21 November 2022
Until relatively recently, this favourable assessment was been made by linking growth with development and ignoring that the country is ruled by an authoritarian regime.
Over the same period, the US and Australia have given little attention to growth and development in Pacific Islands countries except – in Australia’s case – to Papua New Guinea.
A combination of domestic and international factors have caused living standards in the region to at best stagnate but, more often than not, decline. This may be thought of as an indicator of non-development.
Increased emigration to New Zealand, Australia, North America and Europe in search of waged and salaried employment is a clear measure of this impoverishment.
Given this profile of Western democracies facilitating non-development for so many Pacific Islands people, questions are being raised about whether authoritarian growth under China’s rule may be more advantageous.
If this seems a silly question, consider the position advocated by Professor Stefan Dercon, an Oxford University development economist and one-time advisor in the UK Department for International Development.
In a recently published book, Gambling on Development, Professor Dercon argues that, while `”in the long run democracy may matter”, for now the “nature of the political system is by no means a necessary or sufficient condition for progress”.
In other words, instead of democracy being seen as a handmaiden of development, the current position is that elites are the key agents of development.
This is accompanied by an uncertain attitude to democratic processes – democracy may become important after development occurs.
Rather than challenging entrenched power, the goal of development for Professor Dercon is to co-opt national elites to become agents of development in what he calls a ‘development bargain’.
Unsurprisingly, like many development economists Professor Dercon regards China (or at least Chinese-style authoritarian development) as a desirable model for growth and development.
You may wonder what this argument promoted by a British academic has got to do with policy toward China’s advance in the Pacific Islands.
Increasingly, this focus on elites driving development is becoming the consensus position in institutions like the World Bank.
The ANU’s influential Development Policy Centre has recently become a leading advocate for what is termed ‘labour mobility’, the recruitment of Pacific Islands labour to Australia and New Zealand for seasonal work.
The main reason for this is to fill shortages of agricultural labour on farms, in packing sheds and in meat works.
Underlying these schemes is the assumption that poverty in Pacific Islands countries will continue unchecked and thus ensure a constant stream of temporary migrants desperate for money income.
In the face of ongoing non-development in their home countries, the expectation is that these workers will provide remittances from their wages to meet consumption needs at home that cannot be provided for by local employment.
The extent of the US and Australia’s lack of interest in actual development in the Pacific Islands is now being revealed by the quiet panic about China’s imperial drive into the region.
This advance raises some important policy questions.
Would living standards for Pacific Islands’ people be improved through the imposition of China’s authoritarian model of development?
Or will the US-Australian approach of democratic non-development buttressed by labour mobility schemes become a centrepiece of planning for the future?
Both questions deserve consideration, including by anyone inclined to accept the proposition that the nature of the political system is largely irrelevant for development or well-being in the region.
"A rubbish dump can grow without developing but a person can develop without growing" - Russell L Ackoff
Posted by: Bernard Corden | 21 November 2022 at 06:15 PM
Sometimes you have to wonder if some of our academics are actually studying the real world or an alternative reality.
The non-development of Pacific countries is not a function of democracy.
It is a function of the failure of the ruling elites to actually do what they are purportedly elected to do, which is foster development at a grass roots level by, for example, imposing and maintaining the rule of law, creating and funding functioning health and education systems, building and maintaining a basic transportation system and fostering the introduction of improved and more productive agricultural activities.
Instead, as Phil rightly points out, they have mostly succumbed to the siren call of international capitalism, whereby development takes the form of the ruthless exploitation of natural resources, with the bulk of the money earned finding its way into the pockets of people living in other countries, less any required kickbacks for the ruling elites.
The 'Chinese Model' of development is, in practice, the neo-liberal capitalist model except with government direction and control being built into the equation.
The outcomes are the same too: too much debt allocated to too many speculative or ill-advised ventures which only become apparent when the endless supply of public funds via subsidization in various forms finally dries up.
This is exactly what is happening in China as we speak: their real estate market is hopelessly overloaded with debt, their assets wildly over valued and their prospects dismal. Were it not for the Peoples Bank of China propping the whole shambolic edifice up, the Chinese economy would simply crash into recession.
When this happens in democracies, we too get the same plaintive calls for help via the public purse from the 'masters of the universe' when their so-called expertise or 'genius' turns out to be just the usual manifestation of grandiosity, unbridled greed and dodgy dealing.
We have seen this all before yet still manage to get sold a crock of manure via things like entirely valueless cryptocurrencies, highly leveraged and massively over valued technology firms that never make a profit and semi-crazed billionaires running amok whilst lecturing us about the evils of organised labour.
Our learned academics ought to know this by now and, instead of talking about fictional 'democratic' and 'authoritarian' development models, they should focus on why governments generally have been seduced into believing that the 'market model' is the only way to drive the development process.
This obviously wrong idea needs urgent and serious revision. Getting development that makes sense both economically and socially requires a careful blend of both private and public investment, not just allowing the private sector to run wild and free doing what it damn well likes and hoping for the best.
As for the latest international talk fest about climate change, no-one appears either willing or able to understand that the abandonment of the current neo-liberal economic system based upon endless growth is an absolute pre-condition for curtailing the worst impact of climate change.
