Conflated meanings of ‘development’

Inspired by the book’s superb title and Chris Blattman’s post Books development economists and aid workers seldom read but should?, I’ve been reading The Anti-Politics Machine by James Ferguson.

I’m only part of the way through but I felt compelled to share this beautifully cogent explanation of how different meanings of ‘development’ can be conflated and exploited:

“In the first sense, one speaks of “development” as a progression toward a known end point, usually modern industrial capitalism… In the second sense, so much in vogue in the late 1970s, 
development” is taken to mean the improvement in quality of life or standard of living…” (p55)

“The implicit argument is of the sort known to logicians as a fallacy of equivocation, of the form: (1) all banks have money; (2) every river has two banks; therefore, (3) all rivers have money. This fallacy, of course, consists in changing the meaning of one of the terms of the syllogism in the middle of the implication. The “development” version goes as follows: (1) poor countries are (by definition) “less developed”; (2) less developed countries are (by another definition) those which have not yet been fully brought into the modern economy; therefore, (3) poor countries are those which have not yet been fully brought into the modern economy.”  (pp.55-56)

Problematising the term ‘development’ is hardly a new trend (The Anti-Politics Machine was first published in 1990), but this is probably as logically as I’ve seen it framed before. What are your favourite examples that capture the essence of the problem?

Ferguson, J. (1994). The anti-politics machine : “development,” depoliticization, and bureaucratic power in Lesotho. Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press.




NZ Election Aid and Development Summary

The NZ Council for International Development (CID) asked the parties contesting this year’s election five questions about “party policy on aid and development, and the individual party’s willingness to engage with the development sector.” The full questions and answers can be found here, but I thought I’d make a bite-sized summary that cuts to the chase.

I’ve only included the responses from parties that I think could be relevant in influencing the outcome of this election, and note that the Conservatives, Internet Party, and ACT did not respond to CID’s questions and are hence excluded from this post. I considered pulling answers from the websites of these parties but decided it would be better to be consistent and just stick to the CID answers.

I’m deliberately being pretty brutal in cutting through the rhetoric and these summaries are based purely on my interpretations of the answers posted by CID, not outside comments or past policy. I welcome your comments.

1. Commitment to 0.7% of GNI to ODA

National: No. Labour: Yes, no timetable. Greens: Yes, within four years. NZ FirstYes, wants timetable. Mana: Yes, wants timetable. Maori: No. United Future: Yes, by 2020.

2. What NZ should focus aid on

National: Economic development in the Pacific. Labour: Elimination of poverty and post-2015 goals. Greens: Climate, gender, economic and social rights. NZ First: Gender, climate and environment, health and reproductive rights. Mana: Child poverty, inequalities, climate. Maori: Whanau Ora, rights-based approach. United Future: Agriculture and education.

3. NZ’s involvement in post-2015 agenda process:

National: Advocating for goals important to NZ and Pacific: economic development, agriculture, oceans, energy. Labour: Thinks NZ should be more assertive and focus on non-violence, gender, health, education. Greens: Supports involvement of civil society and a consultative process for setting goals. NZ First: Supports advocating for above focuses and needs of the Pacific. Mana: Focus on the above areas and resourcing of NGOs and Tangata Whenua. Maori: Thinks goals should be for NZ too, we should practice before we preach. Key areas as above. United Future: Supports teaching countries how to build their own economy and not rely on aid.

4. Government relationships with NGOs:

National: Yes, particularly in disaster response. Labour: Wants greater consultation with NGOs, re-establish NGO-NZAID strategic partnership. Greens: Focus on supporting programmes consistent with above priorities.  NZ First: Strengthening NGOs and greater collaboration with them to get public support. Mana: Yes, with MFAT. Maori: Yes, separate from MFAT. United Future: Yes, with MFAT.

5. Cross-party approach to aid and development

National: Thinks this already happens, wants to continue. Labour: Supports connecting MPs from all parties to NZAID and enshrining aid targets in legislation. Greens: Supports this.  NZ First: Supports this, providing NZ’s interests are put first. Mana: Supports this. Maori: Supports this. United Future: Supports this, but thinks it’s unlikely.

That’s my run through. Also check out Tear Fund‘s helpful infographics.





Representative Democracy and Climate Change

After bravely sticking to his guns in the Climate Voter debate last night, Hon Tim Groser mentioned that, as a centre-right government, they have to carry forward and take into account the views of sectors of the population who are instinctively against progressive climate policies (such as a price on carbon) and some of whom even consider anthropogenic climate change as a conspiracy.

For me, this highlighted the importance of having clarity around the way in which our democracy is ‘representative’. Are officials to elected to ‘represent’ us by acting as our direct proxy in government and passing legislation only in accordance with our wishes? Or are they elected to ‘represent’ us in trust that they will make decisions to benefit the country, accepting that not every single decision would be one we might make ourselves?

I think that in NZ it’s quite clearly the latter, with some referenda along the way to infuse things with a degree of direct democracy.

Groser’s comment, however, seemed to defy this. It sounded like he was justifying his party’s feet dragging on sensible climate policy because a select (albeit important) group who vote for his party would disagree with it.

If there was ever an issue that required governments to transcend such opposition, it would be climate change. Making the hard decisions that are in the long term good of our country and planet is the noble task with which our leaders are entrusted. Their litmus test is doing so in the face of (expected) pressures from those who have short-term profit interests at stake.

Groser claims to appreciate the seriousness of the challenge presented by climate change. If so, it’s high time he remember the nature of his role as a ‘representative’ and not bet the future of all New Zealanders on an enigmatic low-emission future sheep.