Development: Detailed Summary

In line with the Rethinking Economies Series as a whole, this workshop considers current shifts of economic power at a number of levels: global, national, regional and local. Here we move away from traditional critiques of development which tend to focus on the unintended effects of imposed bureaucratic forms and processes. In the 21st century, there are radically new forces to contend with; different questions and a different approach are essential.

This workshop centres on two crucial areas: first, the expanding apartheid that separates high- and low-wage labour on the basis of region and race and second, the migration of people across the world in response to political, economic and environmental pressures. Separation and movement, control and dispersal: these two axes are in constant tension, each threatening to overwhelm the other, often with unforeseen economic consequences. Uncomfortable as it is to acknowledge, apartheid can no longer be confined to what Afrikaners did after their independence in 1948; it has become a universal principle of world society. The classical object of ‘development’ is no longer elsewhere but has made a home for itself in the ‘developed’ north.

The historical relationship between the peoples of rich and poor countries is one of movement in both directions. This workshop will address systematic attempts to control such movement today and ask whose interests these policies serve. We will explore how ‘immigration’ to countries like Britain is intrinsically tied to the ‘development’ of poor areas by the economic inequality on which contemporary world economy rests.

Globalization is a long-standing phenomenon but the nature of the relationship between rich and poor, north and south is continually changing. The decades before the first world war were marked by mass migrations of Europeans to temperate lands, and Asian ‘coolies’ to tropical colonies. This was when western capital unified the world economy and the rise of large-scale machine industry encouraged the emergence of a high-wage economy at home separated from the cheap labour of the colonies. But already, in the late 19th century, Britain’s monopoly of world trade and finance was being eroded by German and American capital.

Today, the cheapest agricultural products come from Brazil, the cheapest manufactured items from China, the cheapest information services from India, the cheapest migrant labour from the ruins of the Soviet empire. Following a wave of migration from what in Britain are known as ‘new Commonwealth’ countries and three decades of neo-liberal economic policies, western workers are facing increased competition both at home and abroad, just as capital has become truly global for the first time by diffusing to new zones of production and accumulation, notably in Asia.

The neo-liberal conservatives currently dominating world society have as their principal aim the dismantling of the social democratic institutions (welfare states) that arose in the mid-20th century to protect national workers and their families. This was accompanied by engineering consistent downward pressure on wages through the threat of exporting capital to cheaper countries or importing cheap labour. The result in the rich countries is racist xenophobia exacerbated by job insecurity and rising levels of poverty at home. This is the immediate context for the globalization of apartheid as a social principle. And it is echoed in increased security measures aimed at regulating movement in the name of the ‘war against terrorism’.

More than two centuries ago, Kant argued for the ‘cosmopolitan right’ of free movement everywhere. Our world seems to be the opposite of that now. It is the task of this workshop to begin to raise these questions, to suggest how people might organize themselves in the face of global inequality today, and how society might be made more just. This involves a fundamental critique of current ideas and practices carried out in the name of ‘development’, seen here through the lens of the international movement of peoples.