Presentation on theme: "Can The Well-being Approach Enhance Southern Agency? By Trevor Parfitt."— Presentation transcript:
Can The Well-being Approach Enhance Southern Agency? By Trevor Parfitt
Introduction Sens Capability Theory and the associated Well-being approach constitute a major contribution to Development Analysis. They seem likely to provide a basis for the post- MDG development agenda. In this paper we shall examine the prospects for such an agenda to achieve the related aims of enhancing Southern peoples capabilities and agency.
David Crockers Account One of the most persuasive recent explications of Capability Theory and Well-being is provided by David A. Crocker in his Ethics of Global Development of 2008. Crocker persuasively argues that enhancement of well- being and capabilities is best accomplished through promoting agency by means of deliberative democracy. In this presentation I shall argue that whilst Crockers argument is broadly persuasive, there is at least one fundamental gap in it. This may be corrected by reference to a Deconstructionist ethics of alterity that emphasises concern for the other.
The Distinction Between Agency and Well-being. Crocker follows Sen in emphasising the distinction between well-being and agency. One reason for this is that both analysts want to avoid development being reduced to a variant of the basic needs approach in which provision of goods (food, shelter, clean water, medicines) becomes the essence of development.
Definitions Well-being concerns a persons wellness or welfare. Ones welfare status can be the product of ones own agency, but might also be the result of what others have done. Agency concerns ability and freedom to pursue and achieve ones goals. As we shall see the question of how free the agent is will become an issue of concern in our argument.
Centrality of Agency Both Crocker and Sen are committed to a conception of development in which agency is central. As Crocker puts it: The ethically sensitive analyst evaluates development policies and practices in the light, among other things, of the extent to which they enhance, guarantee, and restore the agency of individuals and various groups (Crocker, 2008:158). Development enables us to become the authors of our own lives.
How To Operationalise Agency. The question is how to operationalise development policy in such a way that it does enhance the agency of its target beneficiaries. Crockers analysis is that this will be best accomplished through the use of deliberative democracy.
What Is Deliberative Democracy? Sen argues that democracy should not just be reduced to elections, but should be understood as the exercise of public reason (Rawls quoted in Sen, 2003:29), which must involve opportunities for citizens to participate in political discussions and to influence public choice and policy. A central aspect of this idea is that target beneficiaries should have a say in formulating the development policies that affect them.
Deliberative Democratic Development Practice. Crocker argues that deliberative democracy can be implemented at the local level through participatory techniques. At the international level organisations such as the World Bank, IMF and WTO should be democratised to involve an input by those at the grass roots who are affected by their policies.
Problems of Deliberative Democracy. Crocker acknowledges that there are obstacles to the enhancement of developmental agency through deliberative democracy. Most fundamentally, he notes that the freedom of agency that we individually have is inescapably defined and constrained by the social, political and economic opportunities available to us.
Elaboration Or The Lack Of It. Crocker elaborates on this basic point to observe that democracy as actually practiced can be limited in terms of restricting participation to elections, or by limiting who can participate. He also notes that economic inequality limits the ability of the poor to participate due to lack of education, leisure time and access to political institutions. This point is emphasised by noting the extent of world inequality. Crocker acknowledges that this raises a question of whether or not a strategy based on deliberative democracy implicitly assumes a greater level of equality than is extant in the world. He answers this by arguing that only rough equality is necessary to allow most people the possibility of participation and to prevent the rich from completely dominating the political process. Also not all societies value equality and are content with elite rule. However, I feel that Crockers account of the obstacles to a development strategy based on deliberative democracy is insufficiently elaborated, perhaps even naïve in certain respects.
Participation: Tyranny or Democratic? There are challenges to Crockers suggestions that deliberative democracy might best be achieved through use of participatory techniques at the local level. Cooke and Kotharis Participation: The New Tyranny points out the dangers associated with the mainstreaming of participatory techniques, notably bureaucratisation and normalisation in the Foucauldian sense. These are very real dangers that can operate to undermine such objectives as conscientisation and empowerment of those at the grass roots. Elsewhere, I have argued that participation is intrinsically ambiguous in that it can be co-opted by elite groups, but it also incorporates an emancipatory possibility. It should be noted that Crocker himself argues that participatory techniques must be informed by a commitment to deliberative democracy.
What is Globalisation? Crocker encounters somewhat greater problems with his account of globalisation. He divides analyses of globalisation into three camps, the Hyperglobalists, which would include neo-liberals arguing for the globalisation of the market economy: Skeptics, which includes Marxists who criticise globalisation as imperialism and endorse a counter-strategy of anti- globalisation based on local self-sufficiency: and Transformationalism, which examines globalisation as an open and complex set of processes without any pre- determined outcome.
Reforming Globalisation? This analysis feeds into Crockers preferred strategy for dealing with globalisation, what he terms Cosmopolitan Democracy. This consists of firstly, democratic reform at the state level to enhance democratic deliberation, and secondly democratisation at the international level, which will institutionalize popular and deliberative participation in global institutions - such as the UN, the WTO, the ICC, the World Bank, and the proposed global taxing authority - and, in regional institutions - such as the Inter-American Development Bank, NAFTA, and the Organization of American States (2008:394).
But How Far Can Globalisation Be Reformed? The problem with Crockers line of argument lies in his rather dismissive treatment of the Leftist critique of predatory globalisation. Whilst he acknowledges the critique and also acknowledges the growing inequality of global society, he does not put these two factors together. Crocker gives little if any consideration to the possibility that such inequality might be a product of globalisation, specifically in its neo-liberal capitalist form. It follows from this that he gives no consideration to the view that those who are committed to neo-liberalism (either for ideological or economic reasons) have little or no interest in promoting the agency of the Southern poor through deliberative democratic reform (as distinct from governance reforms), whilst those who are excluded have limited power to force reforms. This paper contends that there are powerful reasons to support this view.
Where Did Neo-Liberalism Come From? David Harvey provides an interesting account of how the failure of the Keynesian economic order that had prevailed up to the 1970s created an economic environment in which successive governments adopted neo-liberal economic policies. The Long Boom of the 1950s and 1960s was largely fuelled by US spending based on the assumption that it was backed by US gold reserves, a system that began to unravel when US spending clearly outstripped its reserves. The OPEC energy crisis clearly brought the Long Boom to its end and worsened an emerging crisis of capital accumulation (or profitability). One result was that throughout the 1970s there was social unrest in the USA and many parts of Europe, as those at the bottom tried to maintain their income whilst capital tried to maintain its profits. In addition states such as the UK encountered fiscal crises as the demands of spending on social provision began to outstrip tax revenues. Such was the context in which neo-liberalism emerged as a political force.
Neo-Liberalism As A Class Project? When Thatcher adopted neo-liberalism in the UK and Reagan followed her in the US, it was clear that it emerged as a project to reduce state commitments to social spending and to enhance the rate of profit by reducing state intervention in the market. This involved repression of labour and their organisations, reduction of social spending by the state and transfer of public assets into the private sector by means of privatisation. Such measures are all designed to reduce the income of the lower classes in order to restore the profitability of capital and in this respect neo-liberalism can be seen as a project to benefit capital at the expense of the working classes.
International Neo-Liberalism The Thatcher and Reagan governments played an instrumental role in the establishment of this project at the international level. For example the arrival of the Reagan Administration saw the departure of such proponents of Basic Needs as Robert McNamara and Mahbub Ul Haq from the World Bank and their replacement by Wall Street banker Alden Clausen and neo-liberal economist Anne Krueger. The US Treasury led the way in a neo-liberal alliance involving the Bank and the IMF that became known as the Washington Consensus. Under their guidance development became synonimous with marketisation (Harrison, 2010:20).
Accumulation By Dispossession? The policies implemented under the rubric of neo-liberal development have been similar to those implemented domestically by Thatcher and Reagan, involving large spending cuts by the state, opening up the economy, devaluation and privatisation. Harrison provides numerous examples of how IMF stipulated devaluations have led to food price inflation that has endangered the well-being of affected populations. Similarly, he points to the ways in which retrenchment and privatisations have led to higher unemployment (99-100). Harvey focuses on privatisation, arguing that it represents accumulation by dispossession. He notes how privatisation of municipal water authorities in South Africa has led to price rises that excluded many poorer consumers. As the latter turned to less reliable sources they became more vulnerable to disease (2003:159). Thus private water companies have benefited at the expense of the supposed beneficiaries of development.
Neo-Liberalisms Development Record Harvey points out that in terms of world economic growth neo-liberalism compares very poorly with the Keynesian period. Whereas aggregate global growth rates stood at about 3.5%in the 1960s and 2.4% in the 1970s, they were 1.4% and 1.1% in the 1980s and 1990s (2005:154). Within that overall picture some Southern states have benefited, but the benefits are largely concentrated in India and China. However, those benefits have not been equally divided and there are worries about increasing income differentials in those countries. Overall, we may note that in 1960 the 20% of the worlds people in the richest countries had 30 times the income of the poorest 20% - in 1997, 74 times as much (http://www.globalissues.org/article/26/poverty-facts-and- stats#src26, accessed 12/9/2010).http://www.globalissues.org/article/26/poverty-facts-and- stats#src26
Do Neo-Liberals Want Deliberative Democracy? All of this provides support for Harveys argument that neo-liberal development strategies are actually strategies to maintain capitals profitability. If this has to be done at the cost of the poor that is regarded as an acceptable cost. It follows that the political interests and institutions that have bought into this strategy will not be receptive to ideas (such as those of Crocker) that revolve around mobilising the poor in a deliberative democratic process.
Lines of Conflict All this casts some doubt on Crockers contention that only rough equality is required so that the poor may participate. To the extent that neo-liberalism is a strategy for a development that privileges capital at the expense of the poor, it exists to consolidate the power of the rich in relation to the poor so that the rich may exclude or at least control the conditions under which the poor participate. It operates to limit the agency of those at the grass roots. This is not conducive to adoption of deliberative democracy in the institutions that make policy that affects the worlds poor, such as the IMF, World Bank and WTO.
Lines of Conflict 2 A major problem in Crockers argument is that although he is aware that development cannot be treated as a depoliticised, technical exercise, he seems to under-estimate the level of (sometimes absolute) commitment a socio-political group/class can have to its perceived interests. None of this is to dispute Crockers contention that an effective well-being strategy would be enabled by a global move towards deliberative democracy. Nor does it suggest that such an objective should be dismissed as utopian. However, it does indicate that any such reform will be a good deal more problematic than Crocker seems to think and has conflictual implications. All this is suggestive that committed neo-liberals in organisations like the IMF and the WTO will be far from receptive to reforms that threaten to radically transform the working of said institutions. And to the extent that they are willing to give such ideas a hearing it is likely to be with a view to cooption.
An Ethics Of Alterity In other publications I have recommended a Deconstructionist ethics of alterity, or concern and respect for the other, as a basis for development. Whilst such an analysis cannot substitute for the insights of capability theory, particularly its emphasis on the importance of agency, I will suggest that it provides a better insight than Crockers line of analysis into the problems involved in trying to change existing power structures through such means as promoting deliberative democracy.
Why Can Deconstruction Explain Conflict Better? The fundamental insight offered by Deconstructionist theory is that any body of knowledge or analysis involves not only the organisation of concepts, facts and theory into a coherent account of reality, but also the exclusion of those facts and analyses that do not fit, do not seem relevant, or are unknown in that account. So, Neo- liberalism does not recognise the Marxist view that capitalist accumulation leads to the concentration of capital and the emergence of monopolies that are able to set market prices. Such a concession would undermine the neo-liberal tenet that value is set by the operation of the free market. These founding exclusions are essential to the coherence of the body of knowledge concerned precisely because they would tend to destabilise it.
Sources of Conflict The problem is that these exclusions cannot be completely repressed and they return to destabilise established knowledge. Thus, Neo-liberals meet the critique that existent markets are not perfect and that there have been instances of monopolistic price setting (the oil companies are often cited as engaging in setting the price of oil). It can be seen how such exclusions can be a source of conflict. One might cite the American Declaration of Independence which stated that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness - but excluded black people from the right to liberty. This was an exclusion that prompted military conflict and issues pertaining to exclusion of blacks still resonate in American society.
Ethics of Alterity The latter example also illustrates how this line of thought clearly leads into an ethics of concern for the other inasmuch as groupings who are excluded, like black people in the US context, are likely to be the victims of morally unacceptable injustice and violence. Hence an ethics of alterity maintains concern to recognise and respect others (and their agency) in order to avoid the violence of exclusion.
Crockers Omission The omission in Crockers argument that comes back to haunt it arises from the lack of a depth analysis of the sources of global inequality. His failure to examine the deleterious effects of neo-liberal policies in the South feeds into an associated failure to adequately explore the contention that there are powerful international interests that benefit from the neo-liberal model of capitalism and from associated global inequalities. This means that he radically underestimates the obstacles that such interests are liable to put in the path of the development agenda he favours.
A Deconstructionist Approach A deconstructionist approach would actively look for the constitutive omissions in neo- liberal theory and consequently would take cognisance of the plentiful evidence of the inegalitarian effects of neo-liberal policies. This would automatically lead to an appeal to the ethics of alterity in order to correct and to combat the exclusions associated with these policies. How then might a deconstructionist strategy differ from that of Crockers?
In Answer A deconstructionist approach would be formulated in the awareness that appeals for global democratic reform would meet opposition and that there might be conflict. Derrida argued that any campaign for reform would need to follow a two track strategy (1994:86-87). The first would make appeals for reform based on an apparent acceptance of neo-liberal values in order to show the gap between the claims of the ideology and its practice. Thus, it would entail campaigns for Europe and the US to abandon protectionist practices in accordance with their ideological claims. The second strand would entail a more radical questioning of neo-liberal ideology of the type undertaken by Harvey. Both of these strands of the campaign would be justified by an ethics of alterity demanding the end of unjust exclusion of Southern people at the grass roots. On the practical level, this would underwrite campaigns for reform that should be mobilised in all available forums. One might envisage that a central requirement for reform would be the formation of what Laclau and Mouffe would term a hegemonic block (consisting of NGOs, popular and political groups) that would enable effective popular opposition to the influential interests supporting the existing system.
Conclusions We have argued that Crocker convincingly contends that an effective well-being strategy of development that enhances the agency of the Southern poor requires international reform based on deliberative development. The problem with his argument is that lack of an adequate analysis of the sources of inequality in the existing system lead him to seriously underestimate the opposition his proposals are likely to meet. This paper has argued that a more effective strategy for the adoption of a well-being approach and of democratic reforms might be obtained through a deconstructive approach.