International Development Summary Paper
Recently, the topic of international development has been capturing the attention of those in academia, business, and the general public. Through the media, people are gaining a greater awareness of the variegated issues relating to the underdevelopment of nations located in the regions of Latin America, Asia, Africa, and Oceania. In some respects, advancements made in technology, such as the internet, have been improving international communication and providing people with opportunities to challenge commonly held assumptions for what it means to be a world citizen living in an increasingly global society. Within this paradigm of globalization, however, surprisingly few people have a full appreciation for the far reaching historical, economic, and political conditions forming the backdrop to the international community’s present state. Despite our increased ability to communicate with one another, many of us continue to live in a world insulated from the stark realities facing millions of people living at or near the margins of existence in regions comprising the Global South.
In the march toward the unmitigated growth of a global society based on free market definitions of economic “progress,” there has been an undercurrent of philosophical and economic thought centered on a dialectical approach to understanding the history of human development. Much of the North-South relations past can be viewed from a perspective provided by a conflict model of social theory in which one may ascertain clear “winners” and “losers” in the battle for global hegemony. For example, many of the industrialized nations of Europe and North America have done quite well in the past 150 years or so since the introduction of the steam driven engine into modern society. Through the capitalization of national and, later, global economic processes, industrialists in the West have been able to dictate the terms of development for entire populations for the better part of a century-and-half. In most cases, however, this industrialized development has been to the detriment of the people of the Global South. This needs to change.
The tripartite legacies of institutionalized slavery, imperialism, and colonialism have also left an unmistakable imprint on the Global South’s past; one that will not soon be forgotten by those who have seen and felt their combined impact. There is, however, hope that the future can be better. Through the social, political, and technological advances made in the past 50 years, it has become possible for people living in an age of post-modernity to more fully come to grips with the lasting impact of these shameful legacies. It seems, at least for now, that progress is being made in the area of educating future generations of leaders about the tremendous significance of understanding that ours is a global community composed of complex, yet highly interdependent and interwoven relationships. We simply can no longer afford to ignore the development issues nascent to the people of the Global South. No less than the future of the planet and with it the survival of the human species depends on our ability to reconcile the misdeeds of the past by refusing to repeat them today and in the future.
The purpose of this paper is to examine what we have learned about how to help improve the lives of individuals living in the Global South and how we might proceed as a global society in the 21st century. The paper will examine the conditions of development and underdevelopment in the Global South as well as analyze how we might bring sustainability to underdeveloped nations. The paper will conclude by analyzing a few ways in which sustainable development can be brought to the country of Independent Samoa.
Definitions of Development, Underdevelopment, and Sustainability
First, one must consider how to best define development. For the purposes of this paper, development is a concept involving the overall condition of any given nation state or community’s quality of governance, healthcare, education, economy, human rights, infrastructure, environment, gender equality, and disaster preparedness. Development is also a process by which countries and communities form international organizations like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund to help provide aid and assistance to other countries. Overall, development is a long-tem process primarily focusing on activities that encourage sustainability within a country. Activities can be single projects or a series of projects designed to address the various needs of a given group of people or society (“International Development,” 2008).
Development can be measured, albeit subjectively, based on a variety of human development indicators. Some of these indicators have traditionally included: National Gross Domestic Product (GDP), literacy rates, Life Expectancy After Birth (LEAB), Human Development Index (HDI), per capita income, and HIV infection rates. How developed a country or a community becomes, is based on many of these factors and oftentimes results in controversy or conflict over how developed a particular country actually is. Additional factors influencing the development of a country or a community include the availability of clean water and healthy sanitation systems as well as access to food, shelter, and quality education (Thomas-Slayter, 2003, pp. 12-14).
Underdevelopment is a concept that exists in contrast to development. Underdevelopment is defined by a nation or a community’s condition of primarily being devoid of the basic systems, such as the economic, political, and healthcare infrastructure, needed to sustain life and maintain a standard of living comparable with industrialized nations. As previously mentioned, many underdeveloped countries located in regions of the Global South have high percentages of their populations that do not have daily access to clean drinking water and food, in addition to the lack of access to education, healthcare, and adequate housing/shelter. Historically, underdevelopment has been one of the results of imperialism and colonialism. It has been well documented that imperialist nations like Great Britain and the United States decimated populations through war and robbed the Global South of many of its natural resources, including its people. As a result, many nations of the Global South have been placed at a distinct disadvantage in the new global economy and have difficulty competing in a free market system with the industrialized nations of the West.
