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Decolonizing Development:The Political and Cultural Locations of Nationalism and National Self-determination (The Case of Oromia) January 4, 2015

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 Decolonising Development:The Political and Cultural Locations of   Nationalism and National Self-determination (the Case of Oromia)

Several scholars have argued that national self-determination is a claim for cultural independence and that nationalism in general is based on the right to cultural autonomy, right to a culture. In the Oromo context, national self-determination is about the representation of collective identity and dignity. It is the demand of the Oromo people to govern themselves. Practically, this can be interpreted as let us be governed by people who are like us, people of our nationality or people who accept and respect our value system. For the last hundred years and so, the Oromo nation has suffered from Abyssinian expansionism, social, ecological and economic destruction and continuous and intensive cultural and physical genocide. The Abyssinians and Oromians connections have been the coloniser (refers to the former) and the colonised (refers to the latter) relationships. Contrary to the Ethiopianist discourse, they have not developed a common unifying identity, social and political system. While the Abyssinians feel a sense of glory of their kings, warlords and dictators, the Oromians feel victimisation to these rulers, so they have not emerged a common ancestry, culture and collective memory, which can result in common ‘Ethiopian’ identity. From the perspective of Oromo social construction, the present Ethiopian domination over Oromia is a continuation of what pervious generations of Oromo nation had experienced. Thus, the Oromo people, sees the present political arrangement as illegitimate because it is a rule by the people who have engaged in destroying them. So, they claim not only cultural but also political independence. Oromo nationalism is also very democratic. It follows the UN principles of self-determination for the citizens of Oromia, claiming independence from the tyranny of Ethiopian Empire. The latter has been constructed based on Amhara-Tigre nationalism. The Oromo nationalism also offers democratic solutions to the ethnic minorities in the Ethiopian Empire. Scholars of Oromo studies claim that there is fundamental behavioural, linguistic, ethnic and cultural differences between the Abyssinians (northern) and their subjects (Southern). The Oromo, Sidama, Afar and the Ogaden (Ogaden Somalians) nations, beyond their common Cushitic progeny, they have common experiences of victimisation and illegitimately absorbed by Abyssinian southward expansion. Their collective memory of past experiences and present victimisation are making common identity. This identity is a key to understand politics there and to work together for self-determination, to recover their lost humanity.

For the early version of this article, see Temesgen M. Erena, The Political and Cultural Locations National Self – Determination,  Oromia Quarterly, Vol. II, No.2, March 1999; Temesgen, M. Erena, Oromia: The Nation and the Politics of National Self – Determination, Oromia Quarterly, Vol. I, No.2, December 1997, ISSN 1460-1346.

Man knows himself only insofar as he knows the world, and becomes aware of the world only in himself, and of himself only in it. Every new object, well observed, opens a new organ in ourselves.

-Goethe, Maximen und Reflexionen, VI Build therefore your own world. -Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nature

Introduction

The passions of national freedom and national interest are probably the strongest in the whole political spectrum that characterises the present world. Kellas (1998) holds that it is stronger than the passions aroused by religion, class, individual or group interest. This passion is not all futile, either. In Gellener’s (1983) understanding, nationalism has been considered as essential to the establishment of a modern industrial society. According to Smith (1991), it is ‘the sole vision and rationale of political solidarity.’ For Kellas (1998), it provides legitimacy to the state, and inspires its citizens to feel an emotional attachment towards it. It can be a source of creativity in the arts, and enterprise in the economy. Its power to mobilise political engagement is unrivalled, particularly in the vital activity of nation building. It is intimately linked with the operation of popular democracy. Indeed, the global pattern is a mosaic of political drives, economic interests, linguistic pride, cultural imperatives, psychological needs and nations seeking identity. These factors are manifesting as a powerful staying power in a modern Africa, either. As European colonialism and socialism melted away, the perpetual existence of the backlash against ‘neo-colonial’ colony colonialism and the reviving of national selfdom become more and more significant in social and political dynamics of contemporary multi-ethno-nation African societies. The African experience is motivated by the same aspirations as that of elsewhere. At its root is a need for freedom, dignity, for the right of people of distinct social communities to function freely and independently. In this regard, Oromia represents the case of rejuvenating claim for national freedom and the struggle against more than a century old Abyssinian Empire colonialism in Africa. Oromia is a homeland for an Oromo nation, a group of people with a common culture and value system (seera fi aadaa), language ( Afaan Oromo), political institutions (Gadaa), and historical memories and experiences. Oromia is the single largest, homogeneous and endogenous nation in Africa with a population of 40 to 45 million. Both in terms of territorial and population size, more than two-third’s today’s sovereign states that are making members of UN (United Nations) are smaller than Oromia. The Cushite (see Demie, 1998) Oromo people have inhibited their homeland, Oromia, since pre-history and in antiquity were the agents of humanity’s documented Cushitic civilisation in terms of science, technology, art, political and moral philosophy. The links between the Oromo and the ancient civilisations of Babylon, Cush and Egypt has been discussed in Asfaw Beyene (1992) and John Sorenson (1998) scholarly works. Utilising prodigious evidence from history, philosophy, archaeology and linguistics, Diop (1974 and 1991) confirms that the Cushite Egyptian civilisation was emerged from the Cushite civilisations of North East Africa, particularly, the present day Western Sudan and upper Nile Oromia (also known as Cush or Punt). Indeed, except the name of places, saints and prophets, many of the Old Testament and the Holy Koran moral texts are copies of the Oromo moral codes. The formers are written documents while the latter are orally transmitted. Since the late 1880s the Oromo people have disowned their sovereignty. They disowned their autonomous institutions of governance, culture, education, creativity, business, commerce, etc. Thus, they have been claiming for national self-determination, national-self government and the right to their own state and resist the Abyssinian Empire saver (supremacist’s) nationalism. The Oromians are not only against the quality of Ethiopian Empire governance but also against the philosophy on which it is based: domination, dehumanisation, inequality, double standard, hypocrisy, deceit, exclusion, chauvinism, war institution, rent-seeking, extractive state, conservatism, feudalism, Aste fundamentalism (Aste Tewodros, Aste Yohannis, Aste Menelik, Aste Haile Sellasie), etc. The political goal of national self-determination (national self-government) is asserted in the outlook and attitudes of the Oromo political and social organisations. Of course, the Oromo nationalism, which supports the interests and identity of the Oromo people, is a more subtle, complex and widespread phenomenon than common understanding and observation. It is within this context that we are going to discuss the Oromos’ politics of national self-determination and the search for the national homeland, the demand for reinventing a state of their own in the following sections.

