Theory of Social Development
Comprehensive Theory of Social Development
by Garry Jacobs, Robert Macfarlane, and N. Asokan
November 15, 1997
International Center for Peace and Development
2352 Stonehouse Drive, Napa, CA 94558, USA
Despite 50 years of development experience, fundamental questions about development remain unanswered. The world still lacks a comprehensive theoretical framework that adequately explains such phenomenon as the very high rates of development exhibited by East Asian countries for many years, the failure of Malthusian projections, the growing contribution of non-material resources not subject to depletion, the apparent failure of market policies in the transition of Eastern Europe, and conflicting predictions about the future of work based on the contrary recent experiences of North America and Western Europe. A profusion of economic theories provide explanations for specific expressions of development, but none links all the pieces into a unified theory that adequately defines the central principles, process and stages of development. The formulation of a comprehensive theory of development would make conscious the world’s experience over the past 500 years, reveal enormous untapped potentials and vastly accelerate future progress.
This paper identifies the central principle of development and traces its expression in different fields and levels of social advancement. Development is a function of society’s capacity to organize human energies and productive resources to respond to opportunities and challenges. The paper traces the emergence of higher, more complex, more productive levels of social organization through the stages of nomadic hunting, rural agrarian, urban, commercial, industrial and post-industrial societies. It examines the process by which new activities are introduced by pioneers, imitated, resisted, accepted, organized, institutionalized and assimilated into the culture. Organizational development takes place on a foundation of four levels of infrastructure – physical, social, mental and psychological. Four types of resources contribute to development, of which only the most material are inherently limited in nature. The productivity of resources increases enormously as the level of organization and input of knowledge rises. The theory identifies the human resource as the driving force and primary determinant of development.
The evolution of social institutions act as powerful stimuli for development by increasing the frequency, intensity and efficiency of social interactions. This evolution has moved through three successive but overlapping stages of development – physical, vital, and mental – that can be described in terms of the type of organization predominant during that stage. The paper examines the role of three organizations characteristic of the three stages – urbanization, money and the Internet.
Early cities were physical organizations where people, activities, fields of life, resources and infrastructure accumulated at high levels of concentration and interacted in complex ways. The growth of population and urban population density increased the intensity of these interactions, creating the critical mass needed for the emergence of markets and generating sufficient demand to spur mechanization of production during the Industrial Revolution.
Money has played a parallel role at the social level as a medium for urbanization, multiplying economic activities by several orders of magnitude. Establishment of a money economy freed individuals from dependence on land as an essential resource for production and freed commerce from the double coincidence needed for barter trade. Money increased the frequency and speed of transactions in virtually every field of activity by making it possible for people to convert the fruits of their labor into a common currency that could be exchanged for any products or services. Money provides incentives for people to produce more than they can consume, releasing greater energy and creativity. It serves as a medium for conservation and storage of what each person produces and permits easy transfer over any distance, thereby overcoming limitations imposed by time and space and dramatically increasing the efficiency of transactions.
Internet promises to play a similar role at the mental level of information and knowledge as a medium to organize globalization. Internet is increasing the frequency, speed and efficiency of information exchange in every field – commercial, industrial, educational, scientific, political, religious, recreational, etc. Internet also overcomes the limits of time and space by enabling instantaneous access to information around the world. It increases enormously the number, intricacy and complexity of interactions made possible between individuals, organizations, facts, activities and fields of knowledge. Internet is an organized medium for bringing all existing social organizations into greater contact to release the maximum energy of society leading to unprecedented levels of social productivity and development.
Observations about Recent Development Experience
From the perspective of 10,000 years of history, human progress over the past 200 years has been extraordinary and the achievements of the past five decades are nothing short of miraculous. In two centuries social productivity has increased to the extent that the global community is now able to sustain a population 12 times as large as in 1800. From a rural-based, agrarian society in which less than three percent of the people lived in towns and cities, the human community has evolved into an urban-centered, industrial society in which the urban population now exceeds 40 percent of the total. This change has brought with it and aggravated a host of problems – overcrowding, pollution, crime, etc.—but it has also brought political freedom, economic security, education and modern conveniences to billions of people.
What is more remarkable is that this social movement continues to expand and accelerate. The 1997 UNDP Human Development Report observes that over the past 50 years the world has made greater progress in eradicating poverty than during the previous 500. Around the globe, life expectancy is climbing, infant mortality is declining, epidemic diseases are receding, famine is becoming extinct and education is becoming more widespread. Since 1950 average per capita income has tripled, in spite of unprecedented population growth, and average real per capita consumption in developing countries has doubled. These achievements raise the possibility and the hope that unprecedented levels of prosperity could soon spread to all humanity.
These accomplishments still leave more than one billion people in poverty. But there is growing evidence to suggest that today’s least developed countries could match and perhaps even exceed the achievements of the most advanced industrial nations within a much shorter time than it took for the original achievements. Beginning in 1780, it took the United Kingdom 58 years to double output per capita. The United States did it in 47 years, beginning in 1839. Japan accomplished the feat in only 24 years, beginning in the 1880s. But after the Second World War, Indonesia did it in 17 years, South Korea in 11, and China in 10. From 1960 to 1990 real per capita standards of living based on purchasing power parity multiplied twelve-fold in South Korea, seven-fold in Japan, more than six-fold in Egypt and Portugal, and well above five-fold in Indonesia and Thailand.
While the possibilities for increasing the velocity and expanding the scope of development to all countries are encouraging, it is by no means clear how quickly or to what extent they will be realized. Nor is there consensus regarding the policies, strategies and actions most conducive for that realization. Regardless of whether we consider developing countries, nations in the process of transition to market economies, or those moving from the industrial into the post-industrial phase, countries and regions are distinguished by vast differences in performance that are not easily explained or eliminated.
Among developing countries, between 1965 and 1990 per capita GDP rose by 5.5 percent annually in high performing East Asian countries compared to less than 2 percent in South Asia and about .25 percent in Sub-Saharan Africa. Much thought has gone into analysis of the Asian Tigers’ success, but no generally accepted formula has emerged from their experience that is applicable to countries at different stages of development and faced with differing conditions than those prevalent in East Asia during the past few decades.
