Charles Gore: The birth of a new paradigm

Development Policy22 Jun 2009Charles Gore

I finished my blog yesterday by highlighting the need for a new development paradigm. This new paradigm may take up to five years to emerge and, from past experience of paradigm shifts, it will draw together ideas from existing theory and practice which up to now have been outside the mainstream and regarded as heterodox.

The most promising organizing principle for a new development consensus and new forms of international cooperation is global sustainable development. Moreover the most propitious policy narrative will be one which focuses on the development of productive capacities and which sees economic growth, poverty reduction and environmental sustainability as emergent properties of the way in which productive capacities are developed. This approach recognizes the importance of wealth creation for poverty reduction without falling into the fallacies of trickledown economics.

Ideological innovation usually occurs through transformations of the available normative vocabulary and there is no reason why the MDGs, as a set of indicators, should not live on up to and after 2015. Indeed they could usefully do so if they are dis-embedded from the current development paradigm and re-embedded within a new paradigm based on global sustainable development and the development of productive capacities. In such a paradigm there would still be a need for a set of indicators which measures differences in well-being within global social space. The content of the MDGs as a set of targets could be re-visited as such. All the work which has gone into building statistical networks to compare how people live around the world on the basis of the MDGs could also continue, with a re-orientation within this well-being perspective. More effort should also be devoted towards specifying the eighth MDG goal, “Developing a Global Partnership for Development” and how it is related to well-being. This will require a shift away from the methodological nationalism which currently permeates poverty analysis to the international analysis of poverty.

In a longer term perspective, we may look back on the MDGs as a half-way house in the birth of a global social policy. In the 1950s and 1960s, “national development means” were used to achieve “national development goals”. These “national development means” include national aid budgets in rich countries, government to government financial resource transfers and national plans, and the “national development goals” were national economic development, employment expansion, rising living standards and national sovereignty. Within the current MDG paradigm, “national development means” are used to achieve “global development goals”. In the future, it is possible to envisage a shift towards an era in which “global development means” are used to achieve “global development goals”. In this vision the MDGs could become the basis for a set of social and economic rights which are guaranteed at a global level and not financed through national budgets but through innovative global sources of finance, such as taxes on global transactions.

The question therefore is not: “MDGs or a new paradigm?”, but rather how we can act as mid-wives of a new development paradigm and how we can harness the political power of the MDGs within this new paradigm in a way which is not “full of romantic violence”.