Development in between old dilemmas and new challenges. Excerpts from an interview with Richard Jolly.

During the EADI General Conference (Bonn 23-26 June 2014) SID met with Sir Richard Jolly and took the opportunity to have an informal chat on the whole conference focus of inequality, citizenship and middle classes.

Middle class as a driver of change?

I am quite skeptical about all the emphasis which is being put around the middle classes as new development actor. There is also an academic problem in defining it in a global way. Personally I find more interesting and exciting the issues of inequality and citizenship. There is a new global interest in inequality given the  raised levels of awareness about its dynamics (inequalities of wealth and inequalities of income), and differences with the previous century.

The issue of the rise of middle class can become a diversion from the real issue of inequality that is what  definitely requires more attention.

I also found rather mechanical the way the issue has been framed by some speakers during the conference: 'once people reach 10$ per head, they join  the middle class and become responsible citizens demanding a new social contract'. This is so simple and so mechanical, that doesn't really tell us about the social policies that need to change and whether the focus is on the top 1 % or on the bottom 30-40 %.

There is a big difference of approach (also here during this conference) between the top-down view resulting from  World Bank econometric analysis (as emerged for instance in the presentation of Francois Bourguignon and Branko Milanovic) , and the experience of all those anthropologists and sociologists who work directly with the poor, with community groups and social movements. Their perspective about what leads people to take action is very different from anything like a 10$ approach.  
Development: one step forward, one step backwards

Inequality is nothing new, but there is a new seriousness about it. It would be interesting to check whether inequality has ever been in the title of any past SID or EADI conferences…. There is today a new and different perception about what inequality means and implies, through the experiences of the emerging economies.  Imagine how different it was at the time when I started with SID twenty/thirty years ago: at that time where were the positive cases? Now we have got 10-15 countries in Latin America to learn from!

All the history has changed. One big change is taking place today in the industrial countries, especially in Europe, with the return to the madness of structural adjustment. The development community for long time has warned against the negative impact and dramatic effects of structural adjustments and now my country - the UK - is putting itself through a similar process. Not sure how many people can realize the madness and the weak outcomes this process can lead to. We could easily judge from the experience of Africa and Latin America in the 1980s and 1990s, but we don't seem willing to learn from them.

Interview by Angela Zarro

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Sir Richard Jolly is Honorary Professional Fellow and Research Associate at the Institute of Development Studies (IDS). He is former Director of UNICEF, Founder of EADI, and vice President of SID from 1982 to 1995.


Photo: EADI 2014 Conference