WHAT DOES DEVELOPMENT MEAN? A REJECTION OF THE UNIDIMENSIONAL CONCEPTION
Social Work, University of NSW.
(From, The International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy, 20, 5/6, 2000, pp. 95-114.)
For perhaps 20 years it has been recognised that development theory and practice are in a highly unsatisfactory state. On the practice side it has long been clear that despite an enormous amount of "development" serious development problems not only remain but are getting worse. The UNs 1996 Human Development Report emphasises that the poorest 1.6 billion people, one-third of the worlds population, are getting poorer in conventional economic terms. Their average dollar incomes are now down to what they were in 1980. "The figures are appalling. 89 out of 174 countries are worse off then they were 10 years ago. 19 countries... have seen real per capita income sink to below the levels of 1960." (Aid Watch, 1996, p 4).
Many within the critical school have analysed the reason why these outcomes were to be expected. (See Trainer, 1985, 1989, 1995a, 1995b). Two major lines of argument are evident. The first is that the more that resource distribution and development are left to market forces the more resources will flow to the richer few. Similarly the industries set up will be those which mostly produce for the rich. In other words market forces inevitably yield inappropriate development; development that will not be geared to the urgent needs of people or ecosystems. In fact, market forces will draw the productive capacity people once had and used for their own benefit, especially their land and labour, into production for the benefit of rich people far away. Thus Goldsmith discusses development as a process of "takeover of the commons". (Goldsmith, 1992.) We have now entered an era of economic rationalism and globalisation in which there is rapidly increasing freedom for market forces to determine economic and social affairs and especially to determine development.
The second major problem with conventional development theory and practice is that it is totally impossible for Third World people to rise to the living standards typical of rich countries. Relatively few development theorists give any attention to this point. Most proceed on the unquestioned assumption that the goal of development is to become like the rich countries. The enormity of this mistake is easily demonstrated. (For the detailed account see Trainer, 1985, 1989, 1995a, 1995b, Wachernagel and Rees, 1995). If all people in the world today were to rise to the per capita levels of production and consumption typical of the rich countries, world resource consumption would be about 5 times as great as it is. If the 9 billion expected on earth soon after 2060 were each to have the living standards we in rich countries will have by then if we average 3% pa economic growth, world economic output would then be 100 times what it is now! Yet present levels of production and consumption are quite unsustainable. (Trainer, 1998a, 1998b.) Probably most disturbing is the petroleum supply outlook. A numberf of geologists, notably Campbell (1997), believe supply will peak within 5 to 15 years. The most optimistic recent USGS estimate only delays the peak by 10 years. (USGS, 2000.)
Wachernagel and Rees (1995) show that if all people today were to have present rich world per capita food, settlement area, water and energy consumption the area of productive land needed would be 3-4 times the total productive land area of the planet. For the expected 11 billion people the multiple would be 7-8.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has concluded that if we are to stop the carbon content of the atmosphere from increasing fossil fuel consumption must be cut by at least 60%. If this was done and the remaining energy was shared among the expected 9 billion people each of us would have an energy consumption 1/15 of the present rich world average.
Finally, we might consider what is probably the most disturbing environmental problem, the los of species, which is due to the destruction of habitat. Human beings are taking about 40% of the biological productivity of the planets land surfaces. (Vitousek, 1986.) If 1 billion rich humans are to be joined by another 8 billion how much habitat and how many species will remain? To provide for 9 billion people each with the current rich world urban "footprint" of more than 5 ha of productive land, 45 billion ha would be needed, but this is approximately 7 times all the available productive land on the planet. (Wachernagel and Rees, 1996.)
These sorts of figures give strong support for the basic limits to growth conclusion that there is no possibility of all people rising to the "living standards" typical of the rich countries today, even if very optimistic assumptions are made regarding technical fix reductions in resource use per unit of GDP. This in turn means that conventional development for the Third World is impossible. There are nothing like the quantities of resources that would be needed to make rich world "living standards" possible for all people. Yet conventional economic theory and practice take it for granted that the point of development is "Losangelisation" for all.
