Modernisation and Neoliberalism: More of a Hindrance to Development

In our DEVE511 class this week we talked about two theories that I kept on hearing for quite a long time already: modernisation and neoliberalism. And yes, you’re probably dead right that what I’ve heard about these two theories before were on the negative side. In fact, I tried my best to get a grasp of the positive side of the spectrum while in class, but what I’ve learned even made my frustrations against these theories ignite.

Let’s talk about modernisation first. At first one would think that it’s actually a good thing. After all, in this age of modernity, who would want to stay behind in the backwaters of progress? Virtually no one! After all, with modernisation came education, mass media, urbanisation, new social forms, mobility, and extensive networks.

But think again: modernisation arose during the height of the European industrial revolution. And the European bourgeoisie must have thought, ‘if modernisation worked in Europe, it’ll work elsewhere’. A major cause of concern? Some would argue that it’s not much of a concern but get this: Europe ain’t the world, kiddos! Resources in Europe are different from the resources in Asia, and are also different from the ones in Africa. Furthermore, modernisation only looks at the internal causes of poverty. Yes, for modernisation theory, all causes of poverty is internal and external forces are not to be held accountable.

What’s even worse is the theory of neoliberalism. Neoliberalism basically removes governance responsibilities from the state thru privatisation, deregulation, free markets, free trades, and austerity measures (aka rolling back the state). Though it left some duties to the state, such as property rights, globalisation, re-regulation, and good governance, in paper it might be good, but in practice, essentially this is done to protect the wealthy even more.

I have argued in class that all the processes involved in neoliberal theory are the perfect ingredients to make the social climate rife for, as what Karl Marx has put it, a social revolution. My friend Leo Fuentes, former chairperson of the UP Los Baños University Student Council, has appended my argument by saying that neoliberalism is actually a recovery measure to cover up the “bankruptcy of capitalism”.

A simple case at hand:

Back at home, both modernisation and neoliberal theories are at work in reforming the national education system. Of course we wouldn’t want a bankrupt education system, but not at the expense of the poor but deserving students. The University of the Philippines, known as the Philippines’ national university, is a state university founded in 1908 whose mandate, as provided by Republic Act 9500, otherwise known as the University of the Philippines Charter of 2008, “to perform its unique and distinctive leadership in higher education and development”. This is purposely in accordance with Section 1 of Article XIV of the 1987 Philippine constitution, with states that “the State shall protect and promote the right of all citizens to quality education at all levels, and shall take appropriate steps to make such education accessible to all”. In essence, UP has a mandate to educate young minds as part of the national thrust towards development and progress.

However in 2006, the UP Board of Regents, the highest governing body of the University, approved a 300% increase in tuition and other fees, despite mounting opposition by the widest ranks of the students, the faculty, and the academic and non-academic staff. It was further aggravated in 2012 when President Benigno Aquino III proposed the largest budget cut in the history of the university amounting to more than Php1 billion. Facing the largest opposition, Aquino answered critics of the move by saying that “the university should adapt to changes in the market and should learn how to generate its own funds.” We see the force of the free market and deregulation (of tuition fees) at play here.

Furthermore, several lands owned by the University that are reserved for academic purposes are being leased to private entities in order to generate further income for the University. Opposition has feared that the leases are a form of commercialisation which will eventually lead to the privatisation of the University.

And more recently, the Board of Regents approved that the University shift the academic calendar from the usual June-March school year to an August-May school year. The administration reasons out that this for easier mobility of students and faculty among the ASEAN University Network. Considering that the human resource is currently the Philippines’ top export, this move hints to the force of free trade.

Putting together the pieces of modernisation and neoliberal theory led me to ask: how can both theories be used as frameworks for development?  I firmly believe that in order for a nation to progress into a developed one, a high premium should be placed on the responsibility of the State. Yes, the citizens also have their fair share of the pie, but the State, being the representation of the people, should be the ones to push forward this development goal. But with modernisation and neoliberalism basically removing the responsibility of the State to its people, these theories are seen more of a hindrance than a launchpad to development.

A bankrupt idea cannot solve the problem of bankruptcy.

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