Mon | Aug 21, 2017

Peter Espeut | Voting for change

Published:Friday | October 28, 2016 | 10:00 AM

One of the deceptions built into the dominant development theory driving much of the global economy is that countries in the world may be divided into two groups: developed countries and developing countries.There is a presumption that 'developed' countries set the standard for national achievement towards which 'developing' countries aspire and strive, to one day become 'developed' themselves.

'Developing' countries are then pressured to adopt the political systems and value systems of the so-called 'developed' countries. This approach to the possibility and alignment of development operates in the best interest of the so-called developed countries and certainly puts them in a positive light.

At the level of development theory, this mindset was discredited decades ago (in the 1970s) by the Dependency Theory of Andre Gunder Frank, who posited that the two groups into which countries may be divided are 'developed' countries and 'underdeveloped' countries and that the former are developed at the expense of the latter. He could not find any 'developed' country that had previously been 'underdeveloped', giving the lie to the optimistic term 'developing'. In a cute turn of phrase, he argued that in so-called 'developing' countries, the only development taking place is the development of underdevelopment, which is really the underdevelopment of development.

Gunder Frank's theory paints the so-called 'developed' countries as the cause of continuing underdevelopment in the Third World. He argued that no amount of 'development aid' or IMF-induced 'structural adjustment' would ever lead an 'underdeveloped' country into the ranks of the 'developed'. But the upper classes within an 'underdeveloped' country may resemble their counterparts in 'developed' countries, just as the lower classes in 'developed' countries may share some characteristics of their counterparts in 'underdeveloped' countries.

 

WASHINGTON CONSENSUS

 

One of the mechanisms that keeps countries underdeveloped is the religion of market fundamentalism, also called the Washington Consensus, which has created and imposed a system of trade liberalisation and other strategies that gives the advantage to developed countries. I call market capitalism a religion because it requires a huge act of faith to believe in the invisible hand of the market, operating through the law of supply and demand, which really is just a description of selfish human behaviour.

Requiring underdeveloped countries to open their markets to imports from developed countries while erecting non-tariff barriers to their exports is a sure way to guarantee underdevelopment.As persons migrate to find higher-paying jobs, the jobs migrate to where the cheapest labour is located.

Gunder Frank may help us to understand what is playing out in the developed United States of America during this 2016 election campaign.

We in the Third World complain about how we are being disadvantaged by market fundamentalists, mostly in the USA, but over the years, blue-collar workers in the USA have been suffering, too, from the Washington Consensus policies practised by their own government. Working- and middle-class white male voters in the USA with annual incomes of less than US$50,000 and no college degree have suffered a decline in their income in recent years, and rising unemployment, under the policies of both mainstream Republican and Democrat governments. They have observed their jobs going to lower-paid immigrants (their salaries declining in response) or disappearing overseas. They observe proposals to regularise illegal immigrants (which will make their already bad condition worse) and to cut their Medicare and Social Security benefits.

 

TRUMP'S CAMPAIGN POLICIES

 

Looking beyond the racist, misogynistic, bigoted, and arrogant statements of Donald Trump (which many cannot easily do), Trump's campaign policies are nativist (anti-immigration), protectionist (anti-free trade), and semi-isolationist policies which neither traditional Republicans nor Democrats support. Along the way, Trump received the most primary votes of any Republican candidate in history - 13.4 million - beating George W. Bush by 1.4 million votes. He insists that Washington is "broken" and can only be fixed by an outsider like himself. Effectively, Trump has captured the Republican Party.

With somewhat similar ideas, but converging from the Left, Bernie Sanders nearly captured the Democratic Party. There is a growing consensus within blue-collar US voters that Washington Consensus policies are taking the USA in the wrong direction. As obnoxious as Donald Trump is, many millions among the US underclass seem willing to support him in a desperate effort to force a change in their perilous situation.

Many Jamaicans also seem to support Trump, which freaks out middle-class Jamaica; but then, remember that middle-class Jamaica has its strong links with the mainstream Republican and Democratic parties.

But is our 'die-hearted' support for the venal People's National Party and Jamaica Labour Party, with their garrisons and gunmen, their corruption and their cronyism, any different from the persistent support for an outrageous and bigoted Donald Trump?

The world as we know it is changing. Do we want real change here in Jamaica?

- Peter Espeut is a sociologist and development scientist. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.