The experience in Eastern Europe since 1990 suggests that our understanding of the development process is far from complete. The transition strategies implemented by 25 East European countries were unable to prevent widespread economic decline and social distress. Production in all 25 countries fell significantly, from a minimum of 18 percent in Poland to 45 percent in Russia, 60 percent in Ukraine and 75 percent in Armenia. Even in East Germany, where the German government and industry have pumped in more than $1.1 trillion since reunification, the expected results have not been achieved. Unemployment in East Germany has grown from very low levels to more than 25 percent, while productivity remains at one-fifth the level prevalent in the western part of the country.
Questions regarding strategy and wide disparities in performance are also found among advanced industrial nations, particularly with reference to the issue of employment. In 1990 the people of the Western world shared a powerful common anxiety about the future of work. Since then unemployment has been increasing throughout most of Europe to reach the highest levels in half a century. At the same time, it has been falling in the USA, where the employment rate has reached peak historical levels and is projected to continue rising through the coming decade. Technological development, which people everywhere feared would devour more and more jobs in the coming years, appears to be associated with opposite effects on different sides of the Atlantic.
The experience of the past two centuries has given rise to at least five major categories of development theory. Applying these theories to explain the development of 23 countries during the period 1850-1914, Morris and Adelman found that each major theory adequately explains the experience of a range of countries and periods, but none of the theories applies universally to the 19 th Century experience of all the countries. These findings suggest the need for a more comprehensive approach. Realization of this need prompted then Secretary General of the United Nations, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, to call for thoughtful reflection on development "as the most important intellectual challenge of the coming years."
Theory as a Revealer of Potential
Why focus on theory when there are so many pressing practical problems that warrant attention? Because awareness of a theoretical possibility can help us discover real opportunities and potentials that might otherwise go unrecognized and untapped. The recent acceleration of social development is an observable and measurable fact. But in the absence of a theoretical framework, it is difficult to discern, for instance, whether the astonishing accomplishments of East Asian countries over the past two decades are a temporary aberration in an otherwise very gradual process or the forerunner of even higher growth rates in future.
The power of comprehensive theoretical knowledge is dramatically illustrated by the efficacy of modern medical physiology. The human body is a highly complex organism in which multiple systems and subsystems work together as a seamless unity to maintain health and support growth and development. Each physiological function can be reduced to basic principles of physics and biochemistry that are common not only to all human systems, but all life systems as well. Hundreds of major or minor factors enter into the equations that support health. An excess or shortage of even a single factor can disturb the balance, retard growth or threaten life. Treatment may concentrate on one errant factor, but it is based on knowledge of the greater whole in which this factor operates. Medical knowledge has become so precise that analysis of the chemical composition of the blood can be used to ascertain overall health and accurately diagnose a wide variety of disorders in people of different ages and physical condition.
Society is also a complex organism in which multiple systems and subsystems work together to maintain the health of the community and support growth and development. But here the similarity ends. For when it comes to development, there is no agreement on the fundamental principles that govern social functions. Many partial theories have been put forth that help us explain specific phenomena and formulate successful strategies based on a few key factors in conditions which are stable and fall within the familiar boundaries of economic growth. But when we try to extend the theory to new and rapidly changing circumstances, such as those prevalent in Eastern Europe during the recent transition period, we find that explanations and strategies based on one or a small group of factors are insufficient to account for the variety of different results or to formulate policies appropriate for each particular circumstance. Development is a complex, multidimensional phenomenon that touches every major strand of social activity, applies to a very wide range of circumstances and passes through many different stages in its progression. An adequate theory must be sufficiently comprehensive to address this breadth of activity, circumstances and stages. Ultimately it should lead to the development of diagnostic capabilities that approach the precision achieved by medical science.
Experience from other fields demonstrates that a conscious knowledge can increase the speed and efficiency of any activity by a factor of 10 or even more. A trained mechanic or engineer easily repairs a defective machine, while an untrained user may flounder for long periods and very possibly make the problem worse. A clearer theoretical understanding of development will not only reveal opportunities that presently are unrecognized. It can also lead to the formulation of more effective strategies capable of increasing the speed and efficiency of development by a factor of ten or more.
Humanity has progressed very far from its modest origins. It has already created what must appear from a historical perspective almost infinite plentitude. Development theory should enable us to understand what productive power or powers have made this great accomplishment possible and what further achievements still lay in potential that can be attained through further exercise of this same or other powers. We observe today a confluence of conditions that seem to indicate that a further acceleration of social progress is possible. They include a broad range of political, economic, technological and social factors that have direct or indirect impact on development. Each in itself can support higher rates of social advancement. Taken together, their contribution could lead to accomplishments at least as far beyond present levels as society has already advanced since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. Development theory should not only confirm or deny this possibility, but also show the precise relationship between these conditions and the greater results society seeks to obtain.
- Peace: Any evaluation of development potentials needs to take into account the influence of internal and external social stability on social progress. The end of the Cold War has dramatically reduced the threat of armed international conflicts and the catastrophic consequences of nuclear war, providing a far more stable and secure climate for worldwide economic expansion. War is a destroyer of development. It physically demolishes what society has accomplished. The Cold War limited the physical destruction to regional conflicts, but it directed a substantial portion of the energies and talents of the world community into an unproductive arms race. Since 1988, world military expenditure has fallen by about a third, $400 billion. If the current peaceful status is sustained, it could free up even more capital for investment and reducing the inflationary pressure of burgeoning government deficits. The long feared negative impact of reduced military expenditure on economic growth has been much less than anticipated. Falling defense spending has been followed by a surprisingly rapid recovery in defense-dependent states such as California and an unexpectedly long period of national economic expansion in the USA. This experience should help reduce the resistance to further cuts.
