ citizens and increase the output of goods and services.
One example of this is Maharashtra, India, which has experienced massive economic growth, attracted between 1991 and 1996 over US$64 million worth of foreign investment. Another argument supporting the statement that development is primarily concerned with economic growth is that economic growth can be quantified, so it easily shows if the society is improving. As mentioned earlier economic growth is measured by GDP. If GDP increases over a few successive years, it is assumed that a country is developing.
If the GDP is constant or decreasing, it is said that development is stagnant or development is moving backwards. In fact, GDP is still the most widely used and accepted form of measuring development and considered a relatively good indicator of development and a good measure for comparing differences. It should be noticed that it is the countries with the highest GDP that are considered the most developed in the world. Luxembourg, Switzerland, Norway, United States of America and Canada all have high GDPs and are considered some of the most developed countries in the world.
Now, in the second definition of development it was established that development is a number of characteristics, which include political freedom, and in the first definition, freedoms for the population. This definition was correct in defining development as including other characteristics. In addition to economic growth, the main characteristics of development are improvement in Human Development Indicators (HDIs), such as life expectancy, levels of education, ratio of doctors to the population and labour productivity.
Also, development must be sustainable and involve the notion of advancement, involve freedom, justice and equity, and development must be ethical. It has been realized by many development practitioners that development is useless if it is unsustainable. Sustainability has been interpreted as requiring some constancy in the stock of natural environmental assets, discounting future gain losses.
Sustainable development then is a: situation in which the development indicators do not decrease overtime, and the rate of development is generally positive over some selected time horizon. Sustainable development is also development in the interest of the excluded group, the not yet born and must adapt to the resource base of a country. The earliest concept of sustainability, argued for development to be compatible with the environment such as not clearing wetlands, which serve as habitats for particular species, to build housing developments.
More recently, a holistic concept of sustainable development has been taken, in which economic, ecological, social and political factors need to be simultaneously considered on the premise that the present generation needs are met without compromising the ability of future generation to meet their own needs ( Reid, 2002, p. 93). If economic growth is the sole concern of development, it is very limited in defining development as it fails to depict sustainability. According to Baumol and Blinder economic growth is unable to show environment degradation.
Environment degradation usually occurs as a cost of development, however if the environment is being destroyed it could not be defined as development, as it is unsustainable. Even if the consequences are not felt immediately it would cost future generations. One good example of unsustainable development, is the worldwide phenomenon of global warming, which is occurring due to the world’s improper disposal of waste and the emitting of heat trapping gases, from sources, such as factories, which serve to create the greenhouse effect.
The serious nature of this has been so recognized, that the Kyoto Protocol was developed, where all major countries in agreeing to this protocol had to follow the guidelines of reducing the emission of green house gases. One of the major setbacks faced in the Kyoto Protocol is the refusal of the United States of America (U. S. A. ) to adhere to the Kyoto Protocol, with the U. S. A being the largest producer of greenhouse gases in the world. This has been a major setback to development as the future generations quality of life are being jeopardized as the world’s natural disasters become more intense and frequent in their occurrences.
Another aspect of sustainability that economic growth is unable to show is that, while GDP may increase for a particular year, it does not tell what has caused this increase, in other words it does not distinguish the ‘goods’ from the ‘bads’ . For example, the Caribbean countries are prone to hurricanes between the months of June and November. If a hurricane strikes and causes considerable damage then the GDP for that year would show a great increase over the previous year.
This is due to the fact that, more money is being spent to rebuild the economy thus propelling GDP figures, when in truth, the country has suffered a blow to its development as its agricultural sector, infrastructure and environment has suffered immensely. In this scenario, development has taken a backward step, as it has not been sustained as otherwise shown by GDP figures. Human Development Indicators are critical to development as it is imperative that development addresses human issues; human development must pay attention to quality of life issues.
Unlike economic growth, Human Development Indicators of which some are represented on the Human Development Index (HDI) give a more accurate measure of well being of a country. The Human Development Index shows the literacy rate, life expectancy and Purchasing Power Parity of a country. Literacy rate gives the percentage of people that are able to read in the population, life expectancy gives the average amount of years the population is expected to live and purchasing power parity is really, what the GDP per capita is able to purchase in that country.
All of these indicators give a better outlook on what the well being of a country’s population is like, as we could never tell the literacy rate or life expectancy by just looking at economic growth. Also, although GDP might show an increase, this does not mean that persons are able to buy more, as the cost of living of that country might be very high. It should be noted that the HDI can be modified to suit a country, for example Jamaica’s HDI measures unemployment rate and the ratio of doctors to patient.
In a Sociology for Development Lecture, it was further illustrated that the findings of the HDI are reported in the Human Development Report. The creation of the Human Development Report was motivated by the global realization that development is meaningless unless it improves persons’ quality of life. Another important concern of development is the notion of advancement, which means that society should be advancing as it develops; development becomes meaningless if things remain static. Advancement is usually associated with two processes. The literature argues that as a society advances it becomes more efficient and more flexible.
