Appropriate Development also enables the preservation of indigenous culture against the onslaught of Western popular/consumer culture. And the domination of corporate media. Mostly small scale and local radio systems can be quite sufficient and effective. Local people can provide most if not all of the artistic and dramatic material we need.
Rich countries help poor countries to develop. They give aid, foreign investment and they trade with them.
Rich countries are certainly very keen to promote conventional-capitalist development in the Third World, i.e., development of the kind that enriches themselves. But they will not tolerate Appropriate Development, and they can’t because it would mean their own demise. They cannot maintain their “living standards” or their economies unless they go on getting most of the world’s wealth and Appropriate Development would mean the end of that situation.
The basic relationship between rich countries and poor ones for the last 500 years has been one of invasion, looting and thuggery. World history has been about the struggle among the strongest nations to get control of and dominate an empire. Thus beginning with Spain and Portugal a series of western powers has led the conquest, destruction and plunder of the Third World. In the last century the struggle to control and expand empires generated two world wars, in which the British were exhausted and the US surged into the dominant position. Since World War 2 the US has intervened in the Third World with military force about 60 times, killing more than 16 million people, in order to put down threats to its control. It now maintains the empire from which rich countries derive much of their wealth.
Our empire is run by the corporations and the governments of the richest countries which go to a great deal of effort to keep Third World regimes to the policies that benefit us, that is, to adhere to conventional development strategy. As is explained above, the empire is mostly kept in place by the normal working of the economic system. This allows the very few who own most of the capital to develop whatever will most enrich themselves. This automatically forces poor people to go on suffering low wages in plantations and sweatshops while the wealth they create flows out to our supermarkets.
But from time to time poor Third World people object to what’s happening and then force and fear are necessary to keep them in the plantations and factories. Rich countries have a very long and very extensive record of assisting Third World regimes to keep people quiet in the plantations and factories. This includes financial and military assistance, subversion, assassination, arms supply, training of torturers and direct military destruction and invasion in order to get rid of regimes that will not rule in our interests, or install ones that will. (For extensive documentation on the nature and functioning of your empire see
http://www.arts.unsw.edu.au/tsw/10-Our-Empire.html). This is of course not how they ever describe what is happening, but it is the outcome. Consider the invasion of Iraq, portrayed now as for “humanitarian” purposes, but US corporations now own most of the firms in the country worth owning, as well as more secure access to oil.
The high “living standards” we in rich countries have could not be maintained without the repression and violence required to maintain our empire. We cannot expect to go on getting far more than our fair share of world resources unless we keep in place the systems which deprive most people of a fair share. Many people who profess concern for the plight of the poor, or who want peace in the world, or who want ecological sustainability, fail to grasp that their own rich world “living standards” are the basic causes of the problems. Such goals cannot be achieved until the rich countries stop hogging far more than their fair share and far more than all can ever have. ( If world resources were shared equally now you and I would have to get by on about 1/6 of the per capita amount we now consume.)
Notes on Appropriate Development at the practical level.
Following are some brief illustrations of the main theme being argued, the great power of Appropriate Development to quickly enable a high quality of life for all, when local people put local resources into producing what they most need, via simple technologies. (These ways are as applicable and necessary in rich countries as in poor; on the need for rich world transition to The Simpler Way see
First a note on my credentials for making these claims. I live in frugal ways on a relatively self-sufficient homestead, and for many years I have been associated with the Global Eco-Village Movement in which thousands of small groups are now living more or less according to the principles of The Simpler Way, many of them in an effort to demonstrate the kinds of social practices that must be adopted if global problems are to be resolved. From these sources and experiences I have no doubt that many of the simpler ways outlined below are workable, easily practised, and rewarding.
Food. All food can be produced within home gardens, community gardens, “edible landscapes”, and commons and small local farms, within the settlement or close by. The energy cost can be almost zero except for steel tools, little machinery (perhaps a tractor owned by the farmers coop), pipes, small pumps for irrigation, small dam construction. There need be no use of artificial fertilizers given total recycling of food, household, crop and animal wastes. There must be intensive use of Permaculture design principles. There would be mostly hand tool gardening, with intensive harvesting of tree crops, and little ploughing (mostly by horses.) Poultry, rabbit and fish production would occur in small pens and ponds, via cooperatives or small firms. There would be small local dairies. There would be widespread use of commons and “edible landscapes” throughout settlements providing free fruit and nuts
Building. Houses, premises for firms, community facilities, storage and animal sheds can be built from earth, bush poles, kiln-fired tiles, sod roofs etc., at very low and sometimes almost no dollar or energy cost.
