Alternatives to development

Post-development has vehemently rejected the idea of development (in the Western sense, though). And it is but logical that when you reject something, you propose an alternative. And post-development calls for alternatives to development. This is actually opposed to alternative forms of development which we talked about previously. There are three prominent alternatives: community economiesagency of practitioners, and focus on wealth.


In community economies, the discourse is shifted from a deficits-based to assets-based. The discourse puts focus on what communities have, rather than what they don’t have. In this way, post-development thinkers call for alternative economies centred on non-capitalist community development. Development is basically in the hands of the community itself, and not on external forces.


In talking about the agency of practitioners, post-development thinkers approach the fluidity of hegemony and create a space for agency. They view development work as a political process and those who practice development are agents for change. Conversely, this creates an opportunity to challenge those who wield power. Therefore participatory approaches (especially the revolutionary types) are very important in this discourse.


Finally, another alternative is to focus on wealth. This alternative basically questions the consumption patterns of the wealthy (and therefore has links to environmental critiques). In a way, this discourse accuses the wealthy of greed – having to consume most of the world’s resources without leaving a sustainable amount for the rest of the world. It is this greediness that kept the Third World in misery.


Sounds nice aye? But these alternatives seemingly uncritically celebrated rural societies, therefore depicting culture as a static. Is post-development and its so-called alternatives a new ideology or just a new set of jargon to describe the old ways of development?


I personally think that post-development works better in the field that it could on paper (refer to the post re: Buen Vivir in Ecuador). There are things that look good on theory but fail on practice, and vice versa. One thing I could note though: why not try it to see if it actually works?  And probably, post-development could work as a tool in advancing other notions of development?

Post-development in action: Buen Vivir in Ecuador

La transición de Ecuador de una economía basada en el mercado a una economía social y solidaria ha allanado el camino para el progreso continuo de la mayoría, si no todos, los ecuatorianos. Yo personalmente he visto cómo el presidente Correa fortaleció el país con la implementación de Buen Vivir.

A esto se añade el hecho de que Ecuador fue el primer país en reconocer los derechos de LGBT, así como los derechos de la naturaleza, no será una sorpresa si Ecuador repente se convierte en el líder mundial en el reconocimiento de los derechos humanos.

(“Ecuador’s gradual shift from a market-based economy to a social and solidarity economy has paved the way for continued progress for most, if not all, Ecuadorians. I have personally seen how President Correa strengthened the country with the implementation of Buen Vivir. Add to that the fact that Ecuador was the first country to recognize LGBT rights as well as the rights of nature, it will not be a surprise if Ecuador suddenly becomes the world leader in recognizing human rights.”)


That was the words that my good friend Martin Navarrette (who is half-Filipino/half-Ecuadorian and is currently taking his masters degree in Agricultural Economics from the Universidad Agraria de Ecuador in Guayaquil) told me when I asked about how Ecuador fares in well being among South American nations. Obviously he was very proud about how his paternal country (his father was born in Cuenca) has transitioned to a country whose residents were mostly living a good life.


“Aquí, en Guayaquil, aunque no todo el mundo es rico en términos económicos, nadie se queja (Here in Guayaquil, although not everyone is wealthy in economic terms, no one is complaining),” he added.  Of course, I don’t actually know whether he’s telling the truth or not, but I’d always give him the benefit of the doubt; for one he’s on the ground in Ecuador. But I think most of his statements are just testaments to how Buen Vivir became a successful policy in the country.


Buen Vivir, literally “good living”, is a Latin American based project that has its roots deeply entrenched in post-development theory. Some people would actually argue that Buen Vivir is post-development theory swinging into action. The ‘project’ (if you would like to call it that way) involves a wide range of stakeholders and actually embraces the rich cultural diversity of Latin America, not only its Spanish heritage but as well as its indigenous heritage such as the Quechua, Aztecs, Olmecs, Maya, Aymara, among others. Together with this acknowledgement of indigenous heritage is the recognition of past practices influencing the current living conditions of the people.