- Democracy: Since 1980, a democratic revolution has been spreading through Latin America, Eastern Europe and, most recently, Africa, freeing hundreds of millions of people from repression by authoritarian regimes. As peace provides a secure external environment for international development, democracy provides a stable and conducive environment within countries for more rapid social progress. Democracy raises human aspirations. It encourages individuals to take active initiative for their own advancement. It facilitates freer and wider social interactions. It releases greater social energy. It vastly increases the dissemination of information and the multiplication of new organizations. As the transition from monarchy to democracy was a catalyst for rapid economic advancement of Western countries over the past three centuries, the spread of democratic institutions today opens up greater possibilities for global expansion. Development theory needs to explain the dynamics of the process by which political and social conditions impact economic performance.
- Social Velocity: Development is a function of the velocity of social transactions. The speed of movement of information, ideas, decisions, technology, people, goods and money has significant impact on the productivity of the society and its further advancement. The ‘shrinking of the world’ through better transportation and communication opens up commercial opportunities inconceivable just a few years ago. During the past two decades the volume of international travelers, freight, telephone and other forms of electronic communication have increased by more than an order of magnitude. Between 1980 and 1994, overseas telephone traffic to and from the USA increased from 200 million to 3.4 billion calls. New technologies such as satellite-based wireless phones are reducing the cost of expanding the communications infrastructure. Electronic mail has drastically reduced the cost and increased the speed of written communications. The meteoric growth of the Internet provides instantaneous low cost access to global sources of information and commercial markets. The speed of technology diffusion is also accelerating. The Xerox machine was not introduced into India until the late 1970s, more than 15 years after its use became widespread in the USA. Three years ago, Windows 95 was launched in New Delhi just weeks after its release in the USA. Last year Intel announced its latest microprocessor simultaneously in USA, India and Beijing. A comprehensive theory needs to account for the contribution of the increasing velocity of social transactions on development in the past and its potential for accelerating social progress in the future.
- Technological Application: The rate of technological innovation and diffusion is one thing, the extent of technology application is quite another. Technological development far outpaces technological applications and accomplishments in even the most advanced societies. Adoption and full utilization of already proven technologies can dramatically elevate performance in every country and in every field. To cite a single example, the average yield of tomatoes in India is 8 tons per acre, yet more advanced farmers achieve yields as high as 20 tons. The average yield of tomato in California is 35 tons in California, but one of California’s leading tomato farmers with 1200 acres under cultivation routinely obtains average yields of 55 tons or more by applying advanced systems for micro-nutrient management applicable to all crops and climates. Applying more sophisticated and capital intensive technology, Israeli farmers achieve yields of 250 tons or more of tomato per acre. This wide variation in the application of technology within and between countries is nothing new. But it is a significant determinant of development and a factor that is at least partially responsive to social policies. The theory needs to explain these variations and show how they act as determinants of the development process.
- Global Growth Engines: The global economy is developing multiple centers and engines of growth. The impact of these factors is compounded by the globalization of economic growth. In the past, the growth of the world economy has been driven by a single country or at best by a few localized centers, while the vast majority of nations benefited only peripherally or not at all. The emergence of multiple growth centers acts as a self-generating engine that increases the overall momentum of the world economy. Valid development theory cannot limit its purview to national level policies and economic environment. It is becoming more and more necessary to consider development as a movement of global society, in which individual nations may move in different directions and advance at different rates, but remain aspects of a common movement.
Today virtually all of the known factors that support and stimulate development are more accessible and more prevalent than ever before. Education, the most essential resource for development, is far more widespread than at any time in history. Technology is far more available and so are trained people to operate it. Information, that most powerful catalyst of human initiative, is more easily obtainable through the very rapid expansion of the press, journals, telephones and fax machines, satellite television and data linkages. Investment, once thought to be a critical constraint, is pouring into developing countries and pouring from household savings into new productive enterprises. Management know-how, a traditional weakness in most developing countries, has also improved dramatically.
Barriers to Development
Development theory needs to explain the process by which these potentials are created and their role in development. It needs to explain how they combine and interact to determine the direction and speed of social progress. At the same time it should be able to account for the fact that in most instances the actual exploitation of opportunities falls far short of the potential and lags far behind the maximum pace achievable or already achieved by some other societies. Solutions are known for many of the most severe problems of development, yet these problems persist. If the unseen potentials are far more prevalent than most people conceive, the unseen barriers to progress also seem to be much more obstructive. Observation of social progress reveals three recurring types of obstacles to development – limited perception, out-dated attitudes and anachronistic behaviors.
Perceptual Walls & Apparent Dead Ends
One of the most striking characteristics of development discernible in all periods, countries and fields of activity has been the inability of society to envision or foresee its own future destiny. This attribute is usually accompanied by the contrary tendency to perceive opportunities as insurmountable obstacles. Innumerable times in history, humanity has come face to face with what it believed was a dead end to progress, only to discover sooner or later a way around or through the dead end to open up a wider field of opportunities. This description is literally applicable to the search by European seafarers for a sea route to Asia. In the 15 th Century, a great number of Portuguese vessels were dispatched in search of a route around Africa, but all of them were repelled by an impenetrable barrier when they reached the tiny Cape Bojador midway down the Western coast of the continent. The barrier was the widespread belief that Bojador represented the edge of the world and that to sail beyond it was certain death. It took persistent efforts by Prince Henry, 12 expeditions, and a very large purse to persuade one bold captain to skirt the cape and break the perceptual wall. Once done, Portugal soon discovered the Southern route to India and became a leading mercantile power.
Today humanity no longer fears the end of the earth, but powerful perceptual barriers still exist with regard to employment, technology, trade, environment, corruption, inflation and population that represent very real barriers to development the world over. Malthus was not the only one to foresee imminent doom where in fact there was enormous opportunity. In 1950 Holland’s population exceeded 5 million, reaching a density that many believed approached the ultimate limits that this tiny landmass could support. Today the Netherlands has 15 million people, almost three times the population density, yet it ranks among the most prosperous nations in the world and is a major food exporter. In the mid 1960s, India suffered from two successive years of drought and was on the verge of severe famine. An expert team sent to India by the Food and Agricultural Organization estimated that the country’s food grain production would rise by a maximum of 10% before 1970. Many Indian scientists shared this pessimistic view. Actually grain production rose 50 percent during this period and doubled within a decade to make the country self-sufficient in food grains. Had India’s leaders shared the view of the experts, the Green Revolution may never have been attempted.