Defining Nation, Nationalism and Self- determination

To define nation and nationalism is as Benjamin Akzin (1964, pp. 7-10) discussed five decades ago, to enter into a terminological jungle in which one easily gets lost. Different scholarly disciplines have their own more or less established and more or less peculiar ways of dealing with nation and nationalism. Ideally, our definition of nation and nationalism should be induced of elements of nationalist ideology. Getting at such a definition has confirmed phenomenally strenuous. Hugh Seton-Watson, an authority in this domain, has deduced that ‘no scientific definition’ of a nation can be concocted. All that we can find to say is that a nation exists when significant number of people in a community consider themselves to form a nation, or behave as if they formed one (Seton-Watson, 1982, p.5).Van den Berghe (1981) defines a nation as a politically conscious ethnic group. Several attempts have been made at making a cardinalist definition of the term, pointing out one or more key cultural variables as defining variables. Among those tried are language, religion, common history/descent, ethnicity/race, statehood and common territory (homeland). For a group of people to be termed a nation, its members typically have to share several of these characteristics, although historically, one criterion may have been predominant (for example, language in Germany, or culture and history in France). In the case of Oromo, common language (Afaan Oromo), common territory (Biyya Oromo, dangaa Oromiyaa or Oromia), common historical experiences (victimisation to Ethiopian Empire rules or Abyssinocracy) are particularly very significant. Stalin made his undertaking in 1913. His definition includes four criteria: the members of a nation live under the same economic conditions, on the same territory, speak the same language, and have similar culture and national character (Seton-Watson, 1982, p.14). Neither Ernest Gellner nor Eric Hobsbawn, two influencials, gave definite definitions of the nation in their major achievements. Indeed, they are very hostile towards what they define as nationalism. ‘…For ever single nationalism which has so far raised its ugly head…’ (Gellner, 1983, p.45), this is a Gellner’s conception and sees the world as naturally divided into nations, each with its own individuality. This implies an acceptance of the nationalist self-perception. There are also other conceptualisations. A social anthropologist, Thomas Hylland Eriksen (1992, p. 220) says ‘a nation is an ethnic group whose leaders have either achieved, or aspire to achieve, a state where its cultural group is hegemonic’, Anthony H. Birch (1989, p.6) considers that a nation is best defined as ‘a society which either governs itself today, or has done so in the past, or has a credible claim to do so in the not-too- distant future. Kellas (1998) defines the nation as a group of people who feel themselves to be a community bound together by ties of history, culture and common ancestry. Nations have ‘objective’ characteristics, which may include a territory, a language, a religion, or common descent, and ‘subjective’ characteristics, essentially a people’s awareness of its nationality and affection for it. In the last resort it is ‘the supreme loyalty’ for people who are prepared to die for their nation. The definition of ‘nation’ which we will make use of in the following is one suggested by Anthony D. Smith (1983,pp. 27-109, 1991, p. 14; 1995); a definition mastering well the ‘sounding board’ dimension. Smith here defines a nation as ‘a named human population sharing a historic territory, common myths and historical memories, a mass, public culture, a common economy and common legal rights and duties for all members. A recent definition of Smith holds nationalism, one manifestation of national-self-determination, as ‘an ideological movement for attaining and maintaining autonomy, unity and identity on behalf of a population deemed by some of its members to constitute an actual or potential ‘nation’ (Smith, 1991, p. 73; 1995). For Smith nationalism has a deep ethnic roots and rejuvenates itself in response to global and domestic impulses. While the phenomenon of globalisation and technocratic culture are there, nationalism is an eternal nature and nourishes and propels itself on technocratic innovations. In this context, national self-determination may be defined as many part aspirations of a nation: To be free to freely determine one’s own national identity, culture, including language, education, religion, and form of government, to be free of rule by another ‘nation’, that is to overcome social and political systems of domination and exclusion in which nations other than one’s own wield predominant power. To be free to select its own form of government; and those governed within it have the right of unflagging consent.

