The Development Debate Needs to Look Back at its Origins

'It is the so-called 'peripheral nations' that are leading global economic growth today, and achieving higher levels of participation in an increasingly multipolar world'. Mariano de Miguel, President of the Chapter and Benito de Miguel, member of the International Governing Council, point out the need to address some of the unresolved issues of development and present their view about the SID mission from a southern perspective.

Interview with Mariano and Benito de Miguel, SIDbaires Chapter, Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Angela Zarro (AZ): SIDbaires is one of the oldest chapters of SID. According to your experience, how has SID shaped over the years in the achievement of its mission and vision?

Mariano de Miguel (MdM): SID's vision and mission were defined in a context that required a strong activism against poverty and the pursuing of development as spiritual and material, for all nations and their people. Reality in its economic, political, ideological and cultural aspects has remained faithful to the principles of conflict and evolution within nature. From the 1970s onwards, the concepts of development and social progress have lost ground in in view of a reality that has been increasingly and rapidly moving away from the objectives that SID has always promoted, especially in the underdeveloped regions, which are sometimes ideally referred to as developing. The challenges SID has faced to adapt to these changes have been many. First and foremost, that of a prevailing ideology which refused to recognize the relevance of development, and which sometimes even openly despised it as anachronistic. Today, one great challenge is the systemic crisis affecting the neo-liberal world economy. The crisis, as it usually happens, also provides SID with a unique opportunity: to combine its great efforts to promote development from a holistic perspective and inclusive of the two dimensions of human and sustainable development with a return to its origin. SID should engage in old and unresolved issues which are still very relevant, such as unequal development among countries and the dialectics of this process. The goal should be to place these issues back on the international agenda.

Miguel Benito (BdM): I agree with Mariano. This is also a unique opportunity to correct a sort of 'original sin' that is at the basis of SID foundational vision. As was the case of President Kennedy's Alliance for Progress, there has been a biased and distorted conception of development. To quote the former President of Argentina, Arturo Frondizi (1958-62), the opening of a factory necessarily generates schools, housing, hospitals, sports clubs, drinking water and adequate wages, but the same thing does not happen the other way around. This 'original sin' still remains to this day. Moreover, we have not achieved as an organization the status of being ìa champion for developmentî at the same level Amnesty International is recognized for the promotion of human rights or Greenpeace for the protection of the environment. We need to increase our visibility within the world ís public opinion to better fulfill our mission.

AZ: What role do you see for organizations like SID today, within the broader development community in Argentina and Latin America?

MdM: With its commitment to social justice and to development that is just, equitable and sustainable, SID can and should play an important role in regions like Latin America, and of course in Argentina. The so-called peripheral nations are leading global economic growth today, and achieving higher levels of participation in an increasingly multipolar world. SID' s mission is to contribute to forge a collective awareness able to understand the challenges posed by this new multipolar system of nations as much as the role that peripheral countries can play in the new setting, not at the expense of any part of the global community but to the benefit of all.

BdM: It is also important to note the main features of our Vision from the South, which complements SID's overall mission. The different concepts and ideas of development among countries may represent an obstacle. But this obstacle can be overcome with an intellectual postulate: let us agree that development in Southern societies means access to a minimum set of quality of life. We're talking about food, clothing, housing, health, education, culture, recreation, retirement, insurance, justice, public safety, employment, wages, and so forth in a context of political freedom and human rights, self determination and reasonable chances to build a future. This is the vision. In our development countries, the political and economic Establishment usually shares the interests of their peers at the international level. That generates a global system of relationships that paves the way to the disintegration of nations. This objective force of disintegration is potentiated by the cultural inertia resulting from centuries of underdevelopment. The collision between the fulfillment of development and this force of disintegration is inevitable. The mission then is self-evident: to contribute to resolving this tension between disintegration and development by promoting a synthesis generated at the national level.

Adopting this mission implies the need to identify which elements are functional to its achievement. First, there is a need for a national government with a clear development road-map and in full possession of all the capabilities of the State. The role of the Nation- state is irreplaceable: development has always happened at the national level and nothing seems to suggest it will happen otherwise. A movement like this needs in turn to produce an integral proposal: an adequate political coalition able to install the debate in the public opinion and be successful in accessing power and be legitimate and the needed government cadres, both in quantity and quality. Secondly, it is important to forge a new Establishment able to mediate the public interest both within the national and the international community and to make a complex governing experience viable. The implementation and the management of such a process are not possible without an ad hoc instrument politically aware of its historic role. SID could aim at assuming this role. It is difficult to imagine a more relevant and passionate task for an organization whose sole objective is to promote the development of every man and of man as a whole.

