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48 CHAPTER TWO The Evolution of the Idea of Development If we learn anything from the history of economic development, it is that culture makes all the difference. . . . Yet culture, in the sense of the inner values and attitudes that guide a population, frightens scholars. It has the sulfuric odor of race and inheritance, an air of immutability. In thoughtful moments, economists and social scientists recognize that this is not true, and indeed salute examples of cultural change for the better while deploring changes for the worse. But applauding or deploring implies the passivity of the viewer—an inability to use knowledge to shape people and things. The technicians would rather do: change interest and exchange rates, free up trade, alter political institutions, manage. Besides, criticism of culture cuts close to the ego, injures identity and self-esteem. . . . Benevolent improvers have learned to steer clear. . . . On the other hand, culture does not stand alone. Economic analysis cherishes the illusion that one good reason should be enough, but the determinants of complex processes are invariably plural and interrelated. —David S. Landes, The Wealth and Poverty of Nations There has always been some kind of development. American history—or, for that matter, ancient Roman history—attests to that. It has usually been slow, often sporadic, and sometimes it “just happened,” a shorthand way of saying it resulted from such a complex interaction of forces that it is impossible to determine that any single one made it occur. Most important, almost no one in the past really saw where they or their nations wanted to develop toward, as in “What we need is the institution of property rights” or “We’d like to become modern.” Reading history reveals two distinctions to be kept in mind when looking at the modern development industry. The first is that between development as something which occurs and development that is intended as such. The second is that between development which is intended but done by primary agents for their own societies, and development that is intended and done by secondary agents to, for, or on behalf of others. The Evolution of the Idea of Development 49 Development with a Big D and Development with a Small D Most of the long sweep of human prehistory and history was a case of development with a small d—development that was not deliberately intended or planned. And when there was development that was intended or planned, it was done by primary agents, interested parties who stood to bene fit directly from those developments. For the most part these examples come from military conquest of territory and the expansion of empires. As Rome, for example, expanded around the Mediterranean, its aqueducts, public monuments, and coliseums, whether in Lixus or Volubilis in what is now Morocco, Thystrus in what is now El Djem, Tunisia, or Arles in what is now France, were “development projects” planned and executed by the Romans for their own benefit, not to better the natives of Morocco, Tunisia, or France. We certainly have a continuous thread of this type of development , albeit with some subtle changes, through the heyday of colonialism in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries to the present day. Development with a capital D is different. Almost entirely a mid-twentieth -century invention, one of its key characteristics is that it is intended by secondary agents (seemingly disinterested parties) on behalf of others. At its core is an ironclad faith in a way of life, one that the rich countries after the Second World War were just beginning to enjoy on a massive scale. For while the seeds of modern development work were planted before, they did not germinate until the end of the war, during the beginning of a period, for America certainly, of remarkably unselfconscious confidence. Fifty years later, embedded as we are in our postmodern ambivalences, it is hard to remember how optimistic and how sure we were at midcentury about development. Here is C. P. Snow in 1959: “Life for the overwhelming majority of mankind has always been nasty, brutish and short. It is so in the poor countries still. This disparity between the rich and the poor has been noticed. It has been noticed, most acutely and not unnaturally, by the poor. Just because they have noticed it, it won’t last for long. Whatever else in the world we know survives to the year 2000, that won’t. Once the trick of getting rich is...


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