A development expert, using his own learning experiences and the real-life examples of two major economies – India and China – showed how development cannot have a “one-size-fits-all” model for its growth and success.
The speaker, Dr David Malone, a distinguished Canadian diplomat, is currently the Rector of the United Nations University (UNU) and Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations.
In his public lecture on ‘International Development: A Contradiction in Terms?’, he related how his early life experiences in Iran and Sudan influenced his thinking of development, and that aid programmes had failed comprehensively with no trace whatsoever in those countries years later. “Development isn’t illusory even though a number of strategies to attain development may turn out to be bad ideas, and the so-called experts generally learn by finding out they are wrong and moving on to some other prescription which may or may not work better.”
He said society is much more important to development outcome than narrow economic considerations. “Why do some countries pursuing certain policies succeed while other countries pursuing the same policies not succeed? It’s because of societal preferences. And that is something the international economic institutions, the banks, have been extraordinarily weak at investigating,” Dr Malone elaborated.
He said countries can have different paths to development, citing as examples India which gained independence in 1947 and China which came under Communist rule in 1949.
He said the colonial era left India in a bad shape, including the Great Bengal Famine of 1943-44 which claimed 2-3 million lives. He stated that the first Prime Minister Nehru adopted a soft style of Soviet socialism model that focused on preventing starvation and on heavy industrialisation, but with unsatisfactory results.
“By the 1960s, then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi listened to Indian scientists and was able to triple India’s production of grain in about 10 years. She also instituted some liberalisation of the Indian economy, which rose from 4% to 6% during the 1980s. India’s growth trajectory was however disrupted when the country could not pay its international bills. The new government of 1991 implemented limited reforms to India’s economy to unleash Indian entrepreneurship further and so growth moved up to 7%-9% level. India experienced extraordinary growth, particularly in the last 15 years, in services and in offshore sourcing of work in India,” he added.
Dr Malone said China had a very different trajectory, namely the Great Chinese Famine and the Cultural Revolution. He said Deng Xiaoping made agriculture his number one priority, and discovered from the peasants what seemed to work and didn’t work, and instituted it as a policy, leading to tripling of agricultural production. Deng then moved on to develop the model for China’s wider economic welfare, focusing on export and industrialisation, underpinning these with very strong infrastructure. Today, China is more than three times richer in per capita income than India, Dr Malone stated.
He found that India and China had two completely different paths to development, conforming to what they were each good at and to the preferences of its people. “Two successful development tracks over three decades need not be identical. The one-size-fits-all propositions of many of the development experts are profoundly misleading. Each society finds its own path to development. And it finds a better development by respecting its own societal preferences and also being open minded as to what might work in that country.”
During the Q&A, on the lessons learnt in the last 50 years, he said, “I am profoundly convinced that where development occurred, it was internally or internally compelled, not externally induced or compelled. So countries wind up developing themselves, with or without foreign assistances.”
About 100 people attended the talk organised by WOU in collaboration with Think City and United Nations University (UNU) at the main campus today.