Friday, March 07, 2014

Global Poverty and Neoliberalism: Development by the Elites, For the Elites

Ben Selwyn
Weekend Edition
March 7-9, 2014.
Most development theory — free-market or statist — explains the relationship between capitalism and poverty as based on the dichotomy of inclusion into capitalism versus exclusion from capitalism. The global capitalist system is described as a source of opportunities for less developed countries. From this perspective, poor countries are held to be poor, not because of the nature of global capitalism but because of their effective exclusion from it. Policies such as trade liberalisation and market deregulation are designed to enable poor countries to harness capitalism’s dynamism. The world market is often described as a ladder of opportunity and wealth; once on the bottom rung, poor countries can climb and accelerate their populations’ human development. UN Millennium Project director Jeffrey Sachs defends sweated labour across the global South, saying the “sweatshops are the first rung on the ladder out of extreme poverty”.

The idea of capitalism as a benign sphere of human activity goes with another firmly held axiom, that development policy has enlightened actors (states, entrepreneurs, international institutions and NGOs) carrying out actions for the poor. Development discourse calls the poor the “disempowered” who need to be “empowered” by benign assistance from above. Development theorists such as Paul Collier argue in neo-colonialist style that the poor in the developing world need to be forcefully liberated from oppressive state rulers through western military action, as in Britain’s intervention in Sierra Leone in 2000.

In this elitist conception of development, innovating entrepreneurs, supported by benign states, generate wealth through participation in capitalist markets, which then trickles down to the population, who should be grateful for the enhancement of their lives. This view rests on a paradox. The process of wealth creation, whether through incorporation into “free” markets, or through state-led generation and allocation of resources, requires the subordination of the working masses to the elite’s objectives — low wages, long hours and subjection to strict management discipline, denial of trade union rights and suppression of workers’ political actions.
Read the rest here.


Ben Selwyn is a Senior Lecturer in International Development at the School of Global Studies, University of Sussex, and the author of "The Global Development Crisis" (Polity, Cambridge, 2014).
Comment: In capitalism value is not an intrinsic measurement of worth or utility.  The value of just about anything (including humans) is ascribed through projection and force (violence and wars included).

What surprises me are the rank and file who view capitalism as an inevitable way of life.  Very little time is spent on working through the manner that value is disfigured for reasons of creating or advancing elite power.

The poor are poor because they are not entrepreneurs.  Capitalism can solve this value deficiency because it draws on entrepreneurship to overcome poverty.  Nothing is said about how the poor are poor because they are forced to live on the margins of existence so rich elites can prosper.

In this nexus the notion of development is as much a disfigured value as the products that arise from it - no freedom can emanate from this kind of development.

A few years ago we were told here in South Africa that FIFA brought development to the country and continent with its World Cup fiasco.

Now the very stadia that were built to showcase this vision of development are empty and nothing less than drains on the national economy.

Brazil is facing the same scenario now and it is little wonder that people are taking to the streets to protest this violent vision of what development should look like.

In the meantime, the poor remain poor and they live in informal or inadequate housing schemes while the elites taut the wonders of capitalized development.

This is just one example why neo-liberal development is unsustainable by default and it matters very little whether the elites of capitalism are white, black or brown.


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