Unless and until this realisation dawns upon people we are destined to blunder on towards some sort of climatic Armageddon, the nature of which we still do not fully understand.
In that context, talking about development models is a waste of time and energy.
Posted by: Chris Overland | 21 November 2022 at 04:13 PM
Readers might like to compare two sentences, one from the original essay and the other from the edited version which appears above.
1. Over the same period, the US and Australia have given little attention to either growth or development in South Pacific countries.
2. Over the same period, the US and Australia have given little attention to growth and development in Pacific Islands countries except – in Australia’s case – to Papua New Guinea.
Posted by: Scott MacWilliam | 21 November 2022 at 02:58 PM
I believe that old adage about Greeks bringing gifts refers to the Trojan Horse that in mythology was used as subterfuge by a Greek army to attack the city of Troy 2,500 years ago.
Visiting the site of the ancient city of Troy, which in days gone by, was situated near the entrance to the Dardanelles and the gateway to the Black Sea, the sea has either retreated or the land has risen, since the two aren't now next to each other.
As you approach the city gates, built at a right angle for defensive purposes, you go past the innumerable tourist trinket stores. One store boasted of 'Genuine Fake Watches'.
Human greed and jealousy are powerful incentives and are used with utmost deliberation to manage the herds of people who don't stop to think about what they are being told or what the alternatives are.
No one has apparently stopped to think about how any public monies demanded and contributed to help those suffering climate change, is going to be spent and who will be better off and how.
Those promising the monies won't have to pay personally and those demanding the compensation have no stated plans for alleviating poverty and hunger.
A positive but long term plan that should be to fund education of both male and females and efficient birth controls to reduce overpopulation.
Since that has as much appeal as a rotten banana, exactly what has been achieved at the latest COP 27 but a load of hot air and vast amounts of aeroplane fumes leading to more greenhouse gasses.
Maus wara nating aiting!
Posted by: Paul Oates | 21 November 2022 at 02:26 PM
Down in the crowded bars
Out for a good time
Can't wait to tell you all
What it's like up there
And they called it paradise
I don't know why
Somebody laid the mountains low
While the town got high
Then the chilly winds blew down
Across the desert
Through the canyons of the coast
To the Malibu
Where the pretty people play
Hungry for power
To light their neon way
Give them things to do
Some rich men came and raped the land
Nobody caught 'em
Put up a bunch of ugly boxes
And Jesus people bought 'em
And they called it paradise
The place to be
They watched the hazy sun
Sinking in the sea
Posted by: Bernard Corden | 21 November 2022 at 12:26 PM
Arguing that development leads to democracy in under-developed countries is facetious.
Traditional societies in places like Papua New Guinea have always been democratic, possibly more so than countries like Australia and the USA, which both crow about their democracies.
Many under-developed countries don’t need development to create democracy. What they need are governments that uphold the democracies they already have.
Development is presented as something good by countries like Australia and the USA but is that really true?
A lot of development, particularly of a commercial nature but also in terms of infrastructure can lead to societal inequities.
Those who profit from development laud it but those who miss out are less enthused. They resent the progress that development brings to their elites but at the same time are jealous of them and aspire to be like them.
Is this kind of development a good thing? Many would argue that it is a good thing because it’s a positive driving force.
Others might say such a force is ultimately destructive because it changes the nature of a society and destroys things like community solidarity along the way.
Development is a mantra that seems to inspire many people, governments included but care has to be taken about what development actually means.
Development supposedly increases living standards but does having a refrigerator and a television indicate higher living standards or is it something more esoteric, like having good education and health services?
The rhetoric surrounding development is more often than not linked to economic growth. Economic growth is the catch cry of capitalism. Neo-liberalism has effectively turned that catch cry into a religion.
The sprawling and soulless new suburbs that surround most Australian cities are development incarnate but many among their citizenry live desperate and boring lives.
Shopping malls aren’t development, they are eyesores. They’re not something that should be thrust upon developing countries.
Unregulated economic growth is often the perpetrator of both environmental and social destruction in its quest raw materials to feed its hungry maw.
Unregulated growth has given the world climate change that now threatens our survival as a species.
Isn’t foisting economic growth on undeveloped countries simply bringing them into the camp of the people responsible for climate change?
And doesn’t the impact of climate change now threaten them more than it does the developed world.
Or is foisting economic growth on under developed countries simple a con to get at their natural resources?
Being labelled an under developed country is a derogatory and shaming thing to have to endure. But that sort of guilt is misplaced.
Being under-developed might really mean that a country has not given in to the greed motive and actually cares about its people and its environment.
I think you might find that sort of sentiment widespread in places like Papua New Guinea where there are an increasing number of communities opposing so-called economic development, even in the face of their corrupted government and elites.
I doubt that those people are against development per se. If they were offered help to improve their education and health services they’d undoubtedly accept it graciously.
On the other hand, when they are offered help to build a new mine, log their forests, build a military base or export their young people as labourers they think twice.
There’s development and theirs development.
Under developed countries just have to be careful about what they accept from the developed world.
As the old adage says: beware of Greeks bearing gifts.
Posted by: Philip Fitzpatrick | 21 November 2022 at 10:49 AM