Errors in assessment of future possibilities occur when we make projections of future performance on the basis of historical trends, even though changing circumstances have radically altered the environment. The development of the high yielding varieties of wheat and rice dramatically altered the equation for food production, yet was not factored into the assessment of what could be achieved. Looking forward, we often see apparently insurmountable obstacles to future progress. Looking backwards, we discover continuity and progress. History has shown time and again that there are no dead ends, only people who are unable to see the opportunities and solutions concealed behind the immediate obstacles.
The most persistent obstacles to human development are not physical barriers, but out-dated attitudes. The original Iron Curtain across Europe was not established by the Soviet Government after World War II. It was put up by Turkish Muslims during the Middle Ages to prevent Christian infidels from establishing a direct overland trade route to Asia. This impenetrable barrier to land transit through the Middle East forced the Europeans to seek a sea route, eventually leading to the Portuguese discovery. Once found, direct sea trade developed and the Middle East lost the opportunity to be the central trade route between Europe and the Far East.
For a brief period in the 13 th Century Korea led the world in printing technology, introducing the use of metal for making printing blocks. This distinguished position was short-lived because Korean scholars refused to accept a 25 character phonetic alphabet that King Sejong developed to replace the thousands of Chinese ideographic characters then in use. A human attitude barred the way to a nation’s progress. Korea’s printers were soon left behind by developments elsewhere.
Fifteenth century China possessed a navy unparalleled in size, skills and technology, but their expeditions led only to dead ends. The purpose of these expeditions was to display the splendor and prowess of the Chinese emperors. They obstinately resisted foreign ways of life and discouraged trade. The Chinese developed a traditional immunity to world experience. Confucian teachings would accommodate and sequester the most astonishing novelties that mariners found. A Great Wall of the mind separated China from the rest of the planet. Ultimately, threats from the Mongols made the Chinese emperors ban all marine ventures. Fully equipped with technology, intelligence and national resources to become great discoverers, an attitude doomed them to become the discovered.
The science of medicine developed very slowly in Europe due to the reluctance of physicians to share their successful remedies, until the establishment of the Royal Society of Physicians in the 18 th Century led to more open exchange of information, support for research and medical education. One of the deepest and the most widespread of human prejudices has been faith in the unaided, unmediated human senses. When the telescope was invented for seeing at a distance, prudent people were reluctant to allow the firsthand evidence of their sight to be overruled by some dubious novel device. The eminent geographer Cremonini refused to waste his time looking through Galileo's contraption just to see what "no one but Galileo had seen.... and besides, looking through those spectacles gives me a headache." A famous mathematician, Father Clarius, said Galileo first built satellite and star-like objects into the telescope glass and then pretended to see them in the sky. Distrust of the new was for long an obstacle to the development of science. Four centuries later, Charles Darwin railed against the superstitious resistance of elder scientists to ideas that contradicted established theory, going so far as to suggest an age limit on membership in scientific associations.
The absence of roads in many parts of rural France kept the population isolated, poor, uneducated and culturally backward until late in the last century. A proposal for construction of roads in rural Gascony met with strong popular resistance because people feared that it would make them vulnerable to theft. Only after the roads were finally built did the rural population come to understand the enormous practical benefits roads provided by opening markets for farm produce and bringing modern medicine, education and manufactured goods to the countryside. The resistance of French peasants to efforts by the Government to spread education arose from the belief that reading and writing were totally irrelevant to their lives.
Today outmoded attitudes bar social advancement in every field. The expansion of world trade after 1950 has been a tremendous force for stimulating job creation and raising living standards around the world. Yet fear and resistance to expansion of trade persists among Americans and Canadians to the North American Free Trade Association, among Europeans to closer economic and monetary union, and among people in every country to freer international trade under the World Trade Organization
Development is also retarded by a plethora of anachronisms which have no other raison d’être than the momentum of past habits that refuse to die. High rates of childbirth have been traditionally practiced by the poor all over the world to compensate for high rates of infant mortality. Yet even after the introduction of modern medical technology in developing countries drastically reduced infant mortality rates in the 1950s, rates of child birth remained at high levels and have taken decades to decline to a degree commensurate with improved infant survival rates. Traditional behaviors have been slow to change until the population became more educated.
Clock makers' guilds were begun in Paris (1544) and London (1630) to enforce monopolies against foreign goods. The French guilds excluded new talent, imposed exorbitant dues on their members, and restricted the number of apprentices. The English guilds were less constricting and more favorable to development of the clock makers' crafts. When demand surged for seafaring clocks and better scientific instruments of all sorts by the mercantile powers, English clock-makers were free to respond to the opportunity and prosper.
Gold was a popular form for saving personal wealth and a hedge against inflation in many countries prior to the establishment of reliable banking systems. The safety of banks and the higher returns available from other forms of investment have gradually diminished the importance of gold as a form of savings. In some Asian countries, the traditional habit of saving and paying dowry in the form of gold jewelry has continued unabated, even after more secure and financially attractive forms of savings became widely available. The people of India possess nearly 30,000 metric tons of gold valued at $300 billion, an amount roughly twice the value of the public deposits held by Indian banks. Because India must import gold for conversion into jewelry, this form of savings removes liquidity from the national economy and prevents the reinvestment of personal savings in productive activities within the country. At a time when hundreds of billions of dollars are desperately needed for investment in roads, power plants and telecommunications infrastructure, an anachronistic habit forces the nation to depend on foreign investors while it sits on a huge hoard of untapped wealth.
UNDP has calculated that $40 billion a year would be sufficient to eradicate global poverty within ten years. Yet long after the end of the Cold War and at a time when there is not even a serious potential enemy in sight, world military expenditure remains at $850 billion a year. The war is over, but a costly, wasteful, unproductive anachronism persists.