How can we explain why these problems, blind spots and wrong headed short term strategies continue? The first reason is that it is in the immediate interests of the rich and powerful for the conventional growth and trickle down model of development to be pursued. But the reasons also include fundamentally confused and mistaken ideas about what the term "development" means. There is in other words, a powerful tendency even among many critics of conventional development practice (especially Marxists and Dependency theorists) to accept a particular and seriously flawed conception of development. Many who explicitly reject present development policies nevertheless have the same conventional image of what constitutes development. The purpose of the following analysis is to show this is only one of the many possible conceptions, and that there is a better one.
The conventional, "unidimensional" conception of development
Following are some of the core taken-for-granted elements in the dominant conception of development.
These points can seem so obvious that it can be difficult to imagine how else the essence of development could be conceived.
This is well described as the "unidimensional" conception of development. It casts development as a single path from an underdeveloped state to a more developed state, along which we can locate all countries or regions. When any one countrys situation is examined the conventional economist will focus on things like the need to increase production and consumption so that more jobs will be available, the need to become more competitive so that more export income can be earned, the need for more capital investment so that more factories and infrastructures can be built -- all of which will move the country further along the development dimension.
The basic factor underlying the dimension is money or capital. More developed countries can buy more, they have more wealth, more capital, and thus can afford to consume more and to build more infrastructure and pay for more health and welfare etc. Countries which do not have much capital cant expect to do much developing.
The solution to any development problem is framed in these unidimensional terms. Not enough hospitals? Then more economic growth is needed so more tax revenue can be spent on public goods. People in poverty? Then more production for sale needs to be stimulated so there will be more jobs and incomes.
It was stressed above that it is not physically or ecologically possible for all countries to move far down this unidimensional path. Indeed ecological sustainability for the planet requires a reversal of that momentum. If the limits to growth analysis is valid we must significantly reduce present world levels of production and consumption. The unidimensional conception of development gives the mistaken impression that this must mean development has to be reversed, that real living standards must be lowered and that people who are poor now must become poorer.
The fundamental step towards avoiding the confusions this unidimensional conception leads to is to break the assumed identity between development and monetary wealth or economic growth. We can do this simply by asking questions such as, "What do we want to develop?", "Into what state do we want to develop?", "What conditions, institutions, arrangements and life experiences do we want to set up or facilitate?" Here are the sorts of items most of us would probably list.
We want to develop a society in which
· All have enough good food
· All have sufficient and adequate housing, clothing, furniture, etc.
· The goods and services people need for high quality of life can be easily produced, without waste, in ways that are sustainable in the long term.
· People feel secure from fear of avoidable illness, unemployment, pollution, political breakdown, violence, poverty.
· People have much leisure time, supportive communities, good health services, satisfying work and enjoyable and meaningful lives.
· People can live well without damaging their ecosystems.
· For ecological reasons, people can live in ways that are as resource-cheap as possible. People have much access to and time to enjoy cultural values, including arts and crafts, traditions, festivals, learning, community and self-development.
· There is a rich experienced quality of life, with little stress, deprivation, loneliness and unhappiness.
Now the critical point is that it is possible to achieve all these objectives despite being very poor in monetary terms. Most are enjoyed by various people around the world who the conventional development economist would classify as extremely poor and underdeveloped. People do not have to suffer decades of conventional development, of capital accumulation, increasing national wealth and rising incomes before they can have these things. It is not true that the only way you can get them is to struggle for generations through poverty, slums, plantation labour, sweatshops, urban squalor, export processing zones, and then through a landscape of freeways and supermarkets and traffic jams and international airports, to the point where the GNP is large enough for all to be able to pay for basic necessities and a good quality of life (...a point which no rich country has yet reached.)
