PNGAA establishes school scholarship fund
Society & civilisation ruined before our eyes

The puzzle of development: Is it good or bad?


TUMBY BAY – This may surprise you, but it’s a statement of truth: Many countries we term ‘developing’ don’t need development to create democracy.

And this is because traditional societies in countries like Papua New Guinea were always democratic, possibly more so than countries like Australia and the USA which boast about their democracies.

What these former colonised countries now need are governments that uphold the democracies they once knew.

Western countries like Australia and the USA, present ‘development’ as something good but is that really true?

A lot of development, particularly of a commercial nature, can lead to societal inequity.

Those who profit from this kind of development laud it but the many who miss out are less enthusiastic.

They resent elites that have greatly benefited from development and are jealous of them and aspire to be like them.

Is this kind of development a social good? Many people would argue that it is because it is a positive driving force.

However it can be contended that such a force is ultimately destructive because it changes the nature of society and its processes in rendering economic, social and cultural change, it destroys positive elements along the way.

These elements include community solidarity and cooperation, close family, kin and clan relationships, collective ownership, environmental awareness, known roles, jobs matched to natural talents and skills, and production with little or no waste.

With colonialism came change, and with change came development, a mantra that inspires many people, governments included.

Governments and communities need to take care of what development actually means. What is their understanding of it.

Development supposedly increases living standards, but the material change generated by the acquisition of goods like refrigerators and smart phones are poor indicators of living standards.

Of much greater importance are the more pervasive and useful changes rendered by universal education, the arrival of health services and agricultural improvements.

And this raises the issue of the development rhetoric more often being linked to economic growth, the catch cry of capitalism.

Neo-liberalism – with us since the late 20th century – used the catch cry ‘development’ as it formed an ideology favouring free-market capitalism, deregulation and limitations on the role of government.

Those sprawling and soulless new suburbs that surround most Australian cities are development incarnate but many citizens of the ‘urban jungle’ live on the borderline of poverty and struggle to rise above their desperate lives.

Neo-liberalism favours a relatively small number of wealthy people and marginalises and deprives the majority.

Unregulated economic growth is often the perpetrator of environmental and social destruction.

And the perpetrators of unregulated growth have given the world a changing climate that threatens our survival as a species.

Foisting economic growth on ‘underdeveloped’ countries brings them into the camp of those responsible for climate change.

And the impacts of climate change, which if unchecked ultimately threaten all of humanity, threaten the less empowered and uninfluential more than the developed world.

Being labelled ‘underdeveloped’ is a derogatory and shaming thing for a country and its people to endure. But the guilt is misplaced.

Being underdeveloped might really mean that a country has not given in to the greed motive and actually cares about its people and its environment.

You find that sort of sentiment widespread in places like Papua New Guinea where an increasing number of communities oppose so-called economic development, even in the face of their corrupted polity and the elites who benefit from lax government.

I doubt those people are against development per se. If they were offered help to improve their education and health services they would 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 should think twice.

Because there is ‘good development’ and there’s ‘bad development’.

Underdeveloped countries have to be careful about what they accept from the developed world.

As the old adage says, ‘beware of Greeks bearing gifts’.

The adage is a warning that what appears to be a gift, expression of friendship or act of virtue in reality covers a hidden threat.

It is an adage that applies in many respects to the processes that drive development.


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Michael Dom

An interesting article that I will repost on Ples Singsing.

Noam Chomsky is foolish to suggest that morality, society and power are to be obtained from free markets. That's a false equivalence.

Free markets are not a source of morality, however they are more morally sound than alternatives and should be grounded in good morality backed by laws like "Thou shalt not steal" and "Thou shalt not covet". But of course, those moral edicts cannot be accepted when their source is rejected.

Society is not all about free markets. That's just too simplistic a notion no matter how complex free market functioning is, it still operates within a social context, and not the other way around. That's the struggle.

And fucking leftists are always on about Power when it's Competence that provides authority and makes the world work.

I'm probably reading that quote out of context, although I doubt it, and besides, such a smart arse, rat scented, catchphrase conclusion from a linguist deserves examination by a poet.

Stephen Charteris

I would have thought the true test of development assistance is the equity it creates, the percentage of all boats lifted by it with the rising tide.

My observation is that development with a capitalist flavour has been good for some but failed to bring everyone along for the ride.

It has most clearly failed to address the central transformative promise of the Sustainable Development Goals - to leave no one behind.

It could be argued that over the past five decades, development assistance in Papua New Guinea has played a role in exacerbating inequity, the erosion of the traditional values of caring and respect and led to a society where a small number of wealthy elites control the nations resources while the rest remain disenfranchised.

Not the vision of the founding fathers I am sure.

As I write this, the 2022 Australasian Aid Conference kicks off at the Policy Development Centre, Crawford School of Public Policy, ANU.

It is to be hoped that over the next couple of days there will be a focus upon how the impact of Australia’s contribution to its Pacific neighbours, especially its closest, can in future be measured by the numbers of the disenfranchised masses empowered to utilise resources at their disposal in sustainable economic ways and facilitate improved access to education and basic primary healthcare services.

If the next few days result in a renewed commitment to work with community actors to empower 'grass roots' communities to improve the quality of their lives it will have been successful.

Lindsay F Bond

Not all that's fritters (or batters) is sold. And want is, a whole loaf.

Philip Fitzpatrick

This article began life as a comment on the idea that economic development is a necessary precursor to democracy.

That is, that contributions by developed nations to undeveloped nations will set up the necessary social and economic structures to enable democracy to develop in those undeveloped nations.

This idea is central to the aid that countries like the USA offer to countries like Papua New Guinea. By gifting a country all the benefits of capitalism will ensure that country becomes democratic.

In the article I'm arguing that this is crap by simply pointing out that in undeveloped countries like Papua New Guinea democracy already exists and has done for thousands of years, maybe in a better form than countries like the USA has to offer.

At the end of the day it is just another example of a powerful country foisting its own image on another country in the mistaken belief it will make that country more like them.

Bernard Corden

"Instead of citizens and communities, free market fundamentalism produces consumers and shopping malls. The net result is an atomized society of disengaged individuals who feel demoralized and socially powerless.” - Noam Chomsky.

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