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Global Disparities
(Published in The Statesman in two parts, March 1 & 2, 2002, Kolkata)
Fr. John Felix Raj. S.J.

“The earth is one, but the world is divided”

History is moving fast and we are in the third millennium. Man, in his quest for progress, wants to change the past and become master of the future. The world is going through a rapid and significant socio-economic, political, cultural and technological transformation. The IT revolution has unleashed waves of change. The process of transformation does not occur simultaneously or at a uniform pace and pattern in all countries and regions of the world. While it opens up immense opportunities, it also poses new threats to human life, freedom and security. There are discrepancies, which have differentiated the countries and created an unequal situation.

The world has become a global village with instant and efficient communication facilities. This has made the socio-economic realities and cultural backgrounds of one nation or one people transparent to others. The phenomenon of the awareness of differences and disparities among countries and communities characterizes our period. People in general are aware of this reality of transformation, and of its economic and political causes, and of its consequences in terms of relationships, which influence to determine approaches and conditions.

People of one country are examining their environment and living conditions and comparing them to that of others. Such comparisons necessarily create expectations. But while some are caught up in the wheel of these limited expectations, others go beyond them and see the process of transformation as an answer to their fundamental aspirations – liberty, dignity, equality, economic welfare and social upliftment. Or at least they would like the process to be moving toward these goals. They know that the achievement of these aspirations should be the purpose of all social organizations and social activities. The achievements of people are cumulative; their effects and the collective experiences of successive generations open new perspectives and allow for greater achievements in the years to come. If these achievements are positive and constructive, the society will march forward on the road to progress.

In the evolution of the world economy, there are some countries less favored. In these poor or “developing” countries, the vast majority of people live in inhuman conditions. They feel ostracized from the world community. They are also the losers in the battle for survival. According to the UNDP Human Development Report, the gap between the incomes of the richest countries and the poorest countries was about 3 to 1 in 1920, 35 to 1 in 1950, 45 to 1 in 1975, 75 to 1 in 1992 and it is almost 100 to 1 now. Global inequalities in income have increased alarmingly in the last hundred years. More than 30,000 children die everyday from preventable diseases. Some 90 million children are excluded from primary education. About 790 m people are hungry and 1.2 billion live on less than one dollar a day.

With the foreign debt and the iron rules of the world market against them, the noose around their neck is threatening to strangle these poor countries. Globalization and liberalization are, it is said, the rich nations’ 21st century strategies to oppress the third world. They confirm the explanation that these inequalities are caused by a type of relationship, which often has been imposed upon them. The poor countries are convinced that the present status of the rich countries is the outcome of injustice and coercion. Their level of expectations, though somewhat indistinct, goes far beyond a mere imitation of the rich countries. They are attempting to overcome material poverty and misery in order to achieve a more just and human society. But their internal diversity and heterogeneity, and the presence of external determinants contribute to the rise of different needs in different groups causing a dynamics of conflictual action.

The term development is not new. Much is written and said about it in recent times. But its current usage in the social sciences is new. It has become the keyword in the contemporary discussions on human conditions. It seems to respond to the issues and problems, which have emerged recently, and somewhat, synthesize the contemporary aspirations of people for more just and human living conditions. For some economists, the origin of the term, development is, in a sense negative. They consider it to have appeared in opposition to the term underdevelopment, which expresses the misery and anguish of the poor countries compared to the rich or developed countries. They advocate that the dynamics of world economies leads to the creation of greater income and wealth for a few and greater poverty and misery for many.

Development, in recent years, has been synonymous with modernization and reformism. Development strategies promoted by international organizations have been closely linked to governments and groups, domestic and foreign, which control world economy. The rich countries projected themselves as models of development and their approached did not attack the root causes of misery and hunger. Their models have been timid and really ineffective in achieving the desired transformation. Great care has been exercised to protect their vested interests.

Many economists believe that the underdevelopment of the “developing” countries is only the by - product of the development of “developed” countries. It is the consequence of their total dependence on rich countries. The earth is one, but the world is divided on different grounds: rich versus poor, advanced versus backward, modern versus traditional, developed versus underdeveloped and south versus north. It is also divided into three major blocks on the basis of development: First world (Western Europe, USA and the Pacific- the capitalist), second world (the Eastern Europe – the socialist) and third world (Latin America and the Caribbean, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia except Japan – the underdeveloped).

The concept of development has no precise definition; there are a variety of ways to regard it. The historical view of development, following the process of changes in England, is simple. It consists in increased wealth or a higher level of living. The non-economic indicators of development were not given much importance. As a result, developing countries did not perform the way the economists predicted. The benefits of growth remained confined to a small section of population. Those who champion this view are few in number and the usage of this view is also subtle and limited. The term became the object of severe criticism due to the deficiencies of the development policies proposed to the poor countries to lead them out of their underdevelopment and also to the lack of concrete achievements of the respective governments. The deficiencies of the historical understanding have led to other views and their elaborations.

