Monthly Archives: November 2007

Lessons from the failure of Third World development

While the phrase ‘sustainable development’ is very familiar at the moment, since the end of the Second World War the term ‘development’ has been far more often applied in the context of ‘modernisation’ and ‘Third World development’. In mainstream Western debate at least, the appropriateness of such development for the Third World has usually been uncontested. The standard argument in favour of development in this sense goes that growing the pie allows those who have less to have more without taking from the affluent. One present example of rapid development, the economy of India, has business writers in raptures as they peruse the latest economic growth data.

In his book, The history of development, Gilbert Rist patiently takes apart this conceptualisation of development and identifies any number of flaws in it, the growth obsession being just one of them.

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Filed under capitalism, David, social justice

The new war on the poor

The green movement’s commitment to non-violence is often taken for granted but it is, in many ways, an extraordinarily challenging principle. I often wonder about the extent to which we ought to apply the idea of non-violence in our lives and in our politics – but don’t. Of course, it is possible to interpret the term narrowly and consider that it applies only to acts such as the waging of warfare or physical violence against people or property or the natural world. Nevertheless, even this narrow definition could be considered contentious – should we all be vegans on this basis?

Leaving that particular point aside for a rainy day, I think most greens would actually acknowledge a wider interpretation of the non-violence principle that includes ‘invisible’ violence at the personal level, for example, psychological or emotional abuse. But what about the notion of ‘structural violence’?

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Filed under capitalism, David, social justice

China Blue

I went to the Amnesty screening of China Blue tonight. It’s a really good film. It tells a moving human story, and shows a complex reality that demands a deeper response than “boycott Chinese clothing” or “Write to [insert Western chain-store or brand name here] and insist they don’t allow this”.

Yes, I felt sorry for Jasmine and the other girls – far from home, overworked and exploited – but I also envied them their youth, optimism, sweet natures, industriousness, and the friendships they formed. And the reality is – as appalling as we find their working conditions – they are a step up from the rural poverty of their home villages; the factory jobs are seen as a way to a better life.

The dynamic of the workplace reminded me so much of the flower nursery I used to work at – the way Big Capital squeezes small capital, which squeezes the workers – and all the personality types, responses and self-justifications down the chain. The scale of exploitation shown is much greater, but the underlying dynamic is the same. It’s capitalism.

During the movie, Jasmine repeatedly expresses her amazement at the size of the jeans she’s helping to make, and curiosity about all these ‘big, tall, fat people’ who are going to wear them. The Chinese are just trying to get their share of the pie that has grown those giant people – and why shouldn’t they?

Sadly, the planet can’t provide that much for all of us. We need to learn how to play fairly and share our toys. We need an alternative to capitalism, and a significant minority of us (the global rich ) need to live much more modestly.

I’ve been trying to imagine tonight what that might mean, how it could work, and the only answer I can think of is Fair Trade – not just as a boutique international trade activity helping a few lucky ones (and satisfying the refined moral palette of prosperous Western liberals?) – but as the basis of all trade and business between everybody, everywhere.

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Filed under Barry, social justice

Short Circuit – free on the web

The entirety of Richard Douthwaite’s Short Circuit: Strengthening Local Economies for Security in an Unstable World – plus updates – can be found here.

Douthwaite looks at real-world examples of how people can take back some control over their local economies – specifically over money, banking, energy, and food. A constructive, positive, and hopeful book. It was written in 1996, so some of the details have dated – but the web version has updates, and the basic messages are still relevant and inspiring.

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Filed under Barry, economic analysis