The huge tragedy conventional development constitutes is exposed by the fact that these objectives and living conditions are in principle very easily and quickly achievable, and that their achievement depends very little on monetary wealth or on the volume of production or the size of the GNP. If we could just get free of this unidimensional, "development equals monetary wealth" assumption we would see that all these conditions could be fully achieved directly and quickly, by another path. For most Third World villages mostly of these conditions could probably be achieved within three years, if the available local resources of land, labour, skill and good will could be applied by those people directly and immediately to constructing and operating the required physical, biological and social systems. These are basically only problems of organisation. Almost any Third World region has the resources to enable all its people to eat well, drink clean and safe water, live in adequate houses, use good basic footwear and clothing and furniture and pottery etc. People can collectively provide themselves with these and many other things through their own relatively simple local technologies (if they are allowed to do so; they are often prevented.) Whether or not they can have them does not depend on the countrys GNP per capita. It depends on whether people are able to organise their local resources to produce what they need via relatively simple technologies. In general very little capital is required to achieve the basic development objectives listed above via this alternative and direct path. Most of them can be achieved simply by organising to put existing labour and skill to work on existing land and other resources.
The "Conserver Society" Vision.
In The Conserver Society (Trainer, 1995a) I have summarised the general form several authors have argued that a sustainable society must take in view of the limits to growth analysis of the global situation. Central in this vision are materially similar lifestyles within small and highly self-sufficient and cooperative local economies. A well and sufficiently developed region, in a rich or a poor country, would have many small farms and factories, dams, woodlots, committees, town banks, and social and ecological systems that would enable it to provide for itself from local resources most of the simple things it needs for a high quality of life. It would need to export only a few items in order to pay for the import of a few necessities and luxuries. It would contain a few specialised factories to supply and trade the few more sophisticated items that need to be imported into towns, such as radio sets. Some centralised and large scale functions would remain, but there would have to be a greatly reduced role for states, national exporting and transnational corporations. Energy scarcity would prohibit large scale transportation and only local economies can provide security against a ruthless globalised economy.
Very little exportable surplus would need to be generated from these towns and regions in order to support the few necessary heavy industries and the higher educational, research and medical centres that would be needed if these were oriented to supplying the expertise needed in a rational and efficient way.
Many needs which individuals in "developed" countries pay huge sums of money to have met might be satisfied at little or no monetary or resource cost, including leisure and entertainment needs, cultural and artistic experiences, sense of belonging and community. In a well-developed village landscape needs for leisure, community, and for a sense of well-being, purpose and peace of mind can often be met simply by taking a short ramble through the village and its surroundings. But in a modern city people have to spend large sums on professionally-provided services and resource-intensive entertainments, clubs, courses, holidays, security, insurance, counselling, legal and services etc, in an effort to satisfy these needs.
This vision involves no notion of deprivation or hardship. What the outsider might at first see as unattractive frugality often turns out to be an important source of life satisfactions, e.g. from growing some of ones own food, repairing clothes, making things, cutting firewood, practising crafts and being in volved in community affairs.
It should be emphasised that if the limits to growth analysis of the global predicament is valid this general form for a sustainable society is not an option. It is the form a sustainable society must take in rich and poor countries, whether or not it is seen as attractive or indeed achievable.
Given the above vision, one of the main consequences of scrapping the unidimensional conception of development is that it becomes possible to imagine reaching the point where no further development is necessary or desirable. When the capacity to provide good water and housing has been developed then further development of these things is unnecessary.. They are then developed enough. The conventional development economist cannot make any sense of the term "developed enough" and cannot comprehend that any region could ever be "over-developed". However, my kitchen, garden and workshop are all developed enough. But to the conventional development economist even Los Angeles and New York, (which are obviously grossly overdeveloped) are not close to having had enough development. Indeed the only thing the conventional economist can recommend for solving the enormous problems of these cities is more development. Only if there is an increase in investment, production and consumption, tax revenue etc., can the conventional economist see any way of accumulating the "wealth" necessary to devote to the problems (...when it is the effort to generate "wealth" in the sense of more production for sale that is the cause of the problems).
