The United Nations General Assembly launched the First UN Development Decade in December 1961. In those heady days sixteen years after the end of World War II popular opinion in the world was being encouraged to believe that economic development, economic growth and progress would combine to give the world paradise. Placed on a global scale, this was the equivalent of President Dwight Eisenhower’s, “chicken in every pot,” and a car in every garage.
In 1970, the UN General Assembly was given the bad news: the First UN Development Decade had failed. The minimal growth rate set as an objective for all countries was 5% in aggregate national income by the end of the declared decade. The world had been divided into developed, underdeveloped and less-developed countries and all but the developed countries failed to achieve the objective. Measured in dollars the so-called gap between developed countries and everyone else widened substantially. Secretary-General U Thant remarked in 1969 that the lack of progress or slow progress came about because of low food production, problems with diseases and education levels had not be achieved. Because of population increases and the absence of a well-thought out international development strategy the UN Development program reported that the effective improvement in growth was only 2%.
The Second UN Development Decade also failed to meet the objectives set by the General Assembly, and so did the Third UN Development Decade. In 1990 the UN General Assembly marched up to the UN chambers again and declared a Fourth UN Development Decade that would set a new International Development Strategy that contained six points:
- To speed up the pace of economic growth in the developing countries;
- To devise a development process that meets social needs, reduces
extreme poverty significantly, develops and uses people’s capacity and
skills, and is environmentally sound and sustainable;
- To improve the international systems of money, finance, and trade;
- To strengthen and stabilize the world economy and establish sound
macroeconomic management practices, nationally and internationally;
- To strengthen international cooperation for development;
- To make a special effort to deal with the particular problems of the least developed countries.
By the time the new century came around, the UN Fourth Development Decade had been characterized as a failure as well. Economic growth had to increase its pace in developing countries. There hadn’t been improved international development cooperation and the least-developed countries had experienced “negligible” economic and social progress. This failure occurred despite the establishment of the World Trade Organization, the World Intellectual Property Organization, and approval of the Law of the Seas (aimed at distributing wealth) and the Convention on Biodiversity (aimed at making tropical and other “natural resources” available for trade).
Now that we are all engaged in the Fifth United Nations Development Decade what can we say has been accomplished in the more than 40 years since “development” was declared the goal for all of humanity. Well let’s take a look:
The gap between the well-off and the rest of the world has grown even greater than it was in 1960 when dollar income differences were 10 to 1. Now the difference is measure in excess of 450 to 1. Apparently “development” worked better for a few than for the rest of the world.
More than 121 million children in the world do not attend school.
Half the world’s population–about three billion people–live on less than the equivalent of two dollars a day ($60 per month).
The gross domestic product of 48 of the world’s poorest states is less than the wealth of the world’s three richest individuals. That bears repeating: three individual people have control over greater wealth than the total economic output of 48 of the world’s poorest countries.
According to Ignacio Ramonet’s report in Le Monde diplomatique :
In 1960 the income of the 20 % of the
world’s population living in the richest countries was 30 times
greater than that of the 20 % in the poorest countries. Now we
learn that in 1995 it was 82 times greater (2). In over 70
countries, per capita income is lower today than it was 20 years
What kind of farce is being perpetrated here? “Development” as was originally conceived in the early 1960s was supposed to be measured in terms of social change with improved education, quality of life, improved economic conditions, improved food, shelter and institutions for the world’s less advantaged. “Development” is not happening for humanity; it is primarily benefiting the wealthy and those few who now control most of the world’s resources. “Development” is a sham for generations of people who were told they would have a better life, and that they should play by the rules and work hard. Well, billions of people have played by the rules and worked hard; and all that has happened is that they bear more children who grow up to play by the rules and work hard so that a few individuals, a small elite in virtually every country, can become wealthy and experience a better way of life. The human lives that are considered expendable should instead be celebrated for their life on the planet. What kind of “development” is it when 200 of the wealthiest individuals in the world controlled $1 trillion in 1999 while at the same time the combined wealth of 582 million people living in 43 of the so-called least developed countries had just $146 billion.
“Development” is a cruel fiction that sounds good, but in reality prospers a very tiny elite, impoverishes the vast majority of the peoples in the world, destroys the world’s life giving soils, air, water, plants and animals and creates a world of terror and violence. “Development” and its sister “sustainable development” are a hoax that undermines life-giving small and diverse economies, devalues the life giving role of men and women, and rapes the natural world.
What is the alternative? Small economies, diverse in their relationship to the environment in which they operate, produce life, do not impoverish people and do not ravage the natural plants, animals, water, air and soil. Small economies produce what is needed by a community and if excess is produced it is either distributed through giveaways in the community or traded to a nearby community for other things. Small scale economies exist throughout the world relying on the creativity, skill, knowledge and intelligence of people who are both producers and consumers. When consumers are also producers they tend to respect the limits of the natural world and recognize the value in what they possess. “Development” promotes only more consumers.
More and more people in the world are being removed from their land in the name of “development” when they ought to be encouraged to continue to use that land and produce their own foods. When people are pushed off their land they become impoverished and wholly dependent on the “development economy.” That places the power in the hands of an elite group who become the main beneficiaries of the land.
In the United States and Canada Indian people were pushed off their lands and poverty ensued. The richest nations in the world became, in short order, beggars and dependents.
In only the last fifteen years, Indian governments in the United States have begun to take control over their own economic lives within the boundaries of their postage-stamp sized reservations. For many of these nations, the only economic model they know about is the economic model of “development.” A new kind of dependency is occurring in Indian communities where new elites are being created based on a money economy that recognizes value only in “economic development.”
Poverty is extensive in Indian communities except for those who control the money. The small economy that made everyone wealthy on which people depended for hundreds and thousands of years now constitutes about 5% of the tribal economic activity. Tribal economic activity is devalued because it doesn’t “make money” but it does produce and sustain life. Child care, housekeeping, care for the elderly and infirm, gathering of natural medicines and foods, traditional health care and medicines, making clothing, making of masks and other ceremonial regalia, making canoes are among those things that do not get counted as valuable, yet without these things life could not be sustained.
Tribal communities must abandon what is obviously already a failure: “Development.” “Economic Development” is guaranteed to produce more poverty, an elite wealthy, and activities destructive of life.
(c) 2007 Center for World Indigenous Studies
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