Ecuador was one of the first Latin American countries to embrace Buen Vivir. In 2007, social democrat Rafael Correa succeeded acting president Alfredo Palacio as president of the country that recently saw a wave of protests that eventually led to the ouster of retired Col. Lucio Gutierrez as president in 2006 (Palacio took over Gutierrez’s presidency as an interim). In 2008, Correa called for a Constituent Assembly whose main task is to address Ecuador’s poverty. The Assembly responded by drafting a Constitution that was overwhelmingly approved by the public majority.


The 2008 Constitution of Ecuador is a historic one, worldwide, in the sense that it was the first one to explicitly recognise rights of the environment, right to die with dignity, right to love and be loved, right to free time for contemplation, , right to food, drug liberalisation, same-sex relationships, and gender identity. These newly recognised rights are added to the list of universally accepted rights as set out in the Geneva Convention (e.g. right to education, right to healthcare etc.). And the original universal rights were further strengthened by the Constitution. Case in point: Ecuador was the first country in the world to constitutionally remove tuition and other user-fees. Starting in 2012, admission to all 29 public universities in Ecuador will be based on an aptitude test.


But has Buen Vivir did wonders for Ecuador economically? President Correa seemed not to be too keen on economic indicators. In an interview, he explicitly stated that he was after the well-being of his people, that his country’s youth get educated, that his people will receive adequate healthcare, and that his country has adequate food to eat.


This is the Latin American concept of Buen Vivir. This is post-development in action. We are so engrossed with the Western model of development that is based on economic growth and indicators that we forget that human development is very important to progress. For Latin America, and especially Ecuador, human rights and dignity come first before economic progress. And I should say, Ecuador has actually made a huge economic turnaround since 2008 when they started implementing Buen Vivir.


Again in the words of my friend Martin,

Lo que me pareció mejor en Ecuador que debería ser emulado en las Filipinas es el hecho de que los derechos humanos y la dignidad debe ser lo primero antes de progreso económico. Elevar primero los niveles de vida de las personas antes de que se jactan de un aumento del crecimiento del PIB, las tasas de inflación bajos, y las tasas de desempleo baja.

(“What I found best in Ecuador that should be emulated in the Philippines is the fact that human rights and dignity should come first before economic progress. Uplift first the living standards of the people before you boast about increased GDP growth, lowered inflation rates, and lowered unemployment rates.”)


Viva Ecuador.

Post-development: rejecting the notion of development

Towards the end of the twentieth century we saw a series of upheavals that have reshaped history forever – the breakup of Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union, the reunification of Germany, and the ascent of China. The fall of communism gave strength to neoliberalism and modernisation across the globe, but with the strengthening of these market-based nuances outlook for development started to drop. A new school of thought then emerged, questioning the very notion of development.


This school of thought is called post-development, which rose from the heels of three “postist” theories: post-modernism, post-colonialism, and, most significantly, post-structuralism (the theory actually anchors itself too much on the concepts put forward by French philosopher Michel Foucault). Post-development thinkers have used Foucauldian concepts to ultimately reject the notion of development; they view development as a discourse and a globalised bureaucratic force. 


For post-development theorists, development can be viewed in four aspects – as discourse, violence, neo-colonialismand failure. Essentially, post-development theorists claim that because of these four aspects, development has been seen as marginalising or dichotomising certain sectors (e.g. Western realities become universal, aspects of cultural, environmental, and human violence, etc). Post-development sees development as a discourse embedded with power relations, and that it has caused more pain and violence than emancipation. Ergo, development is merely an extension of capitalism. Post-development is seen as revolutionary, visionary, and reformist.


But is post-development a valid critique of mainstream development? Or is it just a reactionary critique? Critics of post-development would argue that post-development is merely another rundown critique of mainstream development and is just a language game. Some would even argue that post-development proponents have overused, misused, and abused Foucault’s concepts to further their own ideas. 


But then again, post-development may just be as strong as mainstream development is when it comes to uplifting the statuses of the poorest of the poor. The succeeding posts will look at how post-development argued for alternatives to development, as well as how post-development played out in the field. 