Another paradoxical consequence of this conceptual transition is that it becomes possible to enrich people and regions by making them poorer in conventional economic terms. When confronted by the claim that for ecological reasons we must cut our average levels of consumption dramatically, even those conventional economists with a keen concern for justice and welfare are likely to say, "But that would reduce the living standards of people who are poor now." These responses reveal the inability to conceive of development in terms other than moving up or down the single "monetary wealth" development dimension. The only way they can imagine that the welfare of the poor could be improved is by increasing their production (or the national production) for sale and thereby generating more income (or redistributing existing income). The possibility that we might totally eliminate unemployment and poverty and boring work, and largely eliminate loneliness and stress, and cut the average paid work week by 80%, while at the same time reducing the GNP and resource use by 90%, is totally incomprehensible to the conventional economist. However The Conserver Society argues at length that we could easily do these things (if we wanted to), and that we must do it if we are to achieve a sustainable world order. Chapter 18 of the book discusses groups of people within the Global Ecovillage Movement who have done these sorts of things. These people live in highly self-sufficient communities, on dollar incomes that are sometimes about one-tenth of the Australian national average, without using many resources or causing much environmental impact, enjoying a high quality of life and rich community experience and devoting much of their time to good causes, while living simply and working for money only one or two days a week. (Grindheim and Kennedy, 1999, Federation of Intentional Communities, 2000.) It is difficult to answer the question, what development do such communities need, and it is obvious that increasing their monetary incomes would make little or no difference to their experienced quality of life.
The key to understanding this alternative conception of development lies in the concept of reorganisation. In the alternative communities referred to the pre-existing and adequate human, physical and biological resources have been reorganised to enable people to come together to provide for themselves the necessary conditions and systems to meet the requirements for satisfactory development listed above. They have good food, because they have organised gardens, chicken runs and fish ponds. They have humble but perfectly adequately housing because they have co-operatively built themselves houses mostly from local earth, stone and wood. They have organised community woodlots to supply their firewood and timber for building. They have organised ready access to rich social and cultural resources, including advice, company, assistance, humour, sympathy, labour, expertise, entertainment and wisdom, from the networks of people in their region that they work to maintain and broaden. The development of their capacity to secure these goods has had nothing to do with increasing their monetary incomes. (In fact people often gain access to these benefits by reducing their "living standards".) The capacity exists simply because they have organised their existing wealth, their land, knowledge, co-operative spirit, good will, and good sense for mutual benefit.
Consider the vast amounts of these productive capacities and resources that exist within the typical urban neighbourhood but are inaccessible to us because almost everyone living there is locked into a private lifestyle. There are people living close to us who could teach us valuable things, or provide company and entertainment, or assistance, but in the typical dormitory suburb we usually dont know these people and have no contact with them. Consider the community orchards, workshops, play centres and premises for small firms we and our neighbours could build via voluntary working bees, if the existing local labour, knowledge, energy and savings were organised. Imagine the leisure activities, the concerts, picnics, festivals, celebrations and the entertainment we could be providing each other "free", rather than privately purchasing costly entertainment or watching TV. Consider all the teaching and learning and personal development that could be taking place if all the people in our neighbourhoods who know how to knit, solder, write, sing, compute, etc., could only make contact with all the people there who would like to learn these skills. Imagine all the repairs and construction we could be undertaking for each other and for the public good. Access to these and many other similar goods, services and intangible benefits would make a huge difference to our experienced quality of life if they could be organised. Again none of these developments might involve money and they do not depend on increasing the GNP, or capital accumulation or monetary wealth.