Culture and the Politics of Self-determination

Nation, nationalism and national self-determination are commanding attentions. One of the perennial issues within nationalism is whether national self-determination can stand alone, or whether it requires a ‘qualifier’ from within cultural or political ideas or both to clarify its precise cultural and political location. Several scholars have argued that national self-determination is a claim for cultural independence and that nationalism in general is based on the right to cultural independence and that nationalism is based on the right to a culture. Nielson, for example, peers a nation as groups of people whom ‘perceive themselves as having a distinct culture and traditions’, and Tamir presents that a nation is a community in which individuals develop their culture, and they therefore regard their place within a nation as membership in a cultural group. Indeed, she argues that ‘the right to national-self determination stakes a cultural rather than a political claim, namely, it is the right to preserve the existence of a nation as a distinct cultural entity.’ Will the people who demand national self-determination be satisfied with such an arrangement? Tamir gives credence to that the idea of basing the right to self-determination on the right to a culture is the one that has best conformity with a liberal internationalist viewpoint. That is thinkable, but international liberalism is incompetent on this particular matter. A nationalism, which is based on culture and cultural distinctions, was not very long a go. It is a concept that characteristic the thesis of right wing, or romantic theorists such as Herder. Indeed, Herder’s nationalism was not political, and it distrusted a state as something external, mechanical, not emerging spontaneously from the life of the people. Nevertheless, in the Oromo context the claim for national self-determination is a political rather than a cultural one. If we look at the distinction between the two, it would seem that the claim for national self-determination involves more than a demand to be tolerated while the cultural question is. For example, the Catalan’s and Quebecois’ culture and identity have been tolerated and respected to some extent, and yet many of them thought that this did not reflect a situation of self-determination. Indeed, meeting their claim would involve legislation and redefinition of institutions within the state, and perhaps even a new state. In the Oromo case the demand is actually the claim to have control over their lives. This does not mean over every individual’s private life, but over the public aspect of one’s existence, i.e. the system of mutual relationships, which reflect and sustain one’s membership of a certain collective. Here the self is conceptualised within the context of community, but one that has to be real, actual, and functioning and performing. Otherwise these communal ties are too abstract, which makes it impossible for the self to be defined by them. The statement of Cohen has to be recalled: ‘A person does not only need to develop and enjoy his powers. He needs to know who he is, and how his identity connects him with particular others. He must… find something outside himself which he did not create… He must be able to identify himself with some part of objective social reality’ (Cohen, 1988). Moreover, self-realisation, however, cannot be merely a mental situation; thus this community cannot be only cultural. It must be a political situation at least so that, in order for the Oromo people to realise themselves, they must not be dependent on the goodwill of a second party. They then must be certain that their self-realisation in all spheres of life will not be prevented by the Abyssinian government, the TPLF, the Orthodox Church, and so forth. They should therefore be politically active and watch such institutions carefully. In addition, they must participate in politics in order to decide collectively upon public matters, which influence their self-realisation. So the Oromos claim for national-self determination is about the realisation of their potential status, ability and collective character, which may be achieved only through participation in autonomous political institutions. But for more than a century Oromos have been denied access to these institutions, either officially or in practice. In other words, if  Oromos as a nation achieve self-determination they will better able to participate, better represented, better able to deliberate, gain much more control over their life than formerly and more autonomous. The Oromos demand for national self-determination thus, aims at establishing those institutions, which are needed for the realisation of the self-determination. When an Oromo demands national self-determination, he/she is not asserting that he/she would like to control his/her private life, e.g. his/her job, his/her shopping activities, his/her love affairs. Many Oromos do not control these aspects of their lives and yet nevertheless demand national self-determination. But the same principle also applies to cultural life. The Oromos may be allowed more-or-less to use their language, have their own newspapers and theatre, and the freedom of worship, etc. which are making cultural freedom. Actually, these rights are hardly exist at present. But when they claim national self-determination they are not only referring to these aspects of life, as political community: they want to be able to form and choose among and vote for the Oromo political parties, to observe the Oromo constitutional laws, to pay taxes to an Oromo authority, and to have a history (and indeed, myth) of independent Oromo state, from which their identity and self-determination can derive. Thus, the Oromo’s Declaration for Independence will emphasise parliamentary participation and the need to form a constitution, rather than cultural activities. In general the Oromos demand for national self-determination entails that the individuals in this nation should be citizens, engaged in politics as members of a community committed to the realisation of certain (their own) common goods, rather than participating as individuals who seek their self-interests, as it is implied by the right- to- culture school of thought and Liberal Internationalists. Perhaps for this reason Margalit and Halbertal revise the right-to- culture argument, arguing that the right is to a certain culture rather than to culture. A certain culture, then, becomes a common good. And yet, this is not enough, because they still regard the common good in cultural rather than political terms: ‘shared values and symbols… are meant to serve as the focus for citizens’ identification with the state, as well as the sources of their willingness to defend it even at the risk of their lives (Margalit and Halbertal, 1994). Why, then, do theories adhere to the culture discourse? Of course, for most of the Western theorists, the term national self-determination is affiliated to the strive to become part of humanity, to regain the human condition of autonomy; it is adjoined to the struggle to be part of the free world, of the more progressive forces; it is seen as decolonisation, as civilisation, as an attempt made to become part of the world of liberty, rights, and justice. But, it is seen as part of centrifugal forces, from the centre to the global, universalism or what Lane (1974) calls as ‘total situation’ or citizenship based on individual freedom and social justice. These theorists, therefore, universalise the notion of national self-determination: they make it part of liberalism. The liberals’ universal approach tends to be uniformist. This makes a society rootless and a citizen far removed from those who control his/her destiny. On the other hand, the notion as it is put forward and used by the Oromos that the demand for national self-determination is also centripetal, from the global and the greater units to the smaller ones. These groups demand the disengagement from the ‘other’, the global, the colonist, even from other humanity, by asserting that ‘we are not merely the essential equal and part of humanity, but rather we are also different and distinct: we have our own political identity, which we want to preserve, sustain, and establish institutionally, like the Scottish vision in multi-nation state Europe. This is the language of liberation from colonisation. It is also the language of particularisation within the universal or the global, and it seems that the uniformist approach is not sensitive enough to the real Oromos problems. Thus, the Oromos quest for self-determination involves the ultimate goal of particularism (its own unique space), reinventing the Oromia State, owning the national homeland. Of course, in a heterogeneous society of the Ethiopian Empire, though uniformity may simplify system of control, social justice will not be attained in one vast monolithic block of oppressed by colonial legislation, bureaucrats and its armies. An important work of Professor Asafa Jalata, an authority in the study of Oromo nationalism kindly quoted as’ The Oromo question involves both colonialism and ethno nationalism. Ethiopian colonialism has been imposed by global capitalism on the Oromo nation. Ethiopians, both Amharas and Tigrayans, through establishing settler colonialism in Oromia, have systematically killed millions of Oromo and expropriated their lands and other resources from the last decades of the nineteenth century until today. Ethiopian colonialists already destroyed the people called Agaw by taking their lands, systematically killing them, and assimilating the survivors. They attempt to do the same thing to the Oromo by destroying the Oromo national movement, confiscating Oromo lands, and forcing the remaining Oromo into ‘settlement villages’ or (reservations). Many times, some Oromo organisations attempted to democratize Ethiopia so that the Oromo would achieve equal citizenship rights and maintain their ethno cultural identity. Determined to maintain their colonial domination and to destroy the Oromo cultural personality through ethnocide or assimilation, Ethiopian colonialists destroyed or suppressed those Oromo political forces that attempted to transform Ethiopia into a multinational democratic society. Therefore, most Oromos are convinced that their rights and freedom cannot be obtained and respected without creating their own state, or state that they can create as equal partners with other ethno national groups interested in forming a multinational democratic society to promote ethno cultural diversity and human freedom. Hence, Oromo nationalism is an ideology of the subjugated Oromo who seek human rights, freedom, justice, and democracy’ (Jalata, 1997). In fact social justice can be attained when and only when the oppressed majority able to rule its homeland. The Oromos work for national self-determination is the great humanist and historical task in terms of Freire (1993) argument ‘To liberate themselves and their oppressors as well. The oppressors, who oppress, exploit, and rape by virtue of their power, cannot find in this power the strength to liberate either the oppressed or themselves. Only power that springs from the weakness of the oppressed will be sufficiently strong to free both. Any ‘attempt to soften the power of the oppressor in difference to the weakness of the oppressed almost always manifest itself in the form of false generosity; indeed, the attempt never goes beyond this.’ In this context, for Oromos in order to have the continued opportunity to express their ‘generosity,’ the Habasha colonist must perpetuate injustice, too. Tyranny is the permanent fount of this ‘generosity,’ that sustains at the price of death, dehumanisation, despair and poverty. ‘True generosity consists precisely in fighting to destroy the causes which nourish false charity.’ (Freire, 1993). For further discussions on Oromo nationalism, universalism, globalism, Ethiopianist discourses and Oromo Nationalism, see Sorenson (1998) and Sisai Ibssa (1998).