One condition that stabilizes underdevelopment in the Global South is dependent economies in which third world nations are forced to provide the raw materials to the industrialized nations and then, in return, act as a market for the sale of finished or refined goods. This is otherwise known as the economic theory of neo-mercantilism and helps to describe aspects of the current relationships between China and some of the countries of Sub-Saharan Africa. Another condition of underdevelopment is the existence of relationships between nations in which the underdeveloped country is dependent upon the financial aid being provided by the industrialized country or countries. This form of clientelism often results in the exploitation of the client country by the rich, patron country. In this kind of relationship, the rich and powerful country promises the client nation development of their economy and infrastructure in exchange for raw materials, cheap labor, and a market in which to sell its goods. In this way, the underdeveloped nation becomes involved in a conditional relationship with the patron country, oftentimes resulting in a state of perpetual indebtedness and a lack of environmental and economic sustainability (EDLD 897 class notes, 2008). Other conditions of underdevelopment include high rates of population growth, increasing levels of people living in poverty, and a great disparity in the distribution of wealth between the rich and the poor (Chaliand, 2008).
Sustainable development encompasses a whole variety of factors. Encompassing sustainable development are other concepts that include the social, economic, cultural, and environmental well-being of a nation or community. Sustainable development also means the achievement of economic development in conjunction with protecting the environment and natural resources. Furthermore, it is a process whereby all of the systems making up a given country or nation’s society have long-term viability. In this way, sustainable development is a socio-ecological way of being that involves the meeting of human needs while maintaining the natural environment for the sake of posterity (“Sustainable Development,” 2008). It is, according to Hasna, “…a process which tells of a development of all aspects of human life affecting sustenance. It means resolving the conflict between the various competing goals” (Hasna, 2007). Overall, sustainable development is a key component to understanding how we might work together as a global society to help underdeveloped nations and communities become more developed and sustainable.
One theory that helps to explain why nations of the Global South maintain conditions of underdevelopment is the Malthusian framework regarding population growth. According to Malthus, “Population tends to increase faster than the means of subsistence unless controlled by positive and preventative checks” (EDLD 897 class notes, 2008). In this model, population grows at a geometric rate whereas subsistence grows at an arithmetic rate. Because of this disparity in the growth of population and subsistence, positive checks to reduce population growth need to occur to keep the country or community from becoming unsustainable. Some of these checks include increasing mortality through war, disease and famine, sterilization, abstinence and family planning. Regarding these checks on population growth, Malthus eloquently stated in his Essay on the Principle of Population (1798-1826), “The power of population is so superior to the power of the earth to produce subsistence for man, that premature death must in some shape or other visit the human race” (Malthus, 1798). In the Malthusian framework, unchecked population growth is one of the primary factors contributing to the underdevelopment of the Global South.
Another population theory, antithetical to the one proposed by Malthus, is the theoretical rationale that increased population improves per capita productivity and the condition of the environment. The main proponent of this theoretical perspective was the Danish economist and writer Ester Boserup. Boserup contended that population growth was a necessary precondition for technological advancements in agriculture because “necessity is the mother of all invention” (The Conditions of Agricultural Growth, 2005). In Boserup’s model, agricultural intensification, and with it the greater production of food is the result of an increase in the population growth of a community or country. Through innovation, farmers are able to produce enough of a surplus to allow other individuals in society to participate in non-agricultural economies of labor. This, according to Boserup, does not occur as frequently when there are not enough people to work the land and helps to explain why many countries of the Global South remain in a condition of underdevelopment.
A third theory which may help to explain why countries of the Global South are underdeveloped is the concept known as modernization or neoclassical economic theory. In this theory, “If you want a higher standard of living in a world without walls, the free market is the only alternative left – one road, different speeds, but one road” (Thomas-Slayter, p. 284). In this way, modernization theory seeks to justify the processes by which western nations have historically expanded their interests to other nations of the Global South. Through the expansion of modernization, underdeveloped countries may become developed by taking on the political, economic, and social characteristics found in the industrialized nations (Thomas-Slayter, 2003, p. 39).