When we are clear about our development goals we can then go straight to them, quickly. We can just begin co-operatively building those simple facilities and networks and arrangements, immediately. Does your village or town need a clean water supply? Then immediately organise working bees to dig dams and collect runoff water, using shovels and buckets if necessary. Do you need a school house, food stores, houses for people? Then organise immediately to build these using mud bricks and local timber. You dont have local timber? Then organise to plant available public and private land with woodlots and bamboo that will provide you with free fuel, timber, mulch, shade, animal fodder, fruit and nuts, and organise the committees and working bees to look after them. Do you need better diets? Then organise to build community gardens, fish ponds, orchards and poultry pens. Are your soils too poor? Then organise the collection of all available biodegradable wastes for composting and integrate poultry into your village or suburban food production systems. Again all of these things can be done with little or no capital and it is nonsense to assume that these developments must wait until there has been a large increase in capital formation, infrastructures, exports and the GNP. In principle it shouldnt take the average Third World village or rich world suburb more than two years to develop into a very satisfactory state. Most of them do not need many more resources to do this than they already have. What they do need is a clear alternative development vision and the will to organise so as to draw out and co-ordinate the resources they do have, above all the energy and knowledge of local people.
These points should not be taken to mean that capital is irrelevant to development cant make a positive difference. Obviously even small quantities of monetary capital invested in those projects most likely to meet human and ecological needs can greatly accelerate appropriate development. Nevertheless capital is of relatively minor significance for satisfactory or appropriate development.
The Gulf between the Two Conceptions.
The contrast between alternative and conventional unidimensional development thinking is immense. Conventional development theory tells Third World people that they cannot have basic goods and services for generations. They must wait while their national governments actually deprive them to make their resources available to entrepreneurs who will become much richer, on the promise that in decades to come some of the resulting wealth will trickle down, and then possibly yield better water supplies etc for villagers... because there is only one path to development and it involves gradually increasing monetary wealth to the point where the government can afford to pay for better village water supplies, or where there are enough factory or plantation jobs for the villagers to be able to afford to buy enough food.
The gulf becomes evident as soon as we ask questions such as "Development of what?", and "What should we develop?" The conventional economist takes it for granted that the only conceivable answer is "Whatever will generate more GNP, whatever will maximise production for sale, whatever promises to maximise the profits of those with capital." But when you ask what specific things should we be trying to develop and what things should we be making sure capital and resources do not flow into, the difference becomes clear. Typically the things that most need developing and are most likely to be of benefit to people and their environments will clash head on with the developments that will result if the development goals are determined by what is most profitable.
Almost all development officials in all countries are blindly locked into the unidimensional view. Consider the future of the global atmosphere given that all Chinese leaders and bureaucrats are obsessed with a view of development as necessarily and unavoidably involving heavy industrialisation and a consumer society, a view which will require massive expansion of coal use. They show no evidence of recognising that this is only one conception of development, that it cannot succeed for all, that it is leading to catastrophic global consequences, and that the ends and means of development can be conceived in a totally different way.
Development as Plunder.
When one has broken out of the conventional mould and grasped that appropriate development is essentially about organising existing and usually sufficient local productive capacity to meet basic needs and enable a high quality of life, the criminal nature of conventional development theory and practice becomes apparent. These constitute an extremely powerful and vicious ideology, often invisible even to most conscientious development practitioners, which helps to ensure that most of the worlds resource wealth goes to about one fifth of the worlds people, and that Third World development is mostly only development of industries and infrastructures benefiting local elites, corporations, banks and consumers in rich world supermarkets. Conventional development theory asserts emphatically that all this is unavoidable; it must be accepted for generations because this is the only way development can proceed. Billions of people must go on accepting poverty and the export of their wealth at little or no return to themselves, and they must accept their own productive capacity being increasingly geared to producing for the benefit of the rich, because there is no other way; this is development. Development can only be about a slow process of getting more production for sale going, more capital invested, more infrastructures built, more produce and goods exported, i.e., about inching along the monetary dimension, and the only way to accelerate more capital formation is to encourage those with capital and entrepreneurial spirit to do more business, i.e, to generate more "wealth". Thus the underlying unidimensional conviction legitimises the plunder.