Concluding Thoughts

Man as a social animal always seeks his own territory and belongings to a social group in which his identity and sense of community is observed and respected. In the defence of the cause for social justice and social ecology, these are basic tenets to backlash against the danger of the rhetoric of universalism, polyarchy and false perspectives of social uniformity, which appear to appreciate the social problems from a single privileged point. Georg Hegel, The Phenomenology of Mind ( New York, 1967 edition), in his famous philosophical discussion of the relationship between ‘lordship and bondage’ maintained that a single consciousness could know itself only through another, even in a condition of totally unequal power relationship. According to this philosophical model, the lord (the oppressor) is lord only through the relationship with a bondservant (the oppressed, the one whose humanity is stolen). In the relationship, however, the other is annulled. The self of the mastery, the lord, derives from the conquest and negation of the servant, the bond. Only recognition of the selfhood of the other permits for its annulations. Thus, lordship covertly recognises the separate identity of the dominated. They are normally equal selves locked into unequal hierarchy. Metaphorically, Hegel’s dialectics of lordship and bondage is very important to understand the Ethiopian domination over Oromia. However, in the Ethiopianist discourse, the essential equality of the selves has been escaped totally. Rather, the persisting hierarchy has taken for granted. According to Sorenson (1998), Ethiopianist scholars like Clapham, Sven Rubenson and Levine because of their attachment to one version of the Ethiopian past and present make them either or unwilling to engage with the full complexity of the problem. From this point of view, to accept the unchanging polarity of Ethiopia and Oromia in the lordship-bondage relationship is to succumb to a structure of Ethiopian aggression and colonialism. The Oromians demand for national self-determination is, however, the civilised step out of the polarity upon which the coercive hierarchy relies, it is the collective political demand, as its main purpose is to achieve the good of the social whole, humanisation, the essential liberation of the Oromo national identity, dignity and the reinvention of Oromia as a sovereign state. The Abyssinian occupation of Oromia, the existence of the Abyssinian Rule, war-lordism and their armies in Oromia and the making of Finfinnee their garrison station, the centre of their crowds is not only an act of conquest, aggression and colonialism but also, from Oromo perspective, such elements are symbols of bondage and slavery that negate the Oromo selfhood as equal essential. For the last over hundred years, the Oromo nation has disowned selfhood, its own state or administration, and lived as a bondage of Abyssinia. The Abyssinian administration which has undermined the Oromo national traditions, exploited it economically, and maintained order through mechanical and repressive means- such a nation actually must seek national self-determination to foster within its politics, to bring dignity, justice, freedom and democracy and to survival as essential equal, as a nation and as part of humanity and its civilisation. It is necessary for Oromians to build the world of their own, a world which make them capable to sustain as a group of human people. They must able to liberate themselves and the violent, the oppressor too. In this context, the Oromo issue is a test case to the deceptive ‘democracy world-wide’ which is being advocated in the USA foreign policy and manipulated by the neo-nafxanyas (see Ibssa, 1998). It is a challenge to contemporary theories of democracy and polyarchy (Robinson, 1997) and actors of post cold war Ethiopian politics who simply take for granted that the boundaries and powers of political community in the ‘Horn’ have already been settled. Thanks to the dedicated works of human rights activists, particularly the OSG (the Oromia Support Group) and its UK based publication, Sagalee Haaraa, we have been well informed on plights of human population and their environment in the entire region. We are interested to recommend this publication to all actors of the region. In this context, we are confident to say that Ethiopian democracy rhetoric or federalism sham politics is nothing more than a fig leaf, covering up the continuation of an extraction of the ‘politics of the belly’, in terms of Bayart (1993) from ‘prudish eye of the West.’ Its democratic rhetoric is a new type of rent seeking (extracting economic rent). By making believe, it enables the collection of international aid that includes diplomatic, military and humanitarian. It enables the seizure of the resources of the modern economy for the benefit of the Tigrayan elites. The situation is not in democracy’s favour, rather it is a situation that the Tyranny is retaining control over the security forces, economic rents and the support of the West. Such manipulation is not new for Africa. Menilik, Haile sellassie, Mengistu, Mobutu, Biya, Senghor and Diouf did the same thing either in Ethiopia or elsewhere in the continent at one time or another. The Quote from Bayart’s (1993) African analyis comes to our mind ‘…The support of western powers and multilateral institutions of Bretton Woods and the Vatcan, who despite having waved the flag of democratic conditionality and respect for human rights, have not dared to pursue such sentiments to their logical conclusion and have continued to think in terms of ‘Mobutu or Chaos’ where Gorbachev given up saying ‘Ceaucescu or chaos’…’. Indeed, very recently, we have read the deceptive descriptions to neo-Mobutu, neo-Mengistu, etc.: democratic, new generation, confident and pragmatic, etc. Sadly, everything changes so that everything stays the same. Nevertheless, the oppressed Oromos are not passive objects, either. They have not allowed themselves to be ‘captured’, as in the past they have demonstrated their historical ability to resist dehumanisation, despair and poverty, and predictably will continue to resist until the justice will come to them. An everyday Oromo coins the following: ‘Victory to the Oromo people! Oromia shall be free!’ We feel moral and social responsibility to support the just cause of fellow humanity.

Listen to Oromo Voice Radio (OVR) Broadcast Afaan Oromo interviews with Dr. Almayayyoo Birru on topic of Self-determination:

http://ayyaantuu.com/horn-of-africa-news/oromia/oromo-freedom-from-what-and-for-what-part-1/

http://gadaa.com/oduu/4613/2010/06/27/on-the-question-of-nationalities-in-ethiopia/

 

‘External self-determination, in particular, seems to carry dual meaning. On the one hand it is taken to mean full independent statehood, while on the other hand it is taken to mean external recognition by other states within the
international community.’

http://bemis.org.uk/docs/redefining-self-determination.pdf

 

‘Every individual/group possesses a moral right to secede. The burden of proof rests with the opponents of secession.’ 

This article is mainly credited to Oromia Quarterly 1997 & 1999.

Copyright © Oromianeconomist 2015 and Oromia Quarterly 1997-2015. All rights reserved. Disclaimer.

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Methodological Individualism as a development Model and its Critics June 27, 2011

Posted by OromianEconomist in Economics: Development Theory and Policy applications, Temesgen M. Erena.
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2 comments

JEL: A11, A23, B13

Methodological Individualism as  a development Model and its Critics

Temesgen M. Erena (DPhil), Economist

The orthodox (neoclassical) world view comprises research programmes that are basically concerned with applying the tenets of neoclassical economics to the study of developing economies. From such a perspective, the principles underlying the economics of developing economies are the same as, or can be considered extension of those governing the economics of developed nations. This implies that meaningful epistemological activities within the development economics cannot be conducted without first determining its inextricable intellectual and analytical ties to mainstream economics.

According to Rostow (1960), the critical intention of development  has been seen as the achievement of ‘high mass consumption society’ that can be measured by the level of per capita income.  In this context, the inherent aim of development seems to materialise a society that reproduce  the political economic system of the western Europe  and North America, i.e., a competitive private enterprise  based on the foundations of   free market economy and a representative and democratic political system. Rostow (1960) has detailed this historical process of development in his schema of   stages-of- growth model. Charles K. Wilber (1988)  argues that  the application of this model as centre of assay  of the course  of development  supposes that  present day developing countries  reckon  to the ‘traditional society’  stage  or at the ‘preconditions’ stage in relative to the present stages of western developed countries. Like so, the contemporary developed countries were formerly underdeveloped,  hence, all countries  progress in the course of  these stages.

