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It is problematic to assume that we, as a globe, are on a unidirectional path of development. To say that all countries will prosper from following the same path that we have seen in the Global-North overlooks issues that have arisen as a result of this progression: for example, the development of nuclear arms and an imminent environmental crisis.
The idea that the particular capitalist model of development in the Global-North is ‘correct’ and that many areas of the world need to conform to a eurocentric view of development is an arrogant claim of truth that is unsubstantiated by historical events. ‘International development’ really just means ‘European capitalist development’. To a large extent, ‘international development’ has become an institutionally racist term.
When considering ‘copy-and-paste’ methods of global development that is often practiced by institutions like the IMF, one must consider whether or not the Western World truly benefits from the financial subjugation of so-called ‘peripheral’ nations.
IMF “shock therapy” in the early 1990s led to rapid inflation and huge income disparities in Russia. As post-communist Russia’s market liberalised, oligarchs were created. Russia’s financial elite invested in vacant London properties, inflating prices beyond affordability for many British nationals.
In the past number of years, there has been a large wealth increase in the region termed by Europe as the ‘Middle-East’. Alongside this, there has also been an increase in financial disparity – an indication that this wealth is not being allocated in a way to better the equity of the area.
Financial disparity in Gulf nations uphold and promote the privilege of the ruling elite who often subsidise nationals with study abroad to preserve contentment with the ruling class, however suboptimal and inefficient they may truly be.
Methods of financial trickery and secrecy outlined in Nicholas Shaxon’s Treasure Islands (2011) may be at play here – wealthy rulers, multinational companies and private individuals moving flight capital through networks of cloak-and-dagger accounting to avoid appropriate taxation. This is where Western measures such as GDP and GDP per capita fail: they are based on averages that don’t take into account income disparity.
For a long-time, Gulf nations had been a haven for low-taxation and foreign direct investment. This could explain why money is not being adequately spread throughout Gulf economies, rather being hoarded by those who can afford the aid of appropriate accountancy.
Another issue with eurocentric models of international development are their monitoring and evaluation methods. In order to satisfy their donours, international organisations, for example, employ monitoring and evaluation techniques based on pre- and post- intervention questionnaires. These attempts to capture and “quantify” attitudes and personal development can dehumanised “target areas”.
If the use of such tactics employed and empowered by countries like the United Kingdom during the fall of their Empire is occurring in the Arab World, this is development towards the “Global-North”’s capitalist system – but it does not mean that all will share in the generation of wealth. So, we must ask ourselves: “is the encouragement of the Arab World to “learn” from the techniques of Western economists going to be the salvation of the many, or rather the continued increase in the privilege of the few?”
Earlier this year, the British government rejected a discussion hoping to introduce tax transparency laws to unmask those benefiting from the opaqueness of Britain’s off-shore, neocolonial financial markets. As we, the people, have come to expect, the proverbial can has been booted further down the road. The political class in Britain speak as if they have nothing to hide, but then why is the government protesting the promotion of transparency in their international trade and investment strategies?
Arturo Escobar, in his 1995 book Encountering Development: The Making and Unmaking of the Third World, argues for adopting “pluriversal” methods when discussing the post-industrial world. If we consider development through the eyes of the subject in a society and culture, we can come to identify the route that will serve the interests of their culture and society in the most appropriate way.
In foreign direct investment in states such as Saudi Arabia, this approach is by no means an act of implicit support for ideologies that lead to violence against peoples. The general populace tends not to think or behave like their political class. Perhaps, with pluriversal methodologies, we can prevent the application of a universal idea of development which undoubtedly serves its originator at the expense of the subjugated.
As we have seen time and time again, this leads to a damaging ideological hegemony, either encouraging violent resistance or leaving us trapped in an economic echo-chamber where the suffering of the many serves to proliferate the privilege of the few.
In an ideal situation, Arab societies would develop their own development models inspired (at least in part) by historic models of Arab & Islamic governance. This would allow for a more globalised approach to “international development” that promotes equity and a large middle class society. A satisfied and communally-engaged middle class can contribute to the general well-being of their respective societies.