Wednesday, June 7, 2017

The Invention of Development by Rist (2002)

In "The Invention of Development," Gilbert Rist (2002) traces the beginning of the modern idea of development to Truman's Point Four in January 1949. Prior to that, the world had been divided into colonies and colonizers. World War II and the Nazis made racism less accepted among whites, and the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights declared all people equal. At this time, the U.S. was already giving technical assistance to Latin American nations, and the Green Revolution was underway in Mexico - still a project of the Rockefeller Foundation and not yet the U.S. government. It was during the Cold War.

Nick Cullather in The Hungry World points out that two events in 1949, neither of which had occurred yet at the time of Truman's speech, scared America into spending more on development: the Soviet Union getting the bomb and China falling to the Communists. Thus, in the years after Truman's Four Points speech, Cullather makes the case that the U.S. spent so much on development aid in an effort to prevent other nations from going Communist. But Rist focuses on the stroke of rhetorical genius of the speech itself, before anything else happened.

Rist makes the following points:
  1. The Four Points speech was the first time "development" was used as a verb in a transitive sense, i.e. one agent can develop another. Whereas in the past development was portrayed as a naturally occurring trajectory, Truman represents underdevelopment as naturally occurring, but development was something that could be achieved with human effort, not just by waiting for things to naturally unfold.
  2. Second, under the old colonizer/colonized paradigm, the two categories "had belonged to two different opposed universes" (p. 73). But in the new developed/underdeveloped paradigm, "'underdeveloped' and 'developed' were members of a single family: the one might be lagging a little behind the other, but they could always hope to catch up" (p. 74). Underdeveloped and developed are not opposites - they fall along the same continuum. Underdeveloped is an embryonic or incomplete form of developed.
  3. Development could be measured by a standard that the U.S. stood at the top of: GDP. This "claimed to be beyond the ideological divide between capitalism and communism. The key to prosperity and happiness was increased production" (p. 76).
  4. This creates a moral imperative for U.S. intervention around the world, not to stand idly by as people suffered when it had the capability to help. The U.S. was presumably doing this for the good of other nations. "Now, to intervene is to 'make resources available', 'to help others help themselves'...' to encourage everyone to produce more.' Furthermore, this was to be an international, collective effort. Whereas intervening as a colonizer in a colony was no longer politically acceptable and was seen as a self-serving act, this was seen as good - even morally necessary. "The proposed solution was genuinely hegemonic because it appeared to be not only the best but the only possible one" (p. 76).
  5. The development paradigm treats each nation as independent, ignoring the impact that nations have on one another. Development was "an internal, self-generated, self-dynamizing phenomenon, even if it could be 'assisted' from outside" (p. 74). The "'laws of development' are supposedly the same for all" (p. 74), so that slavery, colonization, and other forms of exploitation are deemed irrelevant in the condition of "underdeveloped" nations. It also does not consider the different predicament the first nations to industrialize were in compared to those who industrialize in a world where other industrialized nations already exist.
  6. The structure of Point Four also read very similar to a Christian evangelist's argument for why a sinner going to Hell needs Jesus to be saved. Therefore, the phrasing of Point Four tapped into a metaphor already in the consciousness of Westerners.
  7. Given the above, it was impossible to question the idea of development - "the most you can do is try to improve it" (p. 77). By not examining the reason why poor nations were poor, "'development policy' made growth and aid (conceived in technocratic quantitative terms) the only possible answer" (p. 79).
  8. "In just a few paragraphs, Point Four managed to chart a global strategy. Although it primarily served the interests of the world's most powerful nation, it made out that it had only the common good at heart, and presented 'development' as a set of technical measures outside the realm of political debate (utilization of scientific knowledge, growth of productivity, expansion of international trade)" (p. 78).
  9. While this was self-serving for the U.S. and other nations in the Global North, independent nations in the Global South accepted it in order to access development aid, and colonized nations saw it "as a way of affirming the legal equality that was refused them... In gaining political independence, they forfeited their identity and their economic autonomy, and were now forced to travel the 'development path' mapped out for them by others" (p. 79).

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