In the extreme, the Orthodox (Neoclassical) strand theorises that since principles of economics are universal, there is but one economics, whose basic tenets are equally valid for both developing and developed economies, David (1986). In other words, it is considered inappropriate to speak about two distinct economics- one for developed countries and the other for developing countries. In this case, the, the dominant interpretive model of thought is based on a ‘universalist’ epistemology or ‘one world’ ideology and ‘aesthetic’, which assumes the existence of a continuous and homogenous world, David (1986). Contextually, knowledge and society are viewed in terms of discrete individual elements that become the continuous and homogenous phenomena of economic and social life through a process of aggregation.

The neoclassical paradigm stands on universalist, rationalist and positivist methodological pillars. In addition to the influence  of positivism and other rationalist  patterns of reasoning, neoclassical economic thinking  also makes heavy use of the concept ‘mechanical equilibrium’, which is explained by the self-regulating operation of equilibrating forces. Such forces, it is argued, not only tend to maintain equilibrium of the economic system but also to restore this equilibrium once it has been disturbed by external forces.

In its evolution, the concept of equilibrium has had to be based on some conception of the economic system. Accordingly, it was thought that the evolution of any logically consistent economic order required some institution of private property as well as a sharp conceptual distinction between the economic system and other aspects of social reality, David (1986). This led to an emphasis on capitalistic, free enterprises ethic based on the principle of individualism. In the conception, individuals are considered to be at liberty to organise their social relationships in accordance their own interests, cole, etal (1991). Society hence, becomes no more a collection of individuals, and an individual behaviour, the goal and standards of moral behaviour.

The neoclassical paradigm is based on individualistic and libertarian philosophy. The philosophy postulates that the ultimate constituents of society are individual people who act appropriately in accordance with their own dispositions. In other words, the argument is that no social tendency exists that theorising about classes and other activities can only be represented by mental constructs, which are abstract models for interpreting certain relations among individuals. One implication is that it is impossible to have laws about society. Another is that the good of individuals is primarily objective of society as opposed to the neo-Marxist which emphasis that of the society as whole, Cole etal (1991).

Economic models, theories, and conceptual systems should be considered as device that merely helps the analysts to remember certain predictive regularities in observed phenomena, David (1986).

A related implication follows from the widespread acceptance of the “science as science” methodology. These are based on the claim that search for knowledge should be governed by scientific objectivity and the commitment to universal values that cut across national frontiers. Adherence to universal epistemological principles implies that there are common standards of scholarship and, as others argued there cannot be Chinese, Nigerian or Egyptian criteria for truth and validity. Commercial farms can be nationalised, criteria for truth cannot.

The universality epistemology finds a foremost representation in the study of resource allocation. The underlying principle that all societies must make decisions about the degree of sacrifice that must be made if resources must be allocated efficiently. This is based on the assumption of the universal scarcity of resources relative to human needs.  Given scarce resources, it is impossible to satisfy all of the society’s goals simultaneously. Therefore, if scarce resources are to be efficiently utilised, they must be properly allocated.  The possibility of deriving meaningful benefits from the use of these resources is therefore forecasted upon the nature of sacrifice. The problem of economic decision making in conventional economics is therefore coined in terms of a “cost-benefit” calculus. The neo-classical approach to this problem emphasise the need for rational choice in the use of scarce resources. The basis of this approach is that if the alternatives presented to us are not rationally chosen, resource scarcity is likely to increase within the passage of time, hence, impairing current standards of living and decreasing the possibility for future economic growth, David (1986). In this regard, the neo-classical, explanation of economic behaviour tends to rely heavily on competitive equilibrium, which assumes  that the behaviour of free markets and prices provides the necessary conditions for individual economic agents to achieve maximum economic welfare and personal liberty, Todaro (1991)|.It is based on the methodological individualism mentioned previously, the implication being that individual economic decision-making units (household), firms, national governments, and so on)| are free and rational actors whose behaviour is guided by harmonious equilibrating force, David (1986)|.

The whole economy is assumed to consist of a large number of interacting markets that have a tendency to clear, that is, reach equilibrium, with the latter defined in terms of equality between demand and supply, and price. (These conditions are assumed to take place for individual markets, that is, partial equilibrium, or in other aspects where there is a set of relative prices for all goods and services, resulting in a simultaneous clearing of all markets that is general equilibrium. Given the quantities of resources of all kinds available to economic agents, consumer tastes and preferences, and production technology, the problem of general equilibrium revolves around the determination of the relative quantities of goods of all kind that will be produced and consumed, the prices at which they will be exchanged and how the earnings derived from resource utilisation will be distributed, Cole et al (1991)|.

Income distribution is thus treated as a special case of the general theory of price relations. The over all argument is that it is possible for self-interested individuals in a market-oriented economy to strive for and receive, their fair share of income and wealth created by the competitive process. In this context, the neo-classical model indicates that the marginal productivity forms the basis for payments to all factors of production. The assumption is that individuals have at their disposal a set of factors endowments and that income merely represents the sum of the product of these factors and their marginal products. The evolution of factor shares and incomes over times thus depends on factor prices and quantities, the elasticity of substitution among factors, changes in demand patterns, and the capital or labour savings bias of technological change.

It is therefore assumed that, given completive conditions and perfect information, resources will be efficiently allocated. Adjustment in factors prices are expected to bring equality in factor shares, with each factor receiving its ‘just’ or equitable reward. Under the circumstances, any attempt to enforce equality in the prevailing pattern of income distribution is considered inimical to economic growth and efficiency. To the extent that inequalities exist, they should be considered necessary for guarantying productivity levels, David (1986)|.

The implications of the marginal productivity theory of income distribution can be further explained by considering the distribution of labour and capital incomes. In the case of returns to the human factor (wage and salaries), the theory suggests that differences in marginal productivities can be explained by differences in both innate and acquired abilities. These differences tend to be particularly acute in those societies, for example, developing economies where highly skilled labour is in short supply relative to the large supply of unskilled labour. The argument, as is that individuals with relatively scarce skills would receive quasi-rents. These rents and other payment differences would disappear as more people acquired skill through education and training, David (1986). Hence, they argue that any attempt to equalise wages and salaries would prove to be inefficient. The implicit assumption is that pay differentials  not only reward those with superior natural abilities  but also serve as an incentive to those not so blessed to acquire skills to increase their productivity  and efficiency, Hunt (1989). Given a set of competitive prices, the actions and reactions  of individual economic agents will determine the quantities of goods and services demanded, and these will be matched with the quantities supplied in the various markets of the economy, David (1986). The achievement of such an over all equilibrium requires two sets of conditions.  First, these is a subjective one in which the individual pursues the goal of maximum income satisfaction. The second is an objective one in which the market provides for these incomes and wants based on the maximum profit goals of business people. Thus, through the equilibrium between demand and supply, with all markets cleared, the optimum economic position reached by each individual economic agent becomes compatible with that attained by others.