It is possible to cite instances in which perceptual blind spots, unwarranted fears, provincial attitudes and anachronistic habits limit development in every country and every field of life. The rare few that are willing to concede that physical resources may not impose severe limits on human progress are very likely to insist that the fixed character of human nature does. History contains a record of infinite potentials discovered and countless opportunities missed due to a lack of perception, tradition-bound attitudes and insistence on anachronistic behaviors. But history also reports innumerable instances in which humanity has demonstrated the capacity to draw appropriate knowledge from its experience, overcome its limited vision and fixed behaviors and take major developmental leaps forward. In his introduction to the Brandt Commission Report, Former German Chancellor Willy Brandt expressed his hope that the problems created by men can be solved by men. Any attempt to formulate a comprehensive theory of social development must reflect the central role of human beings in both determining and overcoming self-imposed limits on social progress.
Current debate in the field of development often focuses on the importance that should be given to different economic and social outcomes and the most effective policies to achieve them. Although this discussion has importance, it tends to distract attention from more fundamental issues that need to be addressed, regardless of which goals are accorded the highest priority.
A theory of development needs to begin not with goals and policies to promote development, but with knowledge of the essential nature and characteristics of development itself, for development is not a set of policies or programs or results. It is a process. This process has been taking place in societies since time immemorial, but it has acquired greater intensity and velocity during the past five hundred years and has accelerated rapidly over the past five decades. In the broadest terms applicable to all societies and historical periods, development can be defined as an upward directional movement of society from lesser to greater levels of energy, efficiency, quality, productivity, complexity, comprehension, creativity, mastery, enjoyment and accomplishment.
Although the term development is most commonly applied to economic advancement, the term applies equally to political, social and technological progress as well. Indeed, it is extremely difficult to extricate any of these fields of change entirely from the others, for they are all various expressions or dimensions of the wider development of the human collective. However, for the purposes of this discussion, we propose to focus on the field of economic development and consider other fields only at the points where they most directly interact with and influence economic progress. At the same time, we will try to establish that the same process and the same principles are applicable to all other fields of social life as well.
Many factors influence and determine the outcome of this process. There must be a motive force that drives social change, some essential preconditions for that change to occur, barriers that obstruct the process, a variety of resources such as capital and technology which contribute to the process, along with several types and levels of infrastructure that support it. All of these factors need to find an appropriate place in a comprehensive theory. However, there is one central characteristic that most clearly distinguishes development from other forms of social change, but whose importance may not always be appreciated because it is largely non-material in nature. That characteristic is organization. The essential nature of the process is the progressive development of social organizations and institutions that harness and direct the social energies for higher levels of accomplishment. Society develops by organizing all the knowledge, human energies and material resources at its disposal to fulfill its aspirations.
Human Centered Approach
Recent thought places emphasis on human development as something distinct and different from economic growth. In establishing priorities and strategies, this distinction can be useful. There is abundant evidence to show that high rates of economic growth do not necessarily lead to rapid improvements in living standards for poorer sections of the population and that greater improvement in these living standards can be achieved by strategies that do not focus exclusively on growth. This distinction focuses on development priorities and the strategies, not on the essential nature of the development process itself.
A comprehensive theory must be human centered, but not just in the sense of insisting that human beings are the rightful beneficiaries of social progress. It has also to view human beings as the source and primary motive force for development. Development is the process of human beings developing. It is the energy of people seeking to fulfill their aspirations that serves as its driving force. People’s awareness and comprehension determines the direction of the social movement. The efficiency, productivity, innovation, creativity and organizational capacities of people determine the level of accomplishment and enjoyment. Society progresses by developing and bringing forth into expression the higher potentialities of its members. The extent of people’s education, the intensity of their aspirations and energy, the quality of their attitudes and values, skills and information are crucial determinants of the process. For this reason, we conclude that the same principles of development are applicable to the development of all levels and units of human existence -- individuals, organizations, social sectors, nations and the international community. They are all expressions of the same process by which human beings acquire greater capacities and express these capacities in more productive activities.
In earlier millennia the human resource was primarily a physical instrument for manual labor, much like other work animals. Society has now developed to the point that the individual’s mental capabilities are called more and more into play. By this process, the productivity of the human being has already risen a thousand-fold. The individual who drove a bullock cart now flies an airplane or steers a ship capable of carrying huge payloads. What an individual could or could not produce in a lifetime, he or she now produces in a month or a week or a day. This process of increasing productivity is still going on. A study of this process suggests that it could continue indefinitely and without limit. As we presently utilize only a tiny fraction of the sunlight that shines upon the earth, people presently utilize only a tiny portion of their individual potentials and social opportunities. Societies also utilize only a tiny portion of their potentials. The most limiting barriers to human development are not physical. They are limitations in knowledge, vision, attitudes and aspiration for higher accomplishment. A valid theory must be able to explain the central role of these intangible factors in the development process.
Survival, Growth and Development
Our definition of development distinguishes it from two other social processes, survival and growth. Survival is the process by which a community sustains itself at the minimum level needed for its existence without any manifest tendencies for horizontal expansion or vertical advancement. A society existing at the level of survival has sufficient energy to meet the most basic human needs, but no surplus available to enhance life at the present level or to direct toward higher levels of achievement.
At the next level are societies that have grown beyond the minimum level needed for survival, but remain organized along the same lines as in the past. People in these societies may be spurred by the availability of improved technology or the example of other communities to increase their level of effort, expand the scope of their activities, and adopt modified methods or techniques, but life remains organized essentially the same as before. A quadrupling of oil prices in the mid 1970s enabled oil exporting countries in the Middle East to dramatically increase GDP and per capita incomes with little change in the organization or productivity of the society. Since Okinawa was returned to Japan by the USA in 1972, the heavy dependence of the island economy on US military bases has been replaced by dependence on transfer payments and investments in infrastructure by the Japanese Government, resulting in higher incomes and improved living standards. But the basic organization of economic activities remains the same.