What is never acknowledged is that this is not development theory, it is only capitalist development theory. There are many ways we could develop towards many different goals. We could for example develop temples everywhere and reduce the work week as much as possible to maximise the time we could spend at prayer. In other words our development goal could be religious. Of all the conceivable development ends and means conventional development is only that path which best suits those with capital, and their few well paid technocrats, managers and lawyers. It is only the path you would take if you were among those who benefit most by maximising investment, sales and exports, or if you own a firm that builds dams etc. It is only the path that is best for rich world corporations and banks and supermarket customers. Capitalist development is only one form development can take and it is totally different from the form that is most appropriate in view of the needs of people and ecosystems.
The Significance of the World Banks SAPs.
The "Structural Adjustment Packages" imposed by the World Bank illustrate this point clearly. Because they have accumulated large debts more than 100 countries have now had to accept a Structural Adjustment Package. The World Bank in effect says to these countries, "You are heavily in debt. We will help you to get your affairs in order so that you will be more able to pay back your debt. People who are in debt must do two things. The first is to earn more income. So you must increase your exports, which means logging more forest, putting more land into export cross, enticing in more foreign mining and manufacturing corporations and reducing the price you charge for exports, which means driving wages and taxes down, reducing the protection you give to local firms, and you must devalue the currency to make exports cheaper and more competitive. The second thing you must do if you are in debt is of course to cut your spending, which means reducing state outlays on health, education, welfare and public infrastructures and services, (but not state spending on the infrastructures that will help firms to export.)"
The standard SAP aligns perfectly with the intersts of the transnational corporations and banks. It means better access to previously protected areas of business and to previously protected lands, forests and fisheries. It means lower taxes, the ability to come in and take over firms, lower prices for goods and materials imported to the rich world, and lower wages to pay Third World workers. The poor majority suffer massive losses in living standards and conditions. Many of the resources and benefits they once had are immediately denied to them and reallocated to the foreign and local corporations. For example, peasants can no longer sell their produce because their previously protected markets have been opened to access by the transnational corporations which can sell food cheaper than they can.
As many have pointed out (Goldsmith, 1992), this is best described as plunder, not development. Yes it is development, but only development of precisely those arrangements that will best suit the corporations. It is legitimised and made to seem necessary and inevitable because the unidimensional conception of development is taken for granted. After all, the Structural Adjustment Package is expressly designed to "get the economy going", to increase the amount that can be produced and sold, to increase exports, investment and the GNP, to move the country along the development dimension.
Under the label "globalisation" an enormous restructuring of the world economy is now taking place. Many initiatives other than the Structural Adjustment Packages are contributing, especially those of the World Trade Organisation with their insistence on removing all impediments to the freedom of trade. Globalisation has devastated the lives of millions of people in the Third World. It is also impacting heavily within the rich countries. Australia has seen its levels of foreign debt and foreign ownership multiply by 5 or 6 in a decade, its repatriated profits and interest multiply by 4 and its unemployment treble in about 15 years. (Dillon, 1997). These events are inevitable given the unidimensional conception of development. If development equals increasing business turnover then to break out of the 20 year slump since the early 1970s required an extensive sweeping away of all the protective and regulatory devices which previously inhibited the access of the transnational corporations and banks to labour, resources and markets.
Unfortunately Marxist and Dependency development theorists subscribe to the unidimensional assumption just as thoroughly as any pro-capitalist development economist. To Marx development was basically a matter of freeing productive capacity to generate more wealth. Human emancipation was seen as dependent on overcoming the problem of scarcity and socialism was not possible without material abundance. In view of the "laws of history" which Marx claimed to have discovered, Marxists mostly see development as inevitably involving a long and painful process in which capitalism matures, self-destructs and is transcended. In fact some notable Marxists such as Warren endorse what is happening in the Third World because it constitutes movement along the unavoidable development dimension. (Warren, 1973).
