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Understanding Development Theory And Practice In Third World Politics Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Politics
Wordcount: 2432 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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This book is a good synthesis and critique on the theory of development after Second World War. It takes historical perspective on analyzing development theory and its practice and tries to find the context-specific result of those development theories and policies in the third world. In doing so, Rapley has tried to be unaffected by any ideological orthodoxy but his left-alignment is clearly visible.

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John Rapley, who is a political scientist involved in the Department of Government, University of West Indies (Mora), has successfully captured the essence of development theories being applied in the third world after World War II, in this book. The book is lucidly written, well organized, and easy to understand. It includes elaborate endnotes, good index, and thoroughly assembled and categorized bibliography in accordance with their dominant theoretical fervor.

The analytical approach of the book has been to follow historical comparison of mainstream development theory and practice, with related criticisms on them. For doing this he has measured the dominant debate between left critics and mainstream theorists from the perspective of dominant paradigms. He has presented the ebb and flow of neo-classical theory, and has done counter-criticism on neo-Marxists and developmental state theories. Though his arguments are balanced and analytical, people with capitalist mentality may find his argument on reemergence of neo-classical ideology immature and left-centered, while those with leftist gloss will find his insights illuminating and worthy. Nevertheless, his analysis of this wide area of development history is worthy read to students, practitioners and scholars.

The book is organized into nine chapters. The first chapter, “The Progress of Development”, is an introduction to the argument presented in the book. The chapter two summarizes the dominant theoretical trend of immediate post-war period – namely rise of Keynesianism and emergence of third world, followed by modernist, dependency and state centered theories. Rapley meticulously presents the influence of Keynesian thought on post war period of state centered development. Birth of ‘third world’ and development economics as a separate sub-discipline were influenced by recognition of ‘third world’ as a separate entity which demands different development policy design as opposed to the IBRD policy measures adopted for reconstructing Europe and other countries of First and Second World. Then, the book describes development economists of ‘structuralist’ school who designed ‘import substitution industrialization’ for the third world. This school of thought believed that international trade favours industrialized North at the expense of developing South.

But, soon the problems of structuralist schools were to be found in development world. Chapter 3 reflects on the performance of state-led development. The performance of state-led development in third world showed dismal performance. Import substitution industries were proved bad performer, license system of government increased corruption and bad governance, semi-public institutions increased the debt burden of state, and many SOEs were going bankrupt. All this led to poor export performance, inefficiency, underemployment, and poor agricultural performance. Although the central planning of statist model proved successful to increase output it couldn’t ensure quality and efficiency in its performance which led to overall unproductive utilization of available means thus causing systemic failure. All these policy failures and theoretical disenchantment of state-led development model led to the clear decline of state socialism by 1980s enforcing many countries of Latin America and Africa to follow the conditionalities of their creditors with whom they have had large debt overdue. But, exception to these problems were the East Asian economies, who were able to overcome these problems by appropriately combining the effort of state with the efficiency of market competition and thus were able to catch up with the pace of international market competition.

In chapter 4 and 5, basically talks about the neoclassical response to the failure of state-oriented development model of earlier period and its recommendation for reform. The neoclassical proponents reviewed the failure of import substitution and state-supported industrial policies by saying that “there would be losers along with gainers… this was not necessarily bad” (p. 83) and earlier development model did wrong by helping out the losers who were the main cause of inefficiency. They now advocated for promoting winners by focusing on creating environment for export industries, smaller firms, and export crop farmers. Policies for creating such environment were recommended under the framework of Washington Consensus which included: fiscal austerity, privatization of state owned enterprises (SOEs), trade liberalization, currency devaluation, and abolition of marketing boards, financial and labour market deregulation, and export promotion. Defined under an umbrella term of Structural Adjustment Program (SAP), these neo-classical prescriptions were openly supported and promoted by Bretton Woods Institutions which consequently were reflected in almost all of the third world countries where these institutions were working. Moreover, after some experience of reform initiatives and collapse of socialist economy led to the addition of accountability and transparency in government’s operations as required variables for neoclassical development model – thus both political and economic reform became elements of its reform agenda.

The subsequent critique on the performance of neo-classical SAP framework is elaborately explained in chapter 5. Here, Rapley depicts the limitations of structural adjustment and emphasizes on how its application became successful by not due to its internal theoretical strength but due to seemingly no counter-force due to the fall of left because of long stagnation of socialism during early 1980s, historical exhaustion of dependency theory with no clear output, and loss of the Marxist self-confidence. Rapley writes: “some evidence suggests that there is no reason to assume that less government leads to faster growth…. if there is any relationship between the two, it may even be that in the aggregate, more government leads to more growth” (p.119). His evaluation of the case of privatization, domestic market liberalization, retrenchment, financial and labour market deregulation demonstrates that there are flaws on the theoretical assumptions and practicalities of structural adjustment program. Its assumption of human beings as rational and self-interested actors is not supported. Many sociologist and anthropologists view human action as a part of collective action and some views like Jean Francois Bayart content that “… just as we cannot expect other peoples to behave the way we do, we cannot apply the same principles to judge their behavior.” Similarly, differences between first and third world discredited the apparently same principle of development propounded by structural adjustment program; flaws were seen in ‘new political economy’ ideology of neo-classical writers. Moreover, the neoclassical logic of accepting the material inequality has been criticized by leftists on moral grounds, even if “assuming material inequality to be morally neutral leftist theorists would still condemn it for its economic drawbacks” (p.116) to poorer ones.