But for now, I’d like to leave us with a question: How “post” is post-development? 

Neostructuralism: neoliberalism in disguise?

Post-World War II Latin America served as the stage of among the most prominent economic and political upheavals in the Western Hemisphere – a series of hyperinflations, military coups and dictatorships, civil unrest. So it comes as no surprise that Latin America would give rise to a new school of economic, political, and (probably) development thought.


Rising from the heels of structuralism and dependency is the school of thought called neostructuralism and is characteristically implemented in the economic policies of especially Chile, Brazil, Ecuador, and Argentina. Neostructuralism, though mainly a critique of neoliberalism, keeps the market-friendly characteristic of neoliberalism but has more concern for the environment (kind of a response to the limits to growth previously put forward). It calls for a minimalistic role for the state, more of a guidance role rather than an interventionist, and has a deep concern for poverty issues. Conversely, it is populist and mildly nationalist.


The buzz of neostructuralism started with Jorge Castañeda, Mexico’s foreign minister from 2000-2003, and Roberto Mangabeira Unger, Brazil’s Minister for Strategic Affairs (around the same time as Castañeda). They placed themselves in a brutal opposition towards the Washington Consensus, as both ministers favour an expanded social service sector with the aim to eradicate poverty in Latin America. The rest of the region followed suit. Castañeda even furthers this as a distinction between the Latin American left that is ‘modern, open-minded, reformist, and internationalist’ and the Latin American ‘other’ which is ‘nationalist, strident, and close-minded’.


Sounds good aye? But if you notice the rhetoric used by neostructuralism, isn’t it just neoliberalism in disguise, or worse, neoliberalism back with a vengeance? The continued reliance on the market and free trade, the call for globalisation — all are neoliberalistic elements with a twist: the added rhetoric of reform using buzzwords such as poverty, inequality, welfare, and sustainability. Filipino sociology professor Walden Bello actually described that neostructuralism is about ‘social management’ and not ‘social liberation’, as it actually failed to address issues of gross inequality, class relations, and class structures. 


And with the continued utilisation of neostructuralism in Latin America, the late Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, who is hugely anti-neoliberal, might be spinning in his grave right now. 

When the economic world reaches 21: environmentalism, climate change, and the limits to growth

I always remember when we were kids and we start to appreciate sports. In the Philippines, one of the most popular sports that kids turn to is basketball. Kids as young as 7 years old would always look up to their NBA idols (Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Dwight Howard). Of course, in the game of basketball, height is a factor. The taller you are, the better you can play since you’ve gotta account for skills such as rebounding, close-shooting, blocking, and dunking. However, we know from our science classes that we can only grow to a certain height and not more than that. For boys, we stop growing after the age of 21.


But is the basketball-height analogy applicable to the world of development? Have we reached the limits as far as economic growth is concerned? The capitalist sense would say that the market should be let run freely, and if it entails continued growth and development, so be it. But recently we have experienced a lot of crises – the oil crisis of the 70s and the 2008 global financial crisis. Add to that a fledgling environmentalist movement that calls for environmental protection (which has obvious economic implications) as well as the emergence of the concept of sustainable development.


The concept of the population time-bomb (a Malthusian concept) suggests that overpopulation causes underdevelopment, and there is a need to limit population growth. Or, limit economic growth. Or, to avert a total catastrophe, limit the two altogether. Let the Third World remain Third World. 


Sounds to good to be true, eh? But how can that actually happen? The First World’s economic dependence on industries that entail high energy consumption is taking a toll on the Third World. Many would have observed that the First World’s energy reserves are starting to be depleted and they are looking to the Third World’s energy reserves to fuel their own industries. Although there are several new First World energy reserves that have been recently discovered (e.g. shale gas in the United States), extracting these reserves are seen to be detrimental to the environment (e.g. fracking). And with the continued rise of the high-energy industries (e.g. manufacturing, oil&gas, etc.), consequences such as increased carbon emissions are being felt by everyone, but it’s the Third World who suffers the most. True, the third world remains in poverty, but the first world is continually trying to grow itself, notwithstanding the probability that they may have already reached their growth tipping point.