The general equilibrium analysis (Varian, 1990)  postulates that, in principle, the set of equilibrium prices tend to provide all the information that each individual economic agent needs to have in order to be able to co-ordinate its activities with those of all other economic agents in the economic system, Cole et al (1991). It is therefore, based on the assumptions of perfect competition and knowledge and foresight, and the absence of uncertainty. This ensures that the essential adjustments would take place of a disequilibrium situation were to arise.  Where prices diverge from their equilibrium values, inconsistencies will arise in the plans economic agents, and they will be forced to adjust to an equilibrium situation. The underlying  assumption is that the operation of the market is based on  a negative feedback mechanism that reduces differences to zero through iterative price adjustment processes are also assumed to be stable.  This means that once the system diverges from its equilibrium with a process of automatic readjustment would take place. Full employment is also implicitly assumed.  With demand for goods and services equal to their supply, labour market will also clear. Neoclassicals consider this equilibrium to be the most efficient one, and thus the standard against which particular sectors of the economy as a whole should be appraised. The reasoning is that when over all economic agent will have reached an ‘optimal position’, that is, one that it cannot possibly improve by altering its behaviour. This is the ideal state described by Pareto and also known as a Pareto efficient allocation. It is considered to be the most efficient state and implies that any attempt made to improve a given economic agent’s position would have to be at someone else’s expense (David, 1986, Varian, 1990).

The general framework outlined above is also replicated in analysis of international economic relationships. In this case, trade and exchange are considered to be two of the most effective weapons for promoting resources allocation, distribution, and growth. This follows from assumptions of harmony of interests among nation states, patterns of trade based on comparative advantage, an equitable distribution of the gains from trade, and the free international flow of resources. The same normative forces are assumed to operate both nationally and internationally, with the private market considered to be the most effective mechanism for allocating distributing resources in all spheres, Hunt (1989|).

Consequently, the  neoclassical (orthodox) school of thought attribute  problems of developing economies essentially to the ‘dirigiste dogma’ and the ‘denial of economic principle’  (Lal, 1988); to over extension of the public sector; to economic controls which distorts the market and have unexpected and undesirable side effects; and to an over emphasis on investment in physical capital (spending on lavish prestige projects such as sport facilities, conference centres, brand new capital city, roads leads to nowhere, irrigation schemes that damage soil) compared to human capital. And they have proposed these setbacks to be neutralised to overcome inadequate development, Toye (1987). They took the form of supply side macro-economics and the privatisation of public corporations and call for the dismantling of public ownership, planning, and regulation of economic activities. By permitting free markets to flourish, privatising state owned enterprises, promoting free trade and export expansion, welcoming  foreign investors, and eliminating the plethora of government regulations and price distortions in factor, product and financial markets, the neoclassical argue that economic efficiency and economic growth will be stimulated, Wilber (1988). Contrary to the claims of the political economy strands (neo- Marxist world views) which are subjects of subsequent discussions, the neoclassicals (Orthodox) argue that the third world are underdeveloped not because  of the predatory activities of first world and the international agencies that it controls, but rather because of the heavy hand of the state and corruption, inefficiency, and lack of economic incentives, Todaro (1991).

It is assumed that development  experience of western industrial countries is a model for the developing economies of today and therefore, neoclassical economics is universally applicable. It is held that the international capitalist economy does not discriminate against developing economies, but when conformed to it acts as an engine or motor of growth. What is needed, therefore, is not a reform of the international economic system or restructuring of dualistic developing economies or an increase in foreign aid or attempts to control population growth or amore effective central planning system. Rather, it is simply a matter of promoting free markets and laissez faire economics within the context of permissive government that allow the magic of market forces.  And the “invisible hand” of market prices to guide resource allocation and stimulate economic development, Todaro (1991). They are quoting to us the failures of the public interventionist economies of African countries, Toye (1987).

Neoclassical policy is based on  faith in  the price mechanism to bring about an equilibrium in the economy which maximises welfare and growth, (i.e. development by their terms), “Efficient growth… raises the demand for unskilled workers by getting the prices right… is probably the single most important means of alleviating poverty,” Lal (1983). This process of development raises the standard of living of the poor via the ‘trickle down’ effect. Intervention by the government is unnecessary as a measure to alleviate poverty and would retard growth by distorting the market mechanism, holding up sustainable development. According to Lal, government policies dealing with  basic needs, surplus labour, decreasing terms of trade, etc., are misleading and incorrect.  He argues that developing countries are following the same economic patterns of development as developed countries.  Therefore, the same economic rules and considerations apply. Both he and Bauer criticise ‘dirigistes’ for implying, by their policies, that people of developing countries are not rational that the ‘market decisions’ have to be made for them. That would suggest Toye’s argument- governments fulfilling the desires of frustrating individuals has some validity. Being rational does not necessarily make people able.  It is within this context that the planning, growth with equity approach and a social market economy operation have come into considerations. However, such interventionist approach have been criticised by laissez faire economists as a reaction to far a recipe to failure. Lal (1988) points out that inefficient and incompetent bureaucracy as a cause of government failure. Attempts to intervene in imperfect markets serves to make things even further from the equilibrium of maximum efficiency and welfare. This is an over-sight, a generalisation which dismisses all past, present and future government intervention to make influence on disparities in income and accelerate development, as ineffective. This is clearly not the case.

The rapid development of South Korea and Taiwan in both intervening for growth and equity demonstrate this. Government policies concentrated on rural development, export oriented industrialisation were directly and indirectly dealing with inequality and poverty whilst promoting growth. It would be argued that all government intervention is not good. As is clear, some government intervention is and has bee ill advised- for example ‘the white elephants.’

But what is also becoming increasingly apparent is that the neo-liberal (Washington consensus) policies of liberalisation which the IMF and World Bank have made conditions for accepting loans have also created many problems. Not only have they quite often caused increasing inequalities in income distribution, but they have also failed to encourage growth in these countries. In many countries they have led to near chaos and crisis, in the economy as in many African countries, Lawrence (1986).  External influences, such as increasing oil prices, MNC transfer pricing, increase in debt burdens, increased protectionism  by developed economies, etc, mean that following free market principles lead to decreasing  terms of trade and created economic problems within the countries. D. Lal (1983) would say that this is acceptable because it is a step in the right direction towards free market economies. Toye (1987)  believes the neoclassical  approach neglects the issues and treats  and treats  the solutions, In a reductionist manner, over looking  the complexity of the issues and gives an over simplified solution.” Lack of past successes cannot simply be blamed on government interference with the price mechanism to account for the relatively poor performance of these economies would require a very detailed historical analysis of class forces and class struggle within these countries, of the effects of international strategic and geo-political factors as well as the effects of drought other climatic/ecological disasters, Sender et al (1986).