At the core of modernization theory is the concept known as the unit of analysis or nation-state. Nation-states act independently and are responsible for their own economic growth within a market based on the scarcity of resources. Competition between units of analysis helps to provide consumers of global goods with the best possible products at the lowest possible price. Unfortunately, for many nations of the Global South, modernization from a neoclassical perspective is a huge challenge due to factors inhibiting economic development such as the lack of education, absence of entrepreneurship, bad governance, poor climatic conditions, and a lack of sea ports. All of these factors combine to make it difficult for nations of the Global South to modernize by following a neoclassical approach to industrialization.
Another theoretical perspective that may be used to help analyze the reasons why countries of the Global South maintain conditions of underdevelopment is dependency theory. Dependency theory completely rejects the tenets of modernization theory. According to Thomas-Slayter (2003), dependency theorists, “…observe patterns of dominance and dependence in which the political structures and traditional economies of poor and colonized countries are reshaped to serve the needs of the dominant, imperial power rather than those of the local peoples” (p. 17). Additionally, this theory states that domestic elites conspire with foreign powers in an effort to consolidate power and wealth to the detriment of the underdeveloped nation’s people. In this model of development, countries of the Global South become trapped in economic and political structures that are the outcome of imperialist and colonial traditions of authority. The conditions which caused the underdevelopment will be further promulgated by the involvement of the dominant country in the affairs of the nations of the Global South. Ultimately, the underdeveloped country becomes dependent upon the industrialized nation for aid and food. This dependency therein becomes the root cause for the continuation of underdevelopment.
World systems theory is another approach to explaining the condition of underdevelopment in the Global South. According to this theory, “There is not a ‘Third World’ but one world connected by economical exchanges and social relationships. …dependent nations should remove themselves from the global market in order to increase their economic development” (EDLD 897 class notes, 2008). At the heart of world systems theory is the concept that former imperialist nation-states form the core of the developed, industrialized, democratic part of the world and along the periphery, are the underdeveloped nations. The core countries use mechanisms like the market and established financial institutions like the World Bank, WTO, and IMF to dictate the conditions and terms of international trade and, in effect, exploit the peripheral nations’ resources. World systems theory goes along way toward explaining the redistribution of resources on a global scale and helps us to better understand why the nations of the Global South maintain conditions conducive to sustaining underdevelopment.
Striving for Sustainability
A variety of factors may contribute to the countries of the Global South becoming self-sustainable. According to Slayter-Thomas (2003), one way is through civil society organizations (CSO’s). She states, “A global revolution in civil society associations is a significant phenomenon of the last part of the twentieth century. These civil society organizations and networks have become a force for challenging existing policies and institutions” (pp. 285-86). CSO’s help to coordinate people into social movements and provide the impetus for directing policy change at the national and international levels. Through their cooperation with the World Bank, some CSO’s have helped to redefine the issue of poverty eradication and placed it within the context of citizens’ rights (p. 286). The conceptualization of a “poverty curtain” has become nomenclature for describing the conditions that face many people living in the Global South and has helped to reframe the issue of poverty in another light. CSO’s have been instrumental in increasing global awareness of poverty as a human rights issue.
Another factor that may be utilized to increase self-sustainability is the development of a global code of ethics. One of the ways to engender a global code of ethics is by listening to voices from the margins. Additionally, we need to work toward developing an approach to globalization that comes from the bottom up. A key part in this revolves around having discussions and meaningful dialogue around issues that are important to the nations of the industrialized world as well as the countries of the Global South. A third way of working toward a global code of ethics is by linking global decision making processes to human rights issues and, “principles of equality, self-determination, nondiscrimination, and rights to political participation” (p. 307). By focusing on the connection between policy formation and human rights, a greater focus can be placed on setting a global agenda that addresses issues like the redistribution of resources and improving measures leading to self-sustainability.
A third way to increase the likelihood of underdeveloped nations becoming self-sustainable is through the creation of new strategies that help foster greater cooperation between the rich and the poor. On a global level, we need to consider restructuring the financial mechanisms facilitating debt repayment. Plainly stated, the poorest countries should have their debt forgiven. On an individual level, we need to be more aware of how our consumption patterns of commodities like coffee help to drive the distribution of wealth in places where coffee is grown, traded, and sold. As the saying goes, “Act locally – think globally.” At a national level, countries of the North need to consider drafting new policies addressing the protectionist practices (tariffs) and government subsidies for agricultural commodities in their countries. Changing these two policies alone would help to level the playing field for farmers in the Global South to compete in the global market. The current system in use, one that has been dictated to the nations of the Global South by financial institutions like the World Bank, IMF, and the WTO, is skewed toward the interests of the industrialized nations. This is fundamentally unfair and ultimately threatens the viability of the entire global community.
In the case of Independent Samoa, a variety of actions can be taken to help improve the sustainability of the country’s environment, culture, and economy. For one, greater care needs to be taken with respect to the preservation of the island’s natural resources, especially, its hardwood forests. Currently, Samoa faces an environmental threat from deforestation and with it, soil degradation. From 1990-2000, Samoa’s annual rate of change in forest was the second highest in all of Oceania at -2.1% (“Country Deforestation Data,” 2008). Agriculture and logging are the two major reasons why Samoa’s delicate ecosystem is in jeopardy due to the loss of trees. New policies need to be implemented to see that this rate of deforestation doesn’t continue at its current pace.
A second factor relating to the sustainability of Samoa is the problem of over fishing. Over fishing has led to a drop in fish harvests and the use of illegal poisons by some fishers is having a devastating effect on marine life. There has also been a drop in fish harvests due to the use of explosives. This development is rather recent but it has also contributed to significant decrease in the number of fish in both Samoa and American Samoa. Fishing is one of the key subsistence activities for people in Samoa and legislating policy that helps to preserve this local industry is important for the sustainability of the people of Samoa. The Samoan government needs to be more vigilant in enforcing their borders to international waters as it has become common for multinational corporations from both the U.S. and Asia to encroach upon them and over fish.
Other industries like eco-tourism are having a positive impact on the development of Samoa. In recent years, the Western Samoa’s Visitor’s Bureau has been investing in the needs of the natural environment and with it the industry of eco-friendly tourism. In order to achieve this, the Visitor’s Bureau created the National Ecotourism Program which facilitates the development of tourism that is both friendly to travelers as well as environmentally sustainable (“Samoa National Ecotourism Program,” 2008). Promoted activities include eco-tours, eco-lodges, conservation programs, and village stays. These tours directly benefit the local peoples, for a portion of the tour fees go directly to the villagers in order to maintain the village and preserve their rainforests.
As a result of having taken this course, I believe there are three steps that I can take to help alleviate the socio-economic inequalities in the world. First, I need to become a more informed consumer. I need to be more aware of how my consumption habits impact the global market and what I can do to purchase goods and items that are supportive of fair trade. Second, I need to be a better conservator of energy. Simply turning off lights and appliances is a huge step toward helping create greater socio-economic equity at the global level. In fact, the next car that my wife and I purchase will be a hybrid. In this way, we will be using our financial resources as consumers of energy to help promote environmental sustainability. Finally, as a result of having taken this course, I would like to start my own non-profit agency called A.I.G.A. which means “extended family” in Samoan. My agency would be a family based organization whose central purpose is to build and strengthen healthy relationships within ethnically diverse communities. A.I.G.A would accomplish this in three ways:
1. Advocating for underrepresented groups within the educational system locally and
2. Increasing opportunities for cultural exchange between the U.S. and nations of the
3. Achieving greater cultural awareness of issues relating to the Global South
through the arts.
My motivation for creating this agency would be nested in the firm belief that all families have the right to hope for a better future. A.I.G.A would seek to provide consumers with the resources and consultation needed to make that future a reality. Overall, these are the three concrete steps that I would like to take in order to help alleviate the socio-economic inequalities in the world.
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Malthus, T. (1798). An Essay on the Principle of Population. London: Rowurth.
Samoa National Ecotourism Program. (2007). Retrieved May 10, 2008 from
Sustainable Development. (2008). Retrieved May 10, 2008 from
Thomas-Slayter, B.P. (2003). Southern Exposure. Bloomfield, CT: Kumerian Press.
Source: See Reference List.
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