Research Themes I

Rethinking Development

The global South was ushered into the modern international system with a promise of “development? However, the varied experiences of the different regions of the South have been marked by a series of inter-related problems that have stymied, obstructed or subverted their developmental quest. In contemporary times, the difficulties and dilemmas confronted by the South have been brought out in sharp relief by the framework of debt and orthodox structural adjustment programs that have shaped the policy processes of most of the developing countries over the last two decades. However, rather than help to overcome the problems it was introduced to solve, structural adjustment instead became part and parcel of the dynamic of crises and decline in much of the South, reinforcing existing difficulties and producing new ones of its own. What this meant in effect is that most of the countries of the South were subjected to some two decades of continuous decline under the ambit of an unyielding donor regime of orthodoxy. The challenges of going beyond structural adjustment and the policy orthodoxy that underpins it is, therefore, a matter of live concern across the South and in other parts of the world.

Insofar as the countries of the South are concerned, the disappointing outcome of two decades or more of IMF/World Bank structural adjustment, coupled with apprehensions about the effects of the neo-liberal underpinnings of the accelerated processes of globalisation, have both provided a context for - and resulted in a revival of ?interest in the question of development and how to secure it on a self-sustained –social, economic, political and ecological- basis. If, as it is now widely acknowledged, the record of structural adjustment has been dismal on the whole, any hope that the accelerated processes of a neo-liberal globalisation might offer the countries of the South a possibility for realising their developmental goals has also been severely tempered by the experiences of spectacular generalised instability and financial collapse that took place in the 1990s in Latin America and East Asia in the wake of the rapid capital account liberalisation forcefully implemented, under very strong external pressures, in those countries. The issues which are posed in this context are fairly straightforward and can be summarised in one grand question: what policy framework is required in order to return the countries of the South to the path of development and what type of development agenda do these countries have to generate in order to achieve growth in a context that secures the livelihood opportunities and prospects of the citizenry? It is this question that will serve as the umbrella framework for the organisation of a network of researchers from the South and around which various dimensions of the issue will be explored over a period of time. The work that will be undertaken will comprise both theoretical reflections and an empirically-grounded critique; it is hoped that it will also draw inspiration from - and feed into - the emerging global social movement for an alternative developmental framework.

The structural adjustment years were characterised by a fixation with the macro-economic indicators (the so-called “fundamentals? defined by neo-liberal doctrinaires as being central to the construction of economic well being and to build investor confidence. These indicators, including inflation, interest rates, exchange rates, and the balance of payments became the primary, almost exclusive goals of economic policy-making, even becoming self-reinforcing ends in themselves and celebrated in their own right, irrespective of the damage which they brought on economies, polities and societies. Such questions as employment and employment-creation, income and income distribution, the mobilisation of domestic savings, investments in productive structures and activities, the expansion of national and regional infrastructure, the promotion of regional cooperation and integration as a strategic choice for accelerating growth and human security, the acquisition and development of technology, the development and valorisation of human resources, the enthronement of social equity and justice in the policy process, and the protection and promotion of the social well-being of the citizenry, among others, were relegated to the background and ceased to be the primary object of the economic policy process. Furthermore, systematic national planning for economic growth and development was discarded in favour of a reliance on the magics of the free market which, the Bretton Woods institutions insisted, was the only viable path to economic transformation in the South. Needless to add, the state was relentlessly attacked and spirited efforts were made to de-legitimise it as an actor in the economic development process. Perhaps even more disturbing are the systematic erosion of policy making and policy capacities in the South and the location of key macro-economic decision-making levels in the international financial institutions or, if some of them remain at home, beyond the reach of democratic structures. In this, the conditionality and cross-conditionality clauses employed by the international financial institutions were critical. And yet, it is inconceivable that development can ever proceed on the basis of externally-defined policy priorities and strategies or in the absence of a state that is able to lead the process of formulation of coherent strategies. In this regard, the tragedy of structural adjustment lay in part in the fact that it was designed and implemented as a one-size-fits-all model that did not take cognisance of the differing circumstances of the different countries.

As has been argued earlier, both the lesson of experience from the adjustment years of the 1980s and 1990s, and the difficulties posed by the on-going processes of globalisation underscore the need for an alternative economic policy-making framework for the South. Many economists belonging to the mainstream of the profession, like Nobel laureates Amartya Sen and Joseph Stiglitz, and Stanford´s Paul Krugman, not to mention John K. Galbraith, agree on this. The palliatives that were offered such as the HIPC Initiative never provided a credible way out of crises for the countries that were defined as eligible and for all intents and purposes, it has become a dead letter. Similarly, the Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers (PRSPs) that have been developed in recent times are too excessively neo-liberal and orthodox in their economic foundations as to simply amount to the continuation of structural adjustment under a different name. The challenge of an alternative therefore remains, and it is proposed to organise a South-South intellectual reflection around it that will not only examine, in a comparative perspective, the impact of orthodox adjustment, but also identify the consequences of over two decades of maladjustment for the advancement of human security, domestic accumulation, and cross-national cooperation. The work that the programme intends to carry out will also serve crucially as a foundation on which South alternatives to structural adjustment could be reflected upon and built, in the hope that the alternatives that emerge could also feed into a process of both re-thinking the conceptual foundations of development and devising a new strategy of economic development that is human-centred, socially and ecologically conscious and anchored on the principles of participatory democracy. The reflection that will be undertaken on South alternatives will encompass national-level and regional strategies and agenda-setting; it will also be consciously directed to explore the challenges, promise and problems of cooperation and integration in the South.

Among the sub-themes which it is hoped the proposed South network will cover in the course of the first years of its work are the following:

  • The pitfalls of structural adjustment as a framework for the South’s economic development and the challenges of overcoming the legacies of neoliberal policies;
  • The enduring developmental needs of the South as defined by its history, culture, and the structure of its economies; the social and infrastructural challenges facing Africa, Asia, and Latin America, and the place of these continents in the evolving world economy;
  • The issues posed for the development of the South by the choice between policy orthodoxy and heterodoxy and the quest for alternatives to neo-liberalism, including the philosophical underpinnings of such alternatives; The place of the state and the type of state which the South’s economic context calls for, especially regarding the need to harness the dynamics of the markets and to regulate the role of the private sector, nationally and internationally;
  • The scope and limits of self-determination and economic sovereignty in contemporary times;
  • The challenge of social justice and equity in the developmental process taking also into consideration gender and environmental issues;
  • The dynamics of regional cooperation and integration in the South and the strategies for the financing of development in the South;
  • South strategies for an enhanced role in the international economy, including prospects for the reform of the international financial institutions and the of the international system;
  • New global social movements and emerging popular developmental and political alternatives; and
  • The global context and the challenges of sustained/sustainable development in the South.