Development is distinguished from survival and growth by the emergence of new or higher levels of organization. In this case there is not merely a quantitative increase in the level of activity or accomplishment but a qualitative change in the way the activity is carried out in society. Prior to the development of standing armies, the entire society was called upon to defend the community in times of war. The division of society into military and civilian components enabled the community to develop economically at the same time as it expanded or defended itself militarily. The shift from nomadic grazing to sedentary agriculture marks a major development in agriculture. Not only do the techniques differ. The organization of the activity is far more sophisticated. Instead of going out in search for harvestable crops and then migrating on to greener pastures, the farmer gathers all the necessary resources, selects and cultivates appropriate crops and sets aside a portion of the produce as seed material for the following season. The transition from a rural agrarian to an urban commercial economy, from commercial to industrial and from industrial to service economy are major developmental changes in the structure and organization of society. Similar transitions occur within each field of social activity as well.
Growth is the process of expansion or proliferation of activities at any established level of development in the continuum from primitive tribal and agrarian societies to technologically advanced industrial societies. Growth and development are distinct processes, but they are also closely interrelated, complementary and mutually supportive. Development of the society to a higher level may be preceded, accompanied or followed by significant growth in different fields. Development in narrower fields also leads to growth of the society as a whole. In either case we apply the term development to connote the qualitative vertical movement to a higher level of performance and the term growth to connote the quantitative horizontal expansion of activities at whatever level of organization the society has reached in a particular field.
The phenomenal achievements of the Marshall Plan in promoting rapid economic recovery and growth in Europe after the Second World War may have blurred the distinction between growth and development. Based on West Germany’s post war experience, it was easy to conclude that a large infusion of capital could achieve rapid advancement in the eastern part of the country. In reality, the two cases are very different. Germany’s remarkable recovery after the war is primarily an expression of growth. The physical infrastructure and industrial capacity that had been destroyed during the war were quickly rebuilt. The productive skills and social attitudes of the population were already prepared by the country’s past experience and accomplishments. They did not have to be created. In contrast, the task in East Germany since 1990 has been to rapidly establish new political, administrative and economic systems. The infusion of enormous amounts of fresh capital stimulated the growth of construction and commerce, but it has not and cannot by itself bring about these structural changes. Inadvertently it may even have aggravated the task of development by raising high expectations among the population in East Germany that their living standards would be lifted to the level of their western countrymen by central government aid and programs, rather than by their own initiative to acquire more progressive attitudes, more productive skills and more efficient social organizations.
The remainder of this paper focuses on the required conditions, essential ingredients and stages of the process of development at many different levels of society and in many different fields. Except in this context, it will not be concerned with the process of growth as it is governed and described by basic principles of economics.
Human development proceeds from experience to comprehension. In the course of development, society accumulates the experience derived from the initiative of countless individuals and gradually formulates from it a conscious understanding of the secrets of success in different fields of activity. Experience comes first and full comprehension usually comes long afterwards. In this sense, we can say that the normal process of development is subconscious in that it is carried out before this conscious understanding has been fully acquired. We use the term subconscious to refer to those instances in which human beings pursue a new line of activity in any field without a conscious knowledge of the end results toward which they are moving, the obstacles and essential conditions for success, and the stages and principles governing the process of accomplishment.
Societies progress through the combined efforts of countless individuals and small groups, most of whom are only aware of and motivated to achieve their own limited goals. Yet the adoption of shared goals and common or similar strategies by these individuals and groups is utilized to elevate the society and fulfill the underlying intentions of the social collective. That which develops is the society. The society consists of diverse and divergent groups of individuals. The accomplishments of the society are the subconscious outcome and resultant expression of the combined aspirations and efforts of this heterogeneous collective.
Natural versus Planned Development
A further distinction needs to be made between the natural process of social development and planned development initiatives by governments. Natural development is the spontaneous, subconscious progression of society; planned development is the effort of governments to accelerate social progress through special policies and programs. Natural development is always subconscious. Planned development is mostly subconscious, but has the potential of becoming conscious, if the country’s leaders are able to acquire a comprehensive knowledge and apply it in the formulation and implementation of development strategies.
The theory needs to make clear the precise nature of the differences and similarities between planned and spontaneous development. In the case of planned development, government is the initiator of the process utilizing its capacity to set direction and policy for the society. In the case of natural development, individuals, groups of individuals and organizations are the initiators. But apart from this, is there really a fundamental distinction between the process of development in these two instances? Our conclusion is that there is not. The principles governing the process remain the same, regardless of who initiates or how it is initiated. This implies that the success of any planned development effort will depend on the degree to which it succeeds in fulfilling the conditions and imitating the stages of natural development.
One of the most dramatic illustrations of a conscious, planned development initiative by government was the Green Revolution in India. Until the mid 1960s, agriculture in India did not differ significantly from the way it was carried out during the two centuries of British colonial rule that ended in 1947. The Green Revolution involved the introduction of new hybrid varieties of wheat developed in Mexico and the term is commonly used as a synonym for the introduction of new technology in agriculture. But the most significant characteristic of Green Revolution was not technological. It was a planned initiative by the Indian Government to raise the organization of agriculture in Indian society to a higher level.
Prior to Green Revolution, the structure of Indian agriculture consisted of subsistence level farming by isolated individual producers, primarily for their own consumption. This structure generated inadequate overall production to meet the needs of an expanding population, periodic shortages and recurring threats of famine, which had only been avoided after 1947 by imports of increasingly large quantities of food grains. Green Revolution was a comprehensive and integrated strategy to transform the organization of Indian agriculture into a closely coordinated national system capable of producing sufficient surpluses to meet the needs of the entire population and to achieve national self-sufficiency in food grains.
The Indian Government recognized that to be successful, it would be necessary to convince the farmer that the new technology could generate significantly higher yields, to ensure that the higher yields would be readily purchased without a drastic fall in farm prices, to provide for large scale import and domestic production of hybrid seeds, fertilizers and pesticides, to establish sufficient warehouse capacity to store larger volumes of food grain, to undertake research and extension activities to adapt the varieties to Indian conditions, and to educate farmers, extension workers and scientists on the new agricultural practices.