A society should be advancing in the sense that it is able to adapt to new technologies (flexibility), which will in turn make the society more efficient, whether in terms of its production capacities or improving literacy. To explain, further, technology is forcing educational planners to reevaluate the entire concept of a mass produced education system in which students are herded around schools to assigned classrooms according to fixed schedules and one size fits all curricula. In the U. S. A the teaching of classes through the virtual reality and global networks allows students to go at their own pace and is being used increasingly there.
In a few years, if the Caribbean does not catch up with this revamped style of educating, and remains with a system of physical classrooms where students fall behind, as they are unable to catch up with the rest of the class, the education system of the Caribbean society will be considered inefficient and inflexible. Inefficient, as it would have failed in catering to the needs of individual students and inflexible, as it would have not adapted the new teaching methods. Economic growth is limited in its ability to tell how advanced a society is, as one cannot look at figures and describe how efficient or flexible a society is.
Development also takes into serious account the notion of freedom, justice and equity of individuals in society. Several development writers have argued that freedom is central to development. In fact, recently, a famous development theorist Sen, argued that freedom is development and the highest possible development is one based on freedom. For her, an individual will never realize their full potential in a situation where they cannot exercise freedom. This failure to realize full potential runs counter to the intent of development.
In accordance to Western classification, there are some societies that have many restrictions to their freedom, these societies are termed as authoritarian while societies which experience little or no restrictions to freedom are termed as democratic. In the Caribbean, the Owen Arthur led Barbados is regarded as a democratic society, while the Fidel Castro led Cuba is regarded as an authoritarian society. The level of freedom in a society cannot be inferred from a country’s economic growth. In addition to freedom, development must facilitate access to justice and equity in the society (Ffrench, 2006).
This means everyone is entitled the right to a fair trial, and the right to seek justice in a lawful manner (court hearing, the right to be treated equally under the law and the right to equal access to resources regardless of race, class, religion and so on. In many countries around the world, there is major injustice and inequality. Jamaica, for instance is ranked 11th in the world in countries with the widest gap between rich and poor. Also, justice is highly lacking in some countries such as Haiti, where, Gerard Latortue, in his stint as president, declared the sanguinary gang of murderers and rapists to be ‘freedom fighters’.
This obviously means that Latortue endorsed the gang’s unlawful behaviour, and by his calling them freedom fighters, he should have put a way for terrorism, as he was very much aware of the gang’s deeds. However, Latortue has remained untouched. This is major injustice, as due to Latortue’s power he and the gang members have not been charged although the country is well aware of their wrongdoings. Again, economic growth is unable to tell the full story of development, as it is unable to tell the inequalities and injustices that exist in a country The last significant concern of development is that of ethics.
Some persons argue that development is meaningless if it is unethical. There is a growing school of thought in development which argues that the development process must be guided by ethical considerations, for them unethical development is ultimately unsustainable because it may mean the exploitation of certain groups of individuals thus preventing them from realizing their full potential. According to Mr. Denis Goulet development ethics is concerned with rendering development decisions and actions humanely ( Ffrench,2006). In deciding on a path to development some ethical questions must be asked, among them are: 1.
What should count as (good) development? 2. What moral issues emerge in development policymaking and practice and how should they be resolved? 3. Who or what should be responsible for bringing about development? A nation’s government, civil society or the market? What role—if any— should more affluent states, international institutions, and nongovernmental associations and individuals have in the self-development of poor countries? (Crocker) These and more questions arise in every decision a government makes in taking a particular path to development, often times it is likely that whatever ecision the government makes it will somehow jeopardize the peoples well being.
Say for example, St Lucia is deciding whether to allow a hotel chain to set up a resort as it refuses to adhere to the regulations of setting up infrastructure in certain proximity to the coastline. If the government gives the hotel the go ahead, the construction will over time lead to coastal erosion. However, if the government refuses to give them permission, it would mean a considerably amount of potential jobs lost, with the chance of improving a considerable number of the population’s standard of living.
The government is led to decide: which is worst coastal erosion or hundreds of potential job losses? This issue of ethics cannot be deduced from economic growth, as economic growth cannot tell that whatever decisions were made to achieve economic growth were ethical or unethical. The world has now realized that economic growth cannot be considered the primary concern of development. It has been established that although economic growth is a critical factor of development it is not the sole factor.
Any country still believing that economic growth is equivalent to development would be me making a very wrong assumption. Other factors are as equally important, as economic growth, which are mainly, sustainability, notion of advancement, development ethics, human development indicators and the notion of freedom, justice and equity. None of these concepts by themselves can be considered the main concern of development. It is when all these concepts are placed together and given equal consideration, that we can truly assess development.