Is limiting population growth an actual solution? I’d call more for responsible population growth. Our environment is suffering a lot because of higher populations. But actually cutting population growth is not a good solution either. Make the governments and their people responsible human beings. Teach kids to be more environmentally concerned, probably. I know, easier said than done.


And yeah, probably the world has reached 21 (using the basketball-height analogy). 


When smaller is better

Mainstream development practice is all about size: the bigger the better. Sure, large scale development projects effect the macroeconomic environment of a developing country, but do these successes trickle down to the smallest of the citizenry? We always hear national governments boast of economic growth, increase in GDP, upgrades of credit ratings, among others, but are these ‘economic miracles’ felt by the citizens, especially those in the lowest levels of society?


Alternative development critiques this mainstream thinking of development by stressing the need for redistribution rather than growth. Though this school of development thinking has no coherent theory, it vehemently points out the failure of mainstream development practice. Aside from redistribution, alternative development stresses for local initiatives, meeting basic needs first, human-centred development, community participation and self-reliance, and sustainable development.


Alternative development believes that “small is beautiful”. No need for those large-scale projects that oftentimes benefit the upper realms of society rather than the most needy. And since this area of development thinking works its way through the grassroots, it has emphasised mostly on participation and assets- and rights-based development.


We often hear of the saying ‘great things start from small beginnings’. And this is probably what alternative development is aiming for. National progress via grassroots development. Economic progress by empowering the local. Building up these small things will lead to one large-scale development project that will not only benefit the upper realms but also the lower realms of society.


This school of thought is probably the hipster among the society called development thoughts.


Structuralism: Is Latin America a success?

In the developing world, Latin American countries are among the best economic performers. This performance may be attributed to structuralism, which Latin America adopted during the 1950s, through the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America (ECLAC) 

The structuralist view of economics takes it cue from the structuralist perspective, which employs the centre-periphery model and requires an appreciation of different historical structures. Structuralism implies that development is turned inwards, and, in a huge contrast to neoliberalism, the state has a role to play. 

As we observe, Latin America is performing well compared to its developing world colleagues. In fact, the United States has never belittled the economic potential of Latin America, and has always kept the region in tabs on its foreign policy. Large Latin American banks, such as the Banco Santander and the BBVA, operate inside the United States (the latter is even one of the biggest sponsors of the National Basketball Association). 

However, this outstanding economic performance is largely beset by escalating political instability (Latin America has been besieged by military coups since the beginning of the 20th Century), worsening peace and order situations (Mexico and Venezuela have the highest crime rates in the Western Hemisphere), and the widening gap between rich and poor. With these things in mind, I dare ask whether structuralism has actually worked in Latin America.

Economic structuralism takes its cue from an eponymous theory in anthropology, which states that “elements of human culture must be understood in terms of their relationship to a larger, overarching system or structure” (Blackburn, 2008). We can deduce from this definition that the structuralist approach emphasises the importance of taking into account structural features in doing economic analysis.

One thing that came to my mind in thinking why structuralism might have worked for Latin America is one thing – Latin American countries have mostly similar structures, politically and economically. This may have been brought about by a shared history and language.

However, did structuralism actually work?

During the last lecture, we talked about some problems that arose from structuralism. And all problems during one time or another were present in most Latin American countries. To make my point: despite richness in resources, most Latin American countries are still net importers of capital goods. Also, sometime during the 70s-80s industrial efficiency in Latin America are at low levels. Countries experienced high inflation; Bolivia even suffered from hyperinflation in the 70s-80s, while Ecuador had to abandon the Ecuadorian peso and is now trading using US dollars. Most Latin American companies are foreign-owned, and unemployment levels are still soaring.


On paper, structuralism is a good theory, but implementing it in real-life situations, especially the economy, is a daunting task. What might have caused Latin America’s failure in structural economics is the lack of political will to do so. Regime changes, intervention from foreign forces, and weak peace and order policing have made structuralism do more harm to Latin America than it supposed to do good.