Similarly, Dependency theorists attribute underdevelopment to the loss of surplus wealth siphoned out to the rich countries. They too identify development with the achievement of high levels of industrialisation, material production, capacity to purchase, and capital accumulation.
One wonders what conventional development economists from the left and the right would make of Ladakh, a region near Tibet where people live in extremely difficult conditions at around 14,000 ft, with only hand tools, animals and no modern technology, on an average GNP per capita of almost nothing. Yet this is a complex, culturally rich, and admirable society, with a great deal to teach the affluent societies about civility, humanity, community, social justice and ecological sustainability. (Norberg-Hodge, 1991).
The Ladakhis are kind and generous. They have extensive community support systems. They look after and value their old people, they have a rich spiritual life, a relaxed lifestyle, and robust and sustainable food producing systems despite fiercely cold winters and a short growing season. Their production is labour-intensive, yet the pace of work and life in general is relaxed, with much time for ceremonies and religious observance. No one is isolated or lonely, they do not waste but recycle everything, they have no interest in power, domination or competition. They are very conscious of their dependence on nature, they are multiskilled and practical, and they live simply. There is no crime and no poverty and no drug problem and no social breakdown. Above all they are notoriously happy people.
A strong case could be made that the people of Ladakh have a far superior culture to that of the rich western countries. It is quite disturbing to ask of the Ladakhis "What development do they need?" Indeed Ladakh challenges the very concept of development. The traditional Ladakh villages are in my view, more or less satisfactorily developed. A few possible technical changes suggest themselves, such as to do with improved infant health care and perhaps the introduction of more tree crops and windmills. But they do not need supermarkets, television, freeways, cars, throwaway products, and packaged imports, higher incomes or a higher GNP. In fact it is precisely the coming of these things, the penetration of Western economic forces, that is now rapidly destroying the ancient culture of Ladakh.
Ladakhs impressive level of development has been achieved without movement down the dimension of increasing monetary value of production, sales, incomes, exports, etc and without accumulation of capital. It is due to the organisation of existing resources, especially the labour, skill and co-operative dispositions of the people into forms which enable easy, pleasant and secure production of the basic goods and services which provide them with a very high quality of life. The existence of Ladakh, and many other "primitive" and "peasant" societies confronts us with the serious mistake embodied in the assumption that development has to involve generations in suffering while capital is slowly, painfully and inequitably accumulated.
Conventional development theory and practice are not only worsening the poverty of the poorest one-third of all people. They are also responsible for the rapidly deteriorating ecological, resource and social problems the planet is experiencing. My argument has been that a major reasons why they are so uncritically accepted on the left and the right is the inability to imagine any alternative to the conventional unidimensional conception of development.
We are now witnessing the emergence of a Global Ecovillage Movement based (often only implicitly) on the rejection of this assumption. As The Conserver Society (Trainer, 1995a) explains, many small groups throughout rich and poor countries have begun to take their development into their own hands and to co-operatively explore the alternative social and economic systems that might enable people to build for themselves ecologically sustainable and just ways of living, cheaply and quickly. The gradual recognition of the gulf between on the one hand conventional unidimensional assumptions about the goals and the means of development and on the other the principles embodied in the Global Ecovillage Movement could in time come to be seen as one of historys most profound shifts. We are nearing the end of the era of (apparent) material "progress" and abundance. Very different social systems are likely to emerge in coming decades as economies driven by market forces, the profit motive and growth break down. If the limits to growth analysis of our situation is at all valid the solution the Global Ecovillage Movement stands for is undeniable. Whether the present small but increasing recognition of this will build sufficient momentum to enable transition to a sustainable world order is far from clear at this point in time. But if it does this will indeed constitute a historical transition of epic proportions, and fundamental to it will have been the scrapping of the unidimensional conception of development.
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Related items; Third World Development (short and long accounts), go over the same themes as are in this paper. Many extracts are in Collected Documents; THIRD WORLD