“Development” in almost any setting means that wealth decides what is to be developed and where, and imposes that plan on the people involved. This happens even where I live, in San Francisco.
But the greatest development evils happen in poor countries with authoritarian leaders, where large numbers of people are displaced, all control over their own lives is ended, and commonly some of them die in the process.
what is to be developed and where,
and imposes that plan on the people.
Uganda, 2010: government soldiers forced a whole village of farmers off their fields at gunpoint, fields their families had farmed for centuries, and burned all their homes order to grow trees for lumber. Lumber!, on the advice of development “experts”. Two years later an almost identical scheme drove 1.5-million farmers of their land in Ethiopia. In India, the developers forced hundreds of thousands off their land to build a dam. They were promised new homes and great benefit from the new electricity generated. None of that happened. In Nigeria Big Oil moved in, stole the natural resources by paying off the corrupt government, poisoned the land, and people had to move away from their ancient homeland into the world’s worst slums.
These occurrences are endless, and it is always those without power and money who lose out—including their homes, their livelihood, their very lives. It is always the giant corporations, the corrupt autocrats, and the rich countries that benefit, never the people.
You can almost guarantee a bad outcome with the combination of autocracy and development experts. The money is always stolen one way or another, the development project is either never started or never finished, and the intended recipients never get an ounce of benefit.
Development experts always think in terms of grandiose projects for the entire country and believe only “experts” can decide what is best. Always the people who should have the most to say, and who are usually hurt by the projects, are never asked, and never asked to contribute their talents. The country never benefits as promised.
The wellbeing of the people
It is surprising how little importance wealth has. What poor people everywhere need and want sounds pretty much like what is prescribed by the UN list of basic rights: freedom from violence, adequate food, and so on. Basically, people don’t give a damn about “development” if they aren’t free, because giving money to an autocrat makes them neither free nor developed, and usually makes things worse.
Unless the freedom and wellbeing of the individual is an actuality on the ground, which is rare, the country will be run for the benefit of the rich and powerful, who gain their wealth by extracting it from the poor. They also are enriched by diverting the charitable assistance of rich nations, and by outright theft of the country’s resources. In every case, the rest of the nation is poor, and is virtually never helped by the government.
Giving what is not needed
The bigger the development agency, the less able it is to provide the people with what they actually need. Most such agencies are essentially authoritarian, and so are their client states. “Experts in development”, either within the agency, within the government, or within academe—but never within the recipient citizens themselves—determine what should be done to foster economic growth, when often “growth” or “development” is not what is needed.
The greatest needs in many places are clean water, sanitary waste disposal, adequate food, and protection from various diseases. But big agencies are simply unable to deal with anything that costs less than tens of millions of dollars. So they provide, say, a big dam, or transmitting towers. The real needs remain unmet, and no work or money reaches those who need it. Little agencies build, say, an orphanage—where no one asked for or needs an orphanage. Or a windmill that wasn’t asked for. Then they leave and do not return. Within a few years, absent maintenance and parts, each project collapses.
Most development agencies
A major effort is launched to provide families with mosquito netting to battle malaria, and the agency orders thousands of nets from big European manufacturers and gives them away free. The local factory that makes nets is never asked to make netting for the effort, and none of their products are purchased. Instead of enlarging their output they are forced to shutter their factory, and the country becomes poorer for it. Grain dumped by heavily subsidized American corporate farmers is imported by the ton to battle a famine, while regional farmers go broke because they no longer have a market for their grain, can’t beat subsidized prices, and are forced to move to dismal city slums. The country becomes poorer.
Things like this happen all the time, and the primary reason is that the people most affected are never consulted, and most often have no real democracy. What is available locally is ignored because millions of dollars can be used to buy goods, services, and products from First World corporations.
The non-development movement
When the colonial era got underway, Europe saw most of the world as empty territory, a blank slate, there for the taking. The people who lived there were seen as nothing more than impediments to “progress”, and non-whites everywhere were universally assumed to be incapable of competence.
As the colonial era ground to a halt, the native people in nearly every colonial territory had suffered under several centuries of despotic rule followed by home-grown kleptocracy, and thus were reduced to deep poverty, their cultural strengths ignored or destroyed.
Somewhere between one and three trillion dollars have been spent over the past fifty years, and only a small part of it has made any difference at all. One of the few successful ventures has been in reducing infant and childhood deaths, which is a broad based effort. Only a few years ago they stood at some 18,000 daily, and now are half of that, so preventable deaths of the young stand at a mere three million a year now.
Except that we don’t know if that’s really true. Health statistics are notoriously inaccurate in the Third World, yet determining the degree of success depends entirely on having accurate data, from a lot of people, over a long period. We have little data, from not enough people, over too short a time. Whether child mortality has actually been halved is highly questionable.
One to three trillion dollars
have been spent,
and only a small part
has made any difference.
Unfortunately, nearly everything else has come to naught, and some are calling for a halt to it all. Among them is the Zambian economist Dambisa Moyo (Dead Aid), who thinks all aid should simply stop. The Americans David Glenwinkel (The Insanity of Africa) and William Easterly (The Tyranny of Experts) call for a radical rethinking of how we go about it. All three point out that our plans virtually never work as advertised, mostly because the people aren’t free and we haven’t consulted them. If the money isn’t siphoned off somewhere along the line, it often has unwanted results.
Personally, I think cessation of all charity and foreign aid would be a mistake, though. After all, even slightly improving the horrendous toll of childhood deaths is a worthwhile accomplishment, one that could not have occurred without extensive outside help. Organizations like Jimmy Carter’s Carter Center, working with other groups, have virtually wiped out several tropical diseases that had caused widespread suffering and incapacitation.
It wouldn’t hurt to simply quit giving money to tyrants.