Transport. The greatly reduced demand for goods would be met mostly by work and leisure places located close to home. Highly self-sufficient settlements require little importing or exporting of goods or materials.. Access to work, leisure and shops/markets would be mostly on foot or by bicycles. Leisure-rich localities involve little travel for recreational purposes. Only a few private or community cars and light trucks would be needed. There would be local bicycle factories and repair. Much of the diminished need for transport and ploughing could be met by horses. Thus there would be very low demand for biomass produced liquid fuels from local land. Small firms build drays, carriages, buggies, horse powered equipment, boats and barges.
Furniture. Furniture would be made to last, mostly from wood, bamboo and local fibres. Wooden gates, fences, handles, seats, window frames, cabinets, beds etc can be made by hand tools or simple machinery at little energy cost. There need be little use of plastic or metal. There would be intensive repairing and recycling.
Machinery. Windmills, watermills, pumps, 12 volt electrical systems can be made and/or maintained by local handymen and small firms, using steel strip and rod, lights, motors, PV panels etc mostly supplied by regional factories. Small localised systems for water and energy supply and waste recycling. These can be simple and constructed and maintained by ordinary people (with access to professional expertise as required.)
Hardware, kitchenware, appliances, hand tools, glass, paints, stoves, fridges, heaters, cutlery, pottery, soap, pots, pans, etc. mostly produced in local regional factories and foundries. Machinery powered ostly by wood fuelled Stirling engines and electricity, plus other renewable energy sources. Goods designed and built to last and to be repaired, reducing lifetime energy and materials use.
Clothing and footwear. This can be made and repaired in the home or small local firms, including basic slippers, sandals, working dresses, hats, shirts, trousers, via treddle or electric sewing machines, from bulk cloth and local wool. Clothing would be mostly tough, simple and functional, intensively repaired and recycled. Regional factories would mass produce cloth simple machines, rope, leather, footwear, appliances. There would be use of woollen goods, from local sheep, via spinning and knitting as hobby/craft production. Belts, bags, harness from hand produced leather work. Mass production of work shoes etc in small local factories. Intensive repairing and recycling.
Materials. Many sources in the locality, including earth, herbs, timber, clay, insulation, wool, leather, fibres, plant sources of chemicals, oils, medicines, waxes, soaps, dyes, bamboo, stone, leather, feathers, rushes and reeds. Much use of wood and plant sources. Local timber plantations and small bush carpentry firms, mostly using hand tools. Sheep kept locally, used for fire break clearing, fertilizing, pets. Much material should come from village commons, i.e., land owned and worked collectively.
Leisure, entertainment. Much of this can be home and community based, including productive crafts, hobbies, drama groups, local musicians, courses, lectures, discussion groups, concerts, celebrations and festivals. There would be a leisure-rich landscape, including little farms and firms, artists, ponds, forests, and community facilities such as neighbourhood workshops, commons . Leisure committees would organise events.
These technically simple practices can provide most basic necessities quickly and easily, via households, small firms and cooperatives. The pace of life and work could be very relaxed; far less work needs to be done than is done at present. Most of the development, administration and maintenance of communities would be carried out through voluntary committees and working bees, and town meetings practising participatory democracy.
These ways require little or no capital, foreign investment, or trade. They mostly take place outside the market sphere and they make little contribution to the GDP. The role of the state should be to facilitate local development, by providing the infrastructures, materials that can’t be locally produced, such as steel, and by providing educational and advisory services.
Especially important in Appropriate Development are the collectivist spirit and institutions. Perhaps the most erroneous and vicious element in the dominant neo-liberal doctrine is the assumption that people must function as isolated entrepreneurs seeking to maximise their own welfare. A society cannot be made up of individuals pursuing self interest. A society only exists in so far as there are collective values, such as concern for the public good, the welfare of the other, public standards and institutions, and especially for the welfare of those less fortunate. Central in Appropriate Development are things like the commons, the ponds , quarries, community workshops, woodlots and plantations, water sheds, water distribution systems, waste recycling systems and edible landscapes which the community owns and manages for the good of all. This is done through the voluntary committees and working bees. Dependence on centralised authoritarian and distant bureaucracies is eliminated.
Thus Appropriate Development is essentially about communities taking control over the development and management of these collective infrastructures and arrangements. This can quickly and easily eliminate many problems, notably unemployment; all who want work can be given a share of the work that needs doing. But this is not possible unless communities collectively organise to share work…and obviously nothing like that can happen if labour is treated as a commodity to be used, priced and dumped according to the whims of market forces.
This is also the only way ecosystems will be protected, i.e., by people who realise that their welfare depends heavily on keeping their local sources of food and water in good shape.
Thus Appropriate Development can quickly raise all people to a high quality of life, even in the poorest regions. It might not be sufficient; it might not be able to meet all needs. There is always a need to produce some surplus for export in order to be able to import the few necessities that can’t be locally produced.