Rapley has given emphasis on the birth of possible challenge to neoclassical theory. He clearly seems to be on the side of the left but is cautious enough to predict that the new paradigm won’t be too much influenced by classical left or postmodernist hangover. In chapter 6, he asks for the new paradigm of development to be able to work with market and capitalism, while simultaneously opting for greater role for the state than allowed by structural adjustment program. The neo-institutionalist idea that market does not emerge spontaneously and that different cultural background require the creation of different types of institutions led to the reemergence of the need of state involvement in creating and developing economic institutions. The highly interventionist states of East Asia had selectively protected some strategic industries through tariffs and quota at the same time helped them grow through export subsidies and subsidized credit. They promoted firms towards new forms of production and compelled them to increase their competitiveness. These successful policy measures of East Asian countries have been influential theoretical strands for the reemergence of the developmental state paradigm.

Ultimately, in chapter 7 Rapley has returned to the Sub Saharan Africa to show that there are many challenges to follow state-supported development as seen in its successful version of East Asian case. The reasons allotted in the book are internal limitations of Africa (especially the weakness of African state) and international obstacles brought forwarded by international balance of power. His reasons for the seemingly low applicability of Asian developmental model in Africa are more political rather than economic. Some causal factors leading to the crisis of state in Africa like: authoritarianism in the third world, state capacity, concentration of power, class politics, etc. proves for Rapley that Africa is ‘against the tide’. Furthermore, he also sees obstacle in international systems to follow the strict state-led growth as enjoyed by East Asian countries in 60s through 80s. Rapley argues, “… it is not only Africa that the emerging practice of development is running in a direction contrary to that of the theory”. “The crisis of the state which sees fiscal constraints forcing public authorities to renounce many of their functions, is international in its scope” (p.176). Meanwhile retrenchment of state during SAP implementation led to the development of many non-state actors like NGOs, private sector and other groups working as a state within state leading to the weakening of state functions.

The chapter 8, entitled as “The end of development or a new beginning?” is focused on the idea of post-development thought. “This thought challenges us to rethink the entire way we conceive development, and to consider the possibility of a paradigm shift” (p.177). Presently the world is facing contested political order where there is resurgence of populist movements against globalization to restore control over space/country; while another strand which is closer to postmodern idea is shifting the focus from national to global level through some works like: UN MDGs or WTO’s Doha Development Agenda negotiations. Rapley admits:

“A discipline that emerged in the early post-World War II period… development studies always took for granted the existence of national economies and nation states. Much has changed since. Accordingly, those who take an interest in development are being challenged to conceive new strategies of development. Post-development challenged us to rethink development altogether.” (p.200).

The recent trend of giving focus on people after the publication of Development As Freedom written by Prof. Amartya Sen has shifted attention of Bretton Woods institutions and other scholars to the fact that “development that doesn’t improve the lives of the poor people will only provoke resistance and crisis” (p.200). Rapley wraps-up the eighth chapter by arguing that the intellectual resistance from post-development ideas and political campaigns of anti-globalization forces has put the agenda of development in the centre stage which is awaiting for good implementation.

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Finally, in chapter 9 Rapley concludes main arguments presented in the book and also poses some relevant questions demanding serious consideration for leading the future of development. Some of his questions are thought provoking: can development models be universalized? What roles will environmental issues play in development theory? Is there a population time bomb, and how will it affect the third world? What will the new balance between state and society be? At last he has wrapped up his argument by discussing on all these questions in brief.

Reviewing the whole book one can easily find that this book is highly comprehensive piece on development theory and practice spending fairly little space or pages. It is praiseworthy to say that this updated volume includes issues of latest debate of 21st century development studies. But, still it has some loopholes. While criticizing on the neoliberal ideas, he has overlooked at its overall performance in countries like India, China, and other high performer countries of 1990s and early 2000s. Similarly, his analysis of third world with high emphasis on African and Latin American countries has ignored poor blocks of South Asian countries and thus has left a large area of development experiment of these years untouched. The number of poor population in South Asian region doesn’t justify writer’s neglect of the region as appropriate.

Unlike previous editions of this book, the reviewed third edition has added more to the analysis of future of development. Its analysis of the latest thought of development, viz. post-development, is convincing enough to indicate on the future of development by working together with the questions raised in the concluding chapter. Reading this, readers can guess that…………………..

Notwithstanding these criticisms, Rapley’s work is able to present a comprehensive and succinct treatise on the history of development thoughts and practice in third world. His way of presenting the mainstream argument along with the main criticism propounded by left and others on each of these development theories is interesting and useful. This book is can be recommended as a ‘must read’ for upper level undergraduate students, useful guide for graduate level students, and a common discourse with new insights for the scholars. Readers will not regret about their time and money spent for the book after completing the last sentence.


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