AZ: What have the new generations working in development learnt from their predecessors?

MdM: A lot. Their tenacity and capacity to dream and believe relentlessly in the achievement of more development represent the ABC of our actions and motivations. We have also learned, however, that all this is not enough. A successful strategy to promote economic and social development involves a certain level of chance as well as the need for us to understand the existing correlation among different forces and interests, be they economic, political, cultural, or ideological. The fulfillment of development involves a transformation of the status quo, and this by definition cannot be neutral: any reconfiguration inevitably raises cultural tensions. Ignoring or denying it can be detrimental to institutions like SID working to improve the standards of life of all the inhabitants of this planet. The new generations of people working in development know that, beyond promoting critical thinking or announcing the good news about development, we have to get involved in politics if we donít want our words to be ineffective. SID is not meant to be a political force. But it will have little impact if no political force takes up SIDís vision and ideas as its own and makes them a reality.

AZ: The 2011 SID World Congress will focus on challenges and responsibilities for a sustainable future. How has the debate around sustainable development shaped in Argentina and which new issues/challenges must be put on the agenda?

MdM: The debate on sustainable development in countries like Argentina has shaped very differently from others. We are perfectly aware that a socio-economic system that devours its environment is not feasible and would be ultimately self-destructive. The Earth is a physically open system and, as such, it relies on a favorable exchange of energies with the surrounding environment. The technological and economic achievements that humankind has reached until today are overshadowed by a real threat of destroying the environment that made such achievements possible. There is however another side of the debate on sustainable development reflecting the view of peripheral nations. According to this view, the sustainability debate is the face of an ideology which is functional to the interests of a certain group of industrialized nations, and according to which emerging economies are not able to implement development policies in the name of a false defense of the environment which they have never been concerned to in the past.

Development cannot be achieved at the cost of deeper environmental degradation. Yet on the other hand, one cannot use the environment as an excuse to crystallize the underdevelopment of some nations for the sake of the sustainability of others. The greatest challenge will be to develop techniques and technologies that can be favorable for the development of all, without damaging the environment. In order to achieve this, it would be crucial to reduce the speed of accumulation and the greed that characterize the current economic system.

BdM: I agree with Mariano. I wish that both the SID World Congress 2011 and the general debate in Argentina could focus on the challenges ahead, on the responsibility to undertake and on the necessary actions needed to establish a process of development at a higher social, political and economic level. We cannot engage in a debate on sustainability as if the core of our mission i.e. access to development in the first place ñ were resolved. The false assumption that this central issue is over is making us devote our energy with repeated insistence on collateral damage or undesired effects.

In Argentina, we have not reached a minimum level of awareness about what it means to reach development. Development is often confused with growth. The SIDbaires Chapter has over the last decade contributed to generating knowledge and awareness on these topics, both within the policy makers and the public opinion.

AZ: Which are the key priorities and objectives of the SIDbaires Chapter for the next years?

MdM: SIDbaires will continue to be committed to the values and principles of SID, focusing primarily on the City of Buenos Aires and on Argentina. The Nation-State, understood as a historical reality and a conceptual organization, is far from extinction, contrary to the predictions of many. We believe that the coming international reality will ever more need Nation-States, although maybe less nationalism. SIDbaires will continue to promote more development for all countries and contribute to the integration of Argentina to the global context while maintaining, at the same time, own own distinctive identity.

 

Read the interview in Spanish

Find out more about the SIDbaires Chapter: http://www.sidbaires.org.ar/

 

Mariano de Miguel is the president of the Buenos Aires Chapter of SID (SIDbaires). He is an economist and serves as economic advisor to members of Congress and union leaders and presides over an institute for the study of applied economics at the UCES University in Buenos Aires. He is a professor of macroeconomics at the University of Buenos Aires.

 

Benito de Miguel is a member of SIDís Governing Council, a position he holds since 2007. He has been a pro-development advocate for decades in Argentina and the region. Trained in Civil Engineering at the University of Buenos Aires, he currently serves as Technical Undersecretary at the federal government's Sedronar drug-prevention and counternarcotics Secretariat. He previously held prominent positions in the federal governmentís transport and sports secretariats.

 

Translation: Marcelo Garcia, Angela Zarro.

Photo credit: simaje/flickr