The Green Revolution strategy accomplished these multiple objectives through the establishment of a number of new quasi-governmental organizations. The Food Corporation of India was set up and empowered to purchase surplus grains from production centers and distribute them for marketing in food deficit areas, effectively establishing a national market for food grains for the first time. The Agricultural Pricing Commission was constituted to guarantee farmers a remunerative price for their produce. Other agencies were established to import and expand production of essential inputs, expand warehousing facilities, coordinate agricultural research and educational activities. This comprehensive strategy provided economic incentives to the farmer for increased production as well as financial and social incentives to agricultural scientists to embrace the new technology. A national program was conducted involving 100,000 demonstration plots in farmers’ fields to convince the farmers that the new varieties would be remunerative.
Green Revolution was not only a planned initiative of the government. It was also a conscious initiative, conceived and implemented according to a time-bound plan to achieve well-defined goals and objectives very rapidly. Unlike many other planned development initiatives, it was based on a full and correct understanding of the real needs, aspirations, and preparedness of the society and on a knowledge of what was needed to release the energy and elicit the active participation of the society. The program succeeded because it was able to create a higher level of social organization and it was able to mobilize the energy, enthusiasm and capacities of scientists and farmers.
Planned development differs from natural development in that it is an attempt by government to initiate and accelerate a process of change that would otherwise take place more slowly or perhaps not at all. The success of any planned development effort depends on its ability to provide the necessary conditions and elements required for natural development. The stages that both processes must traverse and the principles that govern them are otherwise the same. Many planned development efforts fail because they are initiated with insufficient understanding of the essential conditions and the steps necessary to mimic the natural social process. In the early years, the organizational innovations launched to support the Green Revolution were primarily controlled and managed by governments. But that fact is only incidental. The important point is that these organizations were effectively integrated with the activities of the society and attuned to support its development. During the 1960s, only government in India possessed the necessary resources and organizational capabilities to bring about such a massive organizational change so rapidly. Were comparable programs to be introduced today, the private sector could be called upon to play a much more active role.
The achievement of national food self-sufficiency within five years and a doubling of total food grain production within a decade confounded the expectations of the experts and exceeded even the most optimistic projections. But the ultimate accomplishment of India’s Green Revolution was to elevate the entire social organization of agricultural production and marketing in the country to a far higher level. This remarkable achievement illustrates the power of planned development when it is undertaken with conscious knowledge
Process of Emergence of New Activities in Society
If the emergence of more complex and efficient levels of organization is the essential characteristic of development, then we must ask what is the process that stimulates the emergence of new organizations, what are the stages through which it proceeds and the agents that determine its direction. The theory must be able to adequately explain the conditions that determine the onset of new activities, the response of society to the activities, and the speed of their propagation.
It is our view that development occurs when the subconscious preparedness of society leads to generates new ideas and conscious initiatives by individuals. The accumulated surplus energy of society releases the initiative of pioneers who apply new ideas, acquire new skills and introduce new types of activities. Imitation of successful pioneers eventually attracts the attention and overcomes the resistance of conservative forces in society, leading the society to accept and embrace the new activity by establishing customs, laws, and other organizational mechanisms to actively support its propagation. At a further stage the activity is promoted through education and family until it becomes a social institution and is assimilated into the social culture. This process can be described in terms of three phases: social preparedness, the initiative of pioneers, and assimilation by the society.
Social Preparedness for Development
The potentials for development always far exceed the initiative of society to exploit them. The actual achievements of society depend on the measure that it is ready to actively respond to new opportunities and challenges. That response is the real determinant of development. Three fundamental conditions determine a society’s level of preparedness: energy, awareness and aspiration.
The first condition is the availability of surplus energy. Development is an expression of social creativity. It requires an immense investment of creative energy for society to experiment with new modes of activity, take the risks associated with change, break the active resistance and passive inertia of fixed habits, raise standards of functioning to higher levels, acquire new skills and build higher order organizations. Moving from one level of social organization to another requires the accumulation of surplus energy as in the conversion of matter from a liquid to a gaseous state. Development is the result of surplus energy moving vertically and being organized at a higher level, rather than merely being expended in horizontal expansion at the same level. The higher level organization is able to utilize the energy more productively.
Surplus energy is available only when the society is not fully absorbed in meeting the challenges of existence at the current level. The production of material surpluses and high levels of movement and exchange are indices that surplus energy is available for development. Surpluses are a measure of accomplishment and mastery at the previous level of development. The accumulation of surpluses has been a stimulus for growth of civilizations throughout history. The production of agricultural surpluses by Athenian farmers prompted Athens to open up trade routes and become a major commercial power in the ancient world. Arthur Lewis noted the central role played in the Industrial Revolution by the growing prosperity of English farmers resulting from the commercialization of English agriculture in the previous century.
The generation of new ideas, scientific experimentation and technical innovation are also symptomatic of surplus energy. When material needs are met and social activities have become highly organized, the mind becomes increasingly active and creative. People conceive of new possibilities and mentally explore new opportunities. The breakdown of feudalism and waning of Church authority in Western Europe unleashed an explosion of new ideas and creativity during the Renaissance. The energy liberated by greater political, social and intellectual freedom ushered in the great mercantile age.
Energy is the fuel for growth in individuals, organizations and societies. Highly creative and accomplished people are often characterized by the high levels of energy they exude and by their capacity for non-stop work. Indomitable energy has been an outstanding trait of great political leaders such as Napoleon, Churchill and Gandhi and business leaders such as Andrew Carnegie, Henry Ford, and Tom Watson of IBM. Inventor Thomas Alva Edison was known to work for days on end without sleep in the process of developing 1,100 patentable inventions and founding the General Electric Company. Organizations that are growing rapidly share the same characteristic, which is apparent even to casual visitors to high tech companies in Silicon Valley. Energy is highly visible in progressive urban centers around the globe, from New York and London to Hong Kong and Tokyo. It is, therefore, not surprising that this characteristic is found abundant in societies that have achieved high levels of development or that it becomes increasingly pervasive as societies enter the take-off phase.
