Monday, May 13, 2013

Developed or Waiting to Be

An article in the Utne Reader today made me pause and think about the expression "developing nation."  It is an expression we (by "we" I mean those of us in the "developed" world also known, to us, as the countries that don't really need a label because we're the example of how things ought to be.) adopted as a more positive way of referring to what we once called "third world nations."  I don't think I have ever taken the time to pause and think about the underlying cultural assumptions behind the expression.  In short, I don't think I have stopped to ask "developing into what?" and "is that necessarily better?" (See some of my other posts here on "growth." As well as this one about called What Are We Growing For? on my sister literary/fiction blog.)

My wife grew up in what Western experts, not without condescension, call a “developing” country. The social life of her village revolved largely around a tree...
In the United States we spend hundreds of billions of dollars on everything from community centers to kiddie videos to try to achieve those results, with great inefficiency and often much less positive effect. Yet most Western economists would regard the tree as a pathetic state of underdevelopment. They would urge “modernization,” by which they would mean cutting down the tree and making people pay money for what it provided. In their preferred vision, corporate-produced entertainment would displace local culture. Something free and available to all would become commodities sold for a price. The result would be “growth” as economists understand that term.

Read the full article, "Common Property: Our Hidden Wealth" at the Utne Reader.