Neoclassical according to Sender and Smith, have paid too much attention to anti-interventionism- when it would be more beneficial to concentrate on improving what intervention is necessary. It is harmful for economists to adhere to policies which can only be relevant in a hypothetical ‘perfect market’ economy. The post- colonial period has been characterised by an astonishing absence of any coherent, analytical/ideological framework within which to formulate state intervention of an effective and suitable kind,” Sender et al (1986). Neo-classicalists need to address the conclusive historical evidence concerning the role of the state in all late industrialising countries in considering policy formulation.

The laissez faire economists edge on economic growth through the operation of the market mechanism (Adam Smith’s the famous invisible hand) as the key to development. There are also economists  who emphasised planning (government intervention) to supplement or supplant the market. As in the former, the latter  and economic growth has been taken as the essential of development. Meanwhile, the growth with equity economists contemplate on the distribution of the remunerations  of growth to the deprived.

Neo-Marxist  and dependency theorist, two main school of thoughts in the  Political economy paradigm,  are broadly apprehensive of the nature of the progression by which development is attained, Wilber (1988).

Classical Marxism was always, of course, a theory of development, i.e., of capitalism and its development, and transition to socialism. The theory was never adequate, however, in dealing with development problems of third world especially underdevelopment issues. Classical Marxists, after all, consider capitalism as historically progress, in every way an advanced over previous production systems, even if it is to be replaced by socialism one day. “ Imperialism was the means  by which techniques, culture, and institutions that had evolved in western Europe over several centuries… sowed their revolutionary seeds in the rest of the world,” Warren (1980).

Seers (1987) argued that Marxism thus arrived at conclusions similar to those of many neoclassical economists, since both derived from Smith and Ricardo and the economics of the 19th century. He further pointed out that both doctrines assume competitive markets and the overriding importance material incentives. They are both basically internationalist and also optimistic, technocratic and economist. In particular, both treat economic growth as development and due primarily to capital accumulation.

According to Hunt (1989), the neo-Marxist paradigm derives from an attempt to develop and adapt classical Marxist theory to the analysis of underdeveloped economies. The paradigm gained widespread influence in the late 1960’s, providing an ideological and analytical framework for radical critiques of contemporary theories. Drawing their inspiration from the ideas of Marx and Lenin, and influenced also by other early Marxists, particularly Rosa Luxemburg, the neo-Marxists set out to investigate a problem that Marx himself had touched on only briefly- the process of economic change in the economies of Asia, Africa and Latin America.

With respect to the third world, the primary concern of the neo-Marxists is with what is happening to national output and to its distribution, and why. Particularly in the 1950s and 1960s there was little concern on the part of leading neo-Marxists to explore the essential  nature of the models of production  that prevail within the periphery. Instead the emphasis was on the economic and political relations between the ‘centre’ and the ‘periphery.’ In the analysing these issues the neo-Marxists use a terminology for the key concepts in their analytical framework that appears to drive from Marxism with different interpretation to certain concepts.

The neo-Marxist school which is tracing back to the  work  of Paul Baran, differs from Marx in arguing  that capitalism will not be spread  from the ‘centre’ to the ‘periphery’  but rather that existing underdevelopment  is an active process linked to  the development of the centre by the transfer of the surplus, Baran (1957, 1988). As economic surplus was extracted, capital accumulation stopped, and budding industries were killed off by ‘centre’ competition. Development in colonies was forced off its natural course and completely dominated by imperial interests. The colonies stagnated between feudalism and capitalism  or the mix of both systems.

For Baran (1957) the real problem  in developing economies is not the presence of  the vicious circle- a phenomenon  whose existence  is acknowledged – but the lack of  a significant stimulus to development aggravated by the surplus drain.  Here again  we have  a polar view she said, something like a zero-sum game, in which the continuing primitive accumulation by the ‘centre’ implies a simultaneous negative accumulation for the periphery.  Surplus then, generate and maintain underdevelopment in the developing economies, a phenomenon whose existence is acknowledged – but the lack of a significant stimulus to development aggravated by the surplus drain. As Frank (1988) (dependency scholar) has called this leads to “the development of underdevelopment.”

Amin, too, adopts Frank’s Motto, but with an altered meaning; for Amin, it means a “dependent development,” that, is, an inappropriate pattern of growth imposed upon the country through its ties with the centre-  literally, through its being included in the world capitalist system. This view in turn allows for the possibility of growth aggregate income, an observed fact in many developing economies, Hunt (1989).

The crucial problem of how the available surplus is utilised in developing economies leads the political economy worldview to the examination of local elites. Writers like Baran and Sweezy argue that no local development is to be expected from such elites. On the contrary, the elites are by their very nature a factor contributing to underdevelopment.  The analysis is based on the “objective function” in which these elites find themselves. Their economic behaviour- conspicuous consumption, investments in real estate and extreme risk aversion, the export of their savings to be deposited with foreign banks for security, their avoidance of investments in industry- is, from the sand point of private advantage, essentially a rational response to the circumstances in which they find themselves. Their fear of foreign competition where they to invest in more productive activities is seen as fully justified. They argued that most elite members lack the capital retained for the establishment of enterprises able to compete with foreign oligopolies. Also lacking are entrepreneurial skills and attitudes to work and innovation conducive to growth, see Wilber (1988).

Amin offers the view that many members of the developing economies elites profit, too; from foreign activities in their country. What enables Amin to say this is his adoption of Emmanuel’s theory of unequal exchange, in which the level of wages is the major determining factor. That wages are lower in developing economies means that the labour force of these countries carries the burden of exploitation both by its local capitalist class and by the capitalist class at the centre. It is burdened by the “regular” exploitation of the home capitalists and the “primitive accumulation” of the capitalist class at the centre. The higher wages that the centre’s working class enjoys are in turn attributed not solely to its higher productivity; it does not partake of the proceeds of the continuing primitive accumulation, Todaro (1991).

That there is also a disheartening lack of entrepreneurial and administrative talent in the countries of the third world that the neo-Marxists do not deny. But they view those who place this fact at the centre of their explanations of underdevelopment as being eclectic and arbitrary. The claim that entrepreneurial and administrative skills will make their utilisation possible and necessary appears- conditions that cannot exist in an environment of dependence. This problem, they claim, is secondary: It is consequence of the fundamental problem, which is the discouragement and systematic sabotaging (or, for Amin, the guiding into incorrect path), of the local development efforts by the centre, Todaro (1991).

