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Food for Thought

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Food for Thought

Post by කිත්සිරි ද සිල්වා on Sat May 26, 2018 10:04 am

What Are We Borrowing For?

By Ranil Senanayake –


In the current tussle for political credibility, borrowing money for
‘development’ is equated with success. All politicians laud
‘development’ without any idea of what it means. The question ‘what is
development’ was asked as early as February 1978, but our ‘leaders’,
from that time onwards never had a answer and are still stuck in the
same old rut of blind consumerism, enriching themselves and their
cronies while getting the population deeper and deeper into debt.

Meaning of Development (1978)

Development and progress are words that we are very familiar with and
rightly so. As a nation all our hopes and aspirations are centred
around the promises attendant on these processes. Yet recently there
have been some questions on the values of ‘development’, and as in
every controversial issue, the battle lines have been drawn. the
combatants are, as is usual in these affairs, mostly from developed
countries. the people of developing countries, more often than not,
are mere witnesses to these esoteric exchanges. I do not intend to
imply that these arguments are not valid; rather I would like to draw
attention to the fact that often both points of view have their
references deeply rooted in ‘developed’ or Western technological
thought.

Development in the context of the current usage of the word certainly
seems wedded firmly to Western technological thought. Whether we use
it to describe an economic order or a social order, the roots are the
same. e word development carries other connotations

in the context of present usage. It suggests that the country to be
‘developed’ is some way inferior to the model to which it aspires to
become. the point here is: inferior by whose standards? To an
industrialist from a Western country, a poor village in the third
World does indeed need to be developed. A view, that will more often
than not, be held by the rulers of the same country. To quote Richard
Gott (CDN 1978).

“With the formal ending of colonial rule in all three continents of
the third World, political independence was granted a tiny elite
trained not to question the framework within which the world economy
operated.”

It is this elite that laid the foundation for education of people in
those countries, thus the value system operating and transmitted was
certainly not endemic. With this perspective in mind, lets us attempt
to look at ourselves.

We in Sri Lanka are continually talking about development. I believe
that in the end this merely means an increase in industry and
consumerism. It most certainly could not refer to a cultural or a
philosophical development.


A country in which a major part of her population comprehends
philosophical concepts that are addressable only by a minority of
scholars in the West must certainly be, in comparative terms, more
developed. An argument could be made that we also do not need to be
more developed in our agriculture. Does an agricultural system that
does not rely on any form of energy subsidy, other than biological
energy, need to be ‘developed’ so its productivity becomes reliant on
subsidized energy?

In the so-called developed world active research is under way for
systems which are not subsidised by fossil fuel. We have it – and yet
want to disrupt it in favour of energy intensive agricultural
practices. Could this trend be attributed to the fact that most of our
scholars are trained to look at problems in a purely Western
technological perspective? Of course, all of us want to utilize our
training for national good, but we should be careful and try to
objectively evaluate the long-range repercussions of increased energy
dependence.

Hartford Tomas (CDN 1978), who is a proponent of third World
development, comments on the help given by developed countries to the
‘to be developed countries’:

“The philosophy of development from the grassroots comes up from the
professionals, in Robert McNamara’s annual speeches and in the work of
Schumacher’s intermediate development group.”

Well now, with all due respect for this illustrious gentlemen, I
submit that the grassroots existed long before Robert McNamara’s
discovery of them, and that if one reads Schumacher’s Small is
Beautiful, one gets the distinct impression that Dr. Schumacher took
many beautiful things from so called ‘underdeveloped’ countries. I do
not mean to belittle the great words of these scholars, but wish to
point out that they are addressing the developed world. So then, what
help do we need from the professionals? To tell us what we already
know about ourselves in ‘developed jargon’?

So we are still confronted with the dubiousness of the meaning of
development. It would seem bizarre indeed if it transpired that we
have been developing for the past 30 odd years mainly in a Western
technological perspective. Some indication of our development can be
addressed if we look at these questions in terms of the goals
identified by those who describe the path. One of the standard answers
to the development question is: the goal is economic growth. On this
point Prof. Dudley Seers says, “in fact, it looks as if economic
growth may not merely fail to solve social and political difficulties,
certain types of growth can actually cause them”.

An important question is: who accepts responsibility for the results
of this monomania for economic growth? Are we, by changing the value
system, creating an artificial need for goods and services non-
essential to our well-being as measured by any endemic standards? It
may be useful to reflect again on a statement by Prof. Seers: ‘the
social barriers and inhibitions of an unequal society distort the
personalities of those with high incomes no less than those who are
poor. Trivial differences of accent, language, dress, customs etc.
acquire an absurd importance and contempt is engendered for those who
lack social graces, specially country dwellers’.

Now let us take a case-in-point. Last week in the suburbs of Colombo,
five youths were picked up for theft by the police. they each had on
them at least Rs. 1000 worth of apparel (imported shirts, imported
trousers, imported wristwatches, imported socks). their occupation?
they were unemployed. How did they earn the money with which to buy
the goods? they stole produce and other sellable items from the
village. What was their need? they had to maintain their status
(tathwaya). Is this development? How did these values come about? A.M.
Hocart, who was the head of the Ceylon archaeological survey, wrote
some poignant words that bear relevance to these phenomena.

“Here is a politician who appeals for help in disturbing the pathetic
contentment of Asiatic peasants and is ready to pillory as an inhuman
wretch anyone who may wish them to remain contented. Contentment has
become a crime, because it opens up no markets for goods or for
doctrines, woe to the man who does not want more fish, more art, more
science, more education, more speed. Trade has no use for him,
politics and science abhor him. The men after their own heart is the
one who can make two desires grow where only one grew before. What,
though he threw to the wind, the old fashion restraints and time
honoured virtues? What though he stoops to cringing or insolence, to
false words, even to corruption? He is hailed as a creative artist for
he has created desire.”

I wonder how truthful an advocate of a Buddhist righteous society
would be, if he believes in development in this context?

We are often told we cannot remain apart from the world’s progress,
and as illuminating examples of progress in the third World we are
shown countries like Singapore, Hong Kong or South Korea. Have those,
who want us to join the mad race of consumerism, really looked beyond
the glitter and the tinsel? Do we want for ourselves a ceaseless
struggle for the goods we will be taught are essential to our
well-being? In a world whose energy resources are constantly
dwindling, does it not seems obvious what the fate of energy dependent
societies will be?

My discussion is fraught with questions, and I believe that they are
valid questions. As questions I am sure that they will receive replies
from the people whom we, the public, have faith in entrusting our
futures to. I am equally sure that I, among many others, will gain
tremendous knowledge from these answers. This may serve to bring the
dialogue of ‘development’ from the ‘developed’ to the ‘to be
developed’ (us, in this context). For in the final analysis, demanding
acknowledgement of individual responsibility for influencing national
processes may serve to act as a safety valve on the social movement
called development.

Forty years later do we have even one politician who can comprehend or
respond to these questions ?
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කිත්සිරි ද සිල්වා
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Re: Food for Thought

Post by Ethical Trader on Sat May 26, 2018 11:24 am

Timely one. Thanks.
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