Conventional economics in the postwar period equated development with the growth of per capita incomes. This narrow conception of development was understandable since the main concern of Third World countries emerging from a colonial past was to achieve rapid growth in national income as a means of pulling out of poverty.
So for half a century of economic growth in the ‘developing countries’ economists forgot that an increase in national income was a necessary but not a sufficient condition for development. This was not simply because of the fact that high levels of economic and social inequality could shape a growth process whereby increasing national income could be quite consistent with the persistence of mass poverty. (See my article on inequality on these pages, Feb 12). The essential question that was ignored was: Is there more to development than an increase in the volume of goods and services? Let us explore some new dimensions that could inform our conception of ‘development’ and hence of development policy.
Aristotle in his Nicomachean Ethics, in trying to understand value, proposed that goods cannot be of value, since they are merely useful. What is of value, he argued, is “human functioning”. After almost 2,400 years an economist, Amartya Sen, took up this issue and argued that human functioning required a whole range of services apart from goods such as food, which are necessary for physical survival. These included health and education amongst others. Out of this, Dr Mahbubul Haq made his important contribution of devising the Human Development Index (HDI) based on income, education and health. This was to have a major impact on policy thinking since it provided a simple measure of development for individual countries and for international comparisons. Recently, another measurable factor has been introduced by the UNDP to adjust the HDI for economic inequality. Yet this still does not adequately address the issue that Aristotle raised and which in my view is crucial to a deeper understanding of development. What other aspects of the socio economic environment are necessary for “human functioning”?
Professor Amartya Sen has again further broadened our understanding by suggesting in his recent work that income and commodities give us the ability to “live as we like …, to have a good life that we may all value”. So in this sense development can be seen as a kind of “freedom”. We have come far, but the time has come to go further in pursuing Aristotle’s question.
May I propose that what is essential to the human being is creativity. This could mean creating a work of art, poetry, a new product or service or a new way of understanding or of doing things. In this sense it can be argued, human creativity, and hence human functioning requires the institutional conditions of (a) freedom and (b) sociality.
Freedom is necessary for creativity because creativity requires intellectual space to make a leap of the imagination. As Asadullah Ghalib the great poet asked: “If the first footstep of my creative imagination covers the universe, where will the second step take me?” Allama Iqbal in the same vein suggests: “Take the development of the Self to such heights, that God may ask the human individual, what be your inclination?” Thus the institutional conditions of freedom, of human rights, of gender equality, of human security, and the economic conditions that enable a life of self-respect, are all essential to the process of development.
Human creativity, while it involves individual reflection, crucially involves social interaction. The ‘Other’ who is different, is a vital fertilising force in the growth of the ‘Self’. Hence, Shah Hussain the Sufi poet says: “In meeting you, I am replenished.” Peace, as a state of inner harmony is vital to the creative impulse, and love leads us to this state. So Rabia Basra, the great woman Sufi saint, says: “How will you ever find peace unless you yield to love.”
Human interaction socially and with the transcendent is essential to the flowering of human creativity. Thus love, as much as discussion and debate are vital to human functioning. The institutional structure of democracy and development must ensure the spaces where this becomes possible.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 20th, 2012.
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