They recognise the existence of a ‘comprador states’ or class and bourgeoisie classes in developing countries but they maintain that their positions are solely dependent on the advantages they give to an imperialist power- not exist in their own right.

So the main consideration for government intervention would be, for neo-Marxists, the ability to make a complete and absolute change “the third world was and is an integral and destined to play a major role in the attempt of capital in the world capitalist economy to stem and reverse the tide of growing economic crisis, “Frank (1981, 1988). This is manifested in increasing repression of the workforce in developing countries, not increasing equality, or alleviating poverty. So in order to achieve sustainable development with equality it would be necessary for a developing country to withdraw from the world capitalist system. The present system only maintains present inequalities due to the interest characteristic of capitalism. They would advocate complete autarky facilitated by a socialist movement.

Generally, the political economy school advocate equity oriented development. The fundamental assumptions of this perspective regarding capitalism and international capitalist economy are essentially opposite to those of neo-classical economists. They not only believe that international capitalist economy discriminates against developing economies, but that is directly responsible for their dire condition. Thus any solution to the poverty predicament requires a fundamental break from the international capitalist economy. A distinction here, more for historical relevance than for the logic of the argument should be made between neo-Marxian and the Marxian of Marx, with (Marx) essentially regarded the capitalist commodity production process as progressive, in that it was required for the realisation of the ultimate inevitable tools of communism. Thus, capitalism for Marx is a necessary phase of societal change. Furthermore, for Marx the capital commodity production process is universally applicable.

The other fundamental disagreement these theorists have with neo-classical school concerns ethics. Equity, for these theorists is an ethical ideal, an end by itself. The logical extreme of this view is that equality must remain the primary objective, even at the cost of efficiency.

It is argued by this perspective that it is contrary to the interests of the international capitalist commodity process, which is essentially and exclusively concerned with maximisation of profit, to redistribute wealth. Instead of a y ‘trickle -dawn’ tendencies, the inner- logic of capitalism with only lead to greater accumulation, and concentrate of wealth. Thus, it is imperative for any comprehensive development effort to break with the internationalist political economy. Since weak political position of the poor prevents them from changing the system, empowering the poor becomes the means to meaningful development. These theorists contend that attacking the symptoms of poverty with basic needs provisions, or welfare laws will not suffice, it is crucial to attack its cause. The answer is the empowerment of the poor.

The general tendency is towards the satisation of the modes of production, at least those sectors of the economy that are essential to the public goods. Thus, only the intervention of a populist state, resulting on the commanding heights of the economy can restructure the relations of production that benefit  not a privileged few, but the unprivileged many.

This perspective defining the ‘left’ contours of the continuum in its logical extreme are diametrically contradicts the neo-classical perspectives.The obvious point of departure on the debate on development between the neo-classical and the political economy  strands  must be a definition  of development. This is inescapably a normative exercise, but one that should not be avoided  for this the reason. Development, by the very meaning  of the word, can only be a process  of the ‘becoming’.  The argument holds regardless of whether the tendencies are rectilinear, cyclical or both (or neither).  According to orthodox school sometimes implicitly  and sometimes explicit value judgement in the definition of development has been westernised. This tendency has been challenged  by the ‘development of another civilisation in East Asia, that is quickly achieving standard of  living comparable to the west. One conclusive inference that can be drawn from the experience of  Japan, China and the Asian Tigers is that a protestant ethic or generally a western social arrangement  or socialist revolution of neo-Marxist is not a prerequisite for economic development.

http://rodrik.typepad.com/dani_rodriks_weblog/2013/05/what-is-wrong-and-right-in-economics.html

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Theorizing Development June 8, 2011

Posted by OromianEconomist in Economics: Development Theory and Policy applications, Temesgen M. Erena, Theory of Development, Uncategorized.
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JEL: A11, A23, B13, D2, D6, O1, O5

Theorizing Development

Temesgen M. Erena (DPhil), Economist

From historical perspectives, the urgency underlying the contemporary development quest of developing economies has been recognised for the last seven decades. Of course, this should not be considered as that there were no problems of development prior to 1940’s.  However, paralleling the increasing for economic self-determination and development of developing economies, there has been a tremendous growth in intellectual activity concerning the development problems.

The past 70 years have also witnessed a gluttony  of models, theories, and empirical investigations of the development problem and the possibilities offered for transforming Asia, African, Latin American, and Caribbean nations. This body of knowledge as come to be known in academics and policy circles as development economics.

In these perspectives development is discerned in the context of   sustained rise of an entire society and social system towards a better and ‘humane life’. What constitutes a better and humane life is an inquiry as old as humankind. Nevertheless, it must be regularly and systematically revised and answered over again in the unsteady milieu of the human society. Economists have agreed on at least on three universal or core values as a discernible and practical guidelines for understanding the gist of development (see Todaro,1994; Goulet, 1971; Soedjatmoko, 1985; Owens, 1987).  These core- values include:

Sustenance:

 the ability to meet basic needs: food, shelter, health and protection. A basic function of all economic activity, thus, is to provide a means of overcoming the helplessness and misery emerging from a lack of food, shelter, health and protection. The necessary conditions are improving the quality of life, rising per head income, the elimination of absolute poverty, greater employment opportunity and lessening income inequalities;

self-esteem:

which includes possessing education, technology, authenticity, identity, dignity, recognition, honour, a sense of worth and self respect, of not being used as a tool by others for their own exigency;

Freedom from servitude:

 to be able to choose. Human freedom includes emancipation from alienating material conditions of life and from social servitude to other people, nature, ignorance, misery, institutions, and dogmatic beliefs. Freedom includes an extended range of choices for societies and their members and together with a minimization of external restraints in the satiation of some social goals. Human freedom embraces personal security, the rule of law, and freedom of leisure, expression, political participation and equality of opportunity.

Sustained and accelerated increase and change in quantity and quantity of material goods and services (both in absolute and per capita), increase in productive capacity and structural transformation of production system (e.g. from agriculture to industry then to services and presently to knowledge based (new) economy), etc. hereinafter economic growth is a necessary if not a sufficient condition for development.

As elaborated in Hirischman (1981) and Lal (1983), this corpus of thought and knowledge denotes economics with a particular perspective of developing nations and the development process. It has come to shape the beliefs about the economic development of developing countries and policies and strategies that should be followed in this process. While development economics goes beyond the mere application of traditional economic principles to the study of developing economies, it remains an intellectual offspring and sub discipline of the mainstream economics discipline. The growth in economic knowledge and the corresponding intellectual maturation of development thought and policy debate has led to the appearance of various perspectives of thought on the theory and reality of development and underdevelopment within the same discipline of development economics. The two  main paradigms are neo-classicals (orthodox), and Political economy (neo-Marxists). There are also eclectics.

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