Development can be seen as purely economic, and in that sense it would be synonymous with economic growth. But there is a fundamental distinction between them. Economic growth refers to a rise in GNP or per capita income and product. If the production of goods and services in a country rises, by whatever means, one can speak of that rise as “economic growth”. Economic development implies more.

For example, what has been happening in South Korea since 1960 is fundamentally different from what has been happening in Libya as a result of the discovery of petroleum. Both countries experienced a large rise in per capita income, but in Libya this rise was due to foreign corporations who produced the product. The people of Libya had very little to do with producing that income. The effect of petroleum development has been as if a rich country gave Libya large amounts of grant in aid. Libya’s experience is not usually described as economic development. Economic development, in addition to a rise in per capita income implies fundamental changes in the structure of the economy.

The work of Joseph A. Schumpeter throws light on long-term development process. He studied the “Circular Flow” of capitalist economy that suffered from structural stagnation, and suggested “ Innovation” as a measure to break the capitalist equilibrium. Innovations are techno-economic and simultaneously socio-political, hence they help to overcome the prevailing system. Schumpeter calls this process “ Entwicklung”, which is translated as “development”.

Australian economist Colin Clark’s contribution affirms that the aim of economic activity is not wealth, but well-being of people. He proposes to measure well-being by making comparisons between the performances of different countries by various indicators. He shows that the highest levels of well-being are found in the industrialized countries and concludes that industrialization is the road to progress.

The Bandung Conference of 1955 played an important role in the evolution of the term, development. A large number of countries that met there, especially African and Asian recognized their common membership in a third world – deepening poverty and marginalization, and facing the two developed worlds. The third world countries unanimously proclaimed their unacceptability of underdevelopment. It was their feeling that the real development of the Third world countries will come only from the liberation from the domination of the First and second worlds. Only a radical break from the existing system of private ownership and concentration of power in a few hands and nations would usher in the change to a new social order.

An important element in development is that the people of the country must be major participants in the process that bring about changes in structures. Participation in the process of development implies participation in the enjoyment of the benefits of the development as well as the production of those benefits. Different UN resolutions show that there are three basic ways to view people’s participation in development: people’s contribution to development efforts; collective decision-making and sharing of the fruits of development. If growth benefits only a small, wealthy minority, whether domestic or foreign, it is not development.

In this context, Amartya Sen explains, “ millions of people living in rich and poor countries are still unfree; they are denied elementary freedom and remain imprisoned in one way or another by economic poverty, social deprivation, political tyranny or cultural authoritarianism. The main purpose of development is to “remove the sources of unfreedom and to expand the real freedoms that people enjoy”.

Sen weaves his recent thoughts on economic development, social justice and human rights into a coherent vision of a better world. “ Values, institutions, development and freedom are all closely interrelated”. He links them together into an analytical framework to address the social basis of people’s well-being. He shows that the quality of our lives should be measured not by our wealth, but by our freedom. “ Economic development is in its nature an increase of freedom.

Another important and frequently used view defines development as a total social process, which includes social, economic, political and cultural aspects of life. It stresses the interdependence of the different factors and allows a country to advance both totally and harmoniously, and to avoid dangerous setbacks. Development in one area implies development in all of them and vice versa. As Huntington has identified, development processes are complex and multidimensional, and involve a series of cognitive, behavioral and institutional modifications and restructuring; they are systematic, revolutionary in nature, global, harmonious, irreversible and progressive”.

According to social scientists concerned with third world countries, development as a total social process leads to a constructively critical consideration of 1) the external and internal factors which affect the economic evolution of a country, 2) the distributive system of good and services, and 3) the system of relationships among the agents of its economic life; and incorporates self-esteem, sustenance, freedom and well-being. Development in this respect necessarily presupposes a concern for human values. It implies an ethical dimension. It is to understand development from a humanistic perspective. This approach places the notion of development in a wider context – wholistic historical vision in which human family takes control of its own destiny.

Francois Perroux has worked consistently along these lines. For him, development means “the combinations of mental and social changes of a people which enables them to increase, cumulatively and permanently, their total real production”. Going further, he says, “ Development is achieved fully in the measure that, by reciprocity of services, it prepares the way for reciprocity of consciousness”. The issue of development considered in this sense is nothing but liberation. Development, in other words, is rethought in terms of liberation. It finds its right place in the universal, profound and radical perspective of liberation. It is only within this framework that development finds its true meaning and possibilities of accomplishing something worthwhile.

Today to speak about liberation and its process is more appropriate and richer in human context. Liberation in the first place expresses the aspirations of oppressed nations and people at odds with wealthy nations and bourgeois classes. Secondly, the liberation process can be applied to understand history in which man becomes totally responsible for his own destiny and creates a new society.

We speak of liberation not only from exterior pressures, which prevent man’s fulfillment as a member of the human family – region, country and society, but also from within, from interior bondage – liberation on a social plane and simultaneously liberation on a personal or psychological level. The personal liberation is a prerequisite for social liberation. The process of achieving liberation is not without a struggle. It is a never ending, continuous human struggle against all forces that oppress man and society. It is a process already begun, and we have to continue it. “Freedom, O freedom, Where are thy charms”, is the cry of every soul.




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