Questioning the model of development

So often we hear talk of ‘development’ and how we should strive for it. But few stop and think what we mean by development.

Jan 11, 2018

By Anil Netto
So often we hear talk of ‘development’ and how we should strive for it. But few stop and think what we mean by development. Often development is equated with ‘economic growth’ and ‘progress’ — terms that receive little critical reflection.

Certainly, there is too little questioning of the dominant model of ‘development’ and economic growth.

The conventional thinking is that the higher our gross domestic product and the higher our economic growth (ie GDP growth), the better off we will be.

Somehow the wealth, it is thought, will eventually “trickle down” to the ordinary people. But clearly that has not been the case, as the gap between the rich and the poor has widened.

‘Development’ and economic growth do not necessarily lead to authentic human development.

Our society places too much emphasis on material wealth and material goods and an exaggerated focus on the right to private ownership of property. But goods and services, along with intellectual and spiritual wealth, have a higher purpose than a narrow individualistic goal of enriching a smaller and smaller group of individuals.

Jesus came so that we could have life to the full. To have a full life, a precondition is enhancing human dignity and development. Although economic growth can go some way in improving human dignity, much depends on the kind of economic policies that are in place and whether they are sustainable and environmentally friendly.

Gross Domestic Product does not take into account how wealth is distributed, nor does it consider the state of the environment and whether natural resources are being depleted. It does not consider the impact of rapid expansion of the economy on the climate.

This is where the social teachings of the Church can help us understand how human dignity — the dignity that Jesus wanted for all of us — can be enhanced. It is no good keeping these teachings as the best kept secret of the Catholic Church. They must be studied and reflected on.

In many ways, the consumerist and materialistic culture around us runs counter to Gospel values. It is characterised by self-centredness, an exaggerated sense of individualism and a narrow disjointed worldview. In this worldview, human beings are reduced to “consumers” or “customers” in a “market,” and they become depersonalised.

Many workers are exploited — long hours and stagnant wages — that leave them struggling to cope with the rising cost of living. Meanwhile, the sense of community is eroded and families in a neighbourhood become isolated.

Nature — the forest, hills and seas — which is sacred and fills many with awe and reverence, has been reduced to “natural capital,” one of the factors of production. Underground minerals and fossil fuels are seen as “natural resources” to be exploited and extracted, displacing communities and unleashing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere with hardly a thought. Over time, these resources are depleted, leaving nature — and future generations — impoverished.

In our present model of development, our values, our cultures and traditions have become subservient to or influenced by Money and the Market. This obsession with Money and the Market then results in an onslaught on the dignity of human beings and communities.

In contrast, Gospel values promote community solidarity, compassion for others, especially for the poor, the marginalised, including migrants and refugees.

As Christians, as Church, we need to reorient our vision to be truly in touch with the unity and interconnectedness of Creation, which we need to revere, protect and care for, to promote the authentic development of the human being.

This means questioning our model of development and its values that run contrary to Gospel values and reflecting on alternative models of authentic human development so that we may live to the full.

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