The importance of surplus energy is most dramatically illustrated by two conditions under which it is unable to accumulate or express itself – war and dictatorship. War destroys infrastructure and interferes with production and trade. It physically saps the energy and resources of a country. The threat of war keeps those energies perpetually directed toward self-defense, rather than self-development. Dictatorship, on the other hand, can spur development efforts up to a point, using the threat or pressure of coercion to channel initiative in desired directions. But dictatorship also blocks the free emergence of new ideas and fresh initiatives, which are the seeds of social innovation. It can ensure obedience to authority but does not spur entrepreneurship and innovation. The end of feudalism in Western Europe was an important contributor to the onset of the mercantile era and the founding of the great European commercial empires. The further transition from monarchy to democracy stabilized the internal order and provided the social foundations for the Industrial Revolution. It stimulated innovation by encouraging the free exchange of ideas and provided incentives for greater individual effort by legally safeguarding property from arbitrary confiscation.
Surplus social energy collects as potential beneath the surface, accumulating until it acquires sufficient force to burst out in new activities. It expresses initially in society as increasing thought and discussion about new possibilities, an urge for innovation and improvement, and growing dissatisfaction with the status quo. But the mobilization of this energy for action depends on fulfillment of a second essential condition -- awareness of new development opportunities and challenges. Societies that are fully consumed by the struggle for survival have little time or inclination to direct their attention outward to observe what other societies are accomplishing or forward to envision new possibilities. When life reaches a certain level of stable comfort, societies become increasingly interested in and aware of what is going on in the world around them. This awareness may also be thrust on a society by the unwanted intrusion of an external influence. The influx of English manufactured goods into the pre-industrial economies of Europe and the arrival of a modern armed American fleet in Tokyo harbor in the 19 th Century both had the effect of awakening societies to the opportunities and challenges of development and stimulating them to respond.
The increasing pace of development over the past five centuries is directly linked to an increase in the speed and reliability of information about what is taking place in other parts of the country, region and world due to improvements in communication and transportation. The proliferation of books and newspapers following the invention and diffusion of the printing press and the growth of international shipping following the invention of navigation aids beginning in the 15 th Century, the growth of railways, telegraph, and telephones in the 19 th Century, and the impact of radio, film, television, computers and satellite technology in the 20 th Century have exponentially multiplied the dissemination of information and the general level of social awareness. Today more than 60,000 newspapers are published around the globe, including 8000 dailies, with a combined circulation of 500 million and an estimated readership of 1.5 billion people.
Energy provides the fuel and awareness helps to set the direction for social progress, but one other condition must be met to unleash the development process. The society must feel a strong aspiration or felt need for achievement at a higher level that spurs efforts to convert a perceived possibility into a material reality. Social development is an expression of social will seeking to elevate the performance of the collective. As the society becomes more conscious of the external environment and its own internal potentials, its aspiration and will for progress increase. The greater the knowledge of its potentials, the greater the aspiration.
History tells us of many accomplished societies in the past that generated surplus wealth and leisure time and yet chose not to respond to opportunities, even when presented with information about the successful accomplishments of other societies. Many development workers have encountered communities in which the aspiration for further development appeared to be absent. Such incidences contradict prevalent assumptions about human motivation and are often dismissed as bizarre or primitive exceptions. A closer observation reveals that this phenomenon is far more common than we may assume in societies, organizations and individuals. The theory needs to explain the circumstances under which the motivation for development is released as well as those under which it may be curtailed by accomplishment.
Castes, classes and communities within countries respond differently to achievements and new ways of life adopted by those whom they view as socially or culturally inferior. Thus, the aristocracy of France refused to engage in commerce as an activity beneath their station. Successful French businessmen made haste to purchase royal patents of nobility and withdraw from commercial activity. Their counterparts in England invested in commercial ventures resulting in a fusion of the landed nobility and merchant class, facilitating the remarkable economic growth of Britain in the 17 th and 18 th Centuries . The educated classes in some countries respond in similar fashion to opportunities that are viewed as beneath their social station, even when the financial rewards are substantial.
Awareness of a development opportunity also fails to evoke a response from the population when it is perceived to be beyond their means to accomplish. This explains why poorer individuals and societies sometimes do not respond to the accomplishments of the rich, even when the same opportunity is open to all, why the less educated assume they cannot emulate the achievements of the more educated, and why rural communities may ignore the achievements of urban centers.
Failures to respond to opportunities arising out of a sense of social superiority or social inferiority are expressions of a common principle. People respond to the example of those with whom they identify socially. When there is awareness of a developmental achievement by one belonging to the same social and cultural context, it can evoke a powerful urge for accomplishment in society. When the achievement is by one who lies outside the context, it is often ignored. Thus, the adoption of new crops and cultivation practices by a wealthy farmer may not lead to similar behavior by smaller farmers in the same community. Age, social status, class, caste, wealth, occupation and other factors help define social identity.
There was a time when different societies, classes and groups within societies differed widely in the extent to which they manifested an aspiration for development. This is no longer as true. Over the past five decades both awareness of the possibility and the release of the aspiration for development have been spreading rapidly from one country and level of society to another. Harlan Cleveland coined the phrase "revolution of rising expectations" to describe this phenomenon which he observed in Eastern Asia in the early 1950s. Spurred by the end of colonialism and the diffusion of democracy, since then this revolution has circled the globe and ignited a clamor for education, higher levels of consumption and opportunities for advancement among billions of people. The universal awakening of this urge for progress is another compelling reason why the speed of development is increasing so rapidly.
This principle has important implications for planned development efforts. It implies that efforts by government to initiate development will only be successful in areas where the necessary social urge and preparedness already exist. Many well-conceived development initiatives fail to catch on or go awry because the leaders try to accomplish what the population has not yet come to aspire for. In these instances, the planned initiative can only contribute to preparing the society for readiness at some future date, but will not generate immediate results.