International Coalition "For Humanism!"
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