One wonders what conventional development economists from the left and the right would make of Ladakh, a region near Tibet where people live in extremely difficult conditions at around 14,000 ft, with only hand tools, animals and no modern technology, on an average GNP per capita of almost nothing. Yet this is a complex, culturally rich, and admirable society, with a great deal to teach the affluent societies about civility, humanity, community, social justice and ecological sustainability. (Norberg-Hodge, 1991).
The Ladakhis are kind and generous. They have extensive community support systems. They look after and value their old people, they have a rich spiritual life, a relaxed lifestyle, and robust and sustainable food producing systems despite fiercely cold winters and a short growing season. Their production is labour-intensive, yet the pace of work and life in general is relaxed, with much time for ceremonies and religious observance. No one is isolated or lonely, they do not waste but recycle everything, they have no interest in power, domination or competition. They are very conscious of their dependence on nature, they are multi-skilled and practical, and they live simply. There is no crime and no poverty and no drug problem and no social breakdown. Above all they are notoriously happy people.
A strong case could be made that the people of Ladakh have a far superior culture to that of the rich western countries. It is quite disturbing to ask of the Ladakhis “What development do they need?” The traditional Ladakh villages are in my view, more or less satisfactorily developed. A few possible technical changes suggest themselves, such as to do with improved infant health care and perhaps the introduction of more tree crops and windmills. But they do not need supermarkets, television, freeways, cars, throwaway products, and packaged imports, higher incomes or a higher GNP. In fact it is precisely the coming of these things, the penetration of Western economic forces, that is now rapidly destroying the ancient culture of Ladakh.
Ladakh’s impressive level of development has been achieved without movement down the dimension of increasing monetary value of production, sales, incomes, exports, etc and without accumulation of capital. It is due to the organisation of existing resources, especially the labour, skill and co-operative dispositions of the people into forms which enable easy, pleasant and secure production of the basic goods and services which provide them with a very high quality of life. The existence of Ladakh, and many other “primitive” and “peasant” societies confronts us with the serious mistake embodied in the assumption that development has to involve generations in suffering while capital is slowly, painfully and inequitably accumulated, and while most of the benefit of development flows to others.
Be very clear about the goal.
It is very important to accept that Appropriate Development is not a path to rich world living standards or "prosperity", a consumer society, glamorous cities, high incomes or great national wealth, power and prestige. The outcome will not be expensive possessions, palatial houses full of gadgets, or jet-away holidays. Some things will be produced much less "efficiently" than the transnational
corporations can produce them. "Living standards" will be far lower than they are in the rich countries. But this is not important for a high quality of life or an admirable society. The aim is to guarantee materially simple but satisfactory living standards to all, and to preserve culture, traditions and ecosystems.
It is not that we must reluctantly abandon the goal of developing to rich world affluence and must accept the low “living standards” of Appropriate Development as a compromise. We are strenuously rejecting the conventional goal, firstly because it is impossible for all to achieve and therefore condemns the world to alarming problems of deprivation, environmental destruction and conflict. More importantly we are rejecting consumer society because The Simpler Way is far more satisfying, because living simply in a highly self-sufficient community, devoting most of your time to arts and crafts and gardening and community activities is far more rewarding than competing frantically to survive and succeed in consumer society. The Simpler Way is a far superior culture compared to that of consumer society.
Appropriate Development is of course a mortal threat to the interests of transnational corporations and banks, Third World elites, and people who shop in the supermarkets of the rich countries. It is incompatible with globalisation, and with some of the fundamental elements in Western culture, such as notions of progress, “living standards”,the supremacy of competitive individualism, and especially acquisitiveness and wealth seeking.
How can Appropriate Development take place? How can it begin? It will not be initiated by officials. It is being initiated and it can only be built by ordinary people turning away from the conventional path and just doing it. The Zapatistas do not even recognise conventional theory and practice; they are just getting on with their own form of development.
Daily one is confronted by the distressing images of impoverished, suffering millions of people –who are idle while surrounded by abundant productive capacity. Consider the “drug mules” of Columbia, desperately poor people who swallow heroin capsules and ferry them into the US, taking huge risks in order to provide for their families. Or people who have to sell some of their children. Or those who sit on the sidewalk all day trying to sell a few shoelaces or boxes of matches. Or those who pick your tea or the cocoa for our chocolate on wages we couldn’t survive on. All that is lacking in these situations is the organisation and harnessing of the available productive capacity, and the main factor blocking that organisation is the lack of an Appropriate Development vision.
Billions of people are trapped and enslaved in conditions of appalling poverty, exploitation and oppression not by the guns and prisons of the dominating classes, but by the belief that development equals conventional-capitalist development. The single most powerful action that can be taken towards emancipation for the Third World is to help people to understand and reject the vicious ideology that is conventional-capitalist development theory and practice, and to realise that there is another way. The supremely important task for anyone claiming to be concerned about the fate of the Third World is to help people to the Alternative Development vision.