Saturday, January 05, 2013

Gilbert Rist and Why "Development" Did Not Work

I have just finished reading Gilbert Rist, The History of Development: From Western Origins to Global Faith 3rd Edition, (London: Zed Books, 2008). Rist rejects the idea of "development" which he traces back to colonial policies and likens to a secular religion. Not only does he reject "development" and of course "development economics", but he rejects economics itself as currently constituted as having very little ability to explain anything.

Economic 'science' has nothing scientific. It is no more than a battle of opinions, which fluctuates according to the conjuncture in ways that enable the strongest to impose their will. It disregards the numerous practices in North and South that do not fit its constructed models. It lacks the means to factor in our dependence on finite resources. It sanctifies the 'law' of the market without imagining that economic exchange might follow different rules. It exhausts itself in a project that puts into equations ever larger areas of social reality, one that 'claims to speak of (almost) everything with the help of a method which, if taken literally, would not allow it to speak of (almost) anything.' The enterprise is one of 'mental colonization', then, from which we need to be released as quickly as possible.  (pp. 261-262).

In other words economics has even less explanatory and predictive power, not to mention prescriptive ability to improve things especially in places like Africa or Central Asia than do other quasi-religious pseudo-sciences such as juju or witchcraft some of  which at least have the advantage of being culturally rooted in the societies in which they operate. Rist makes a very compelling argument in his book that "development" has not worked because "development economics" is worthless and "development economics" is rubbish because the entire academic discipline of economics is completely irrelevant to the reality of how people actually live in most of the world.

1 comment:

Walt Richmond said...

I remember taking a course on macroeconomics in college and thinking what a bunch of rubbish it all was, and how if this is how decisions are made we're all doomed.