Vol.1 No.5, 16 August 2001

Understanding "Development" Today

The success of the Marshall Plan after World War II inspired the foundation of the World Bank and IMF. The original intention of these was the noble cause of uplifting underdeveloped countries and helping nations through troubled economics times. Some nations have indeed benefited greatly, but other efforts have been misconceived and have failed in meeting these noble objectives. There has been an urgent and persistent call for debt cancellation.

In South Africa much money was spent by the former government on the development of black independent (bantustan) states within South Africa. We have learnt a great deal from our mistakes and it is useful to summarise these learnings. In this issue of SANE Views Prof Johan van Zyl, a board member of SANE, has formulated the following key thoughts.




By Professor Johan van Zyl

1. The FOCUS of development

  1. Development is about people and not about objects i.e. it must be people centred.
  2. The opposite applies: the focus is on objects i.e. development is firstly about economic growth and only afterwards about people - if social funding is available.

2. The NATURE of development

  1. Development is a process of change which occurs inside people - either they do it themselves or it does not happen at all!
  2. Development is [largely] materialistic: economic growth in production is the key. This process often occurs outside the influence of ordinary people - individuals have little influence over the profit-driven production decisions that are in the main involved.

3. The GOAL of development

  1. "Sustainability" i.e. the capacity to continue any current development initiative well into the future - without [substantial] interruption.
  2. A high rate of [material] economic growth.

4. Can "development" be GIVEN to people?

  1. People can be given things or material objects - but it is impossible to GIVE them [people-centred] "development". All parents know this in their life-long venture to bring up their own children.
  2. If required people can certainly be given development in the form of material things
    i.e. goods and services [e.g. infrastructure].

5. The "ENGINE" of development

  1. The engine/driver of development lies inside ordinary people, in group self-motivation, i.e. in the process of people working together to satisfy their own collective and self-defined needs. Thus in essence the driving force is still self-interest - but the "self" is no longer predominantly individualistic.
  2. The engine/driver of development - seen as economic (GDP) growth - is external to ordinary people viz. macro flows of private investment and exports. Individuals have little or no say in guiding these larger essentially profit-driven processes.

6. IMPLEMENTING development

  1. To implement SUSTAINABLE people-centred [and eco-sensitive] development effectively will require the active promotion of greater SELF-RELIANCE - at all levels of society but especially for local communities. A major political implication is structuring deep-going processes of participation for all affected parties, including government
    i.e. highly developed decision-making - in support of the basic principle of subsidiarity.
  2. The key implementation issue is to create a "favourable climate" for economic growth - via private investment and exports. This task has to be driven by the objective requirements [or dictates] of markets and nation states - a key feature that is simply part of the basic workings of an EFFICIENT market-driven industrial economy. Perforce such "rules of the game" must also apply in the major modern-day movement towards globalisation.


The differences outlined above are substantial and deep-going. Yet both approaches rely on the market system to organise production activities in the economy. However, in the New Economics, a market system is merely a useful tool for achieving a wide range of "quality of life" goals. Its own goal of pursuing "value for money" has no special standing [as at present] and should indeed be made subservient to other important goals such as quality of life as a whole.

Back to previous

© South African New Economics Network 2006. Page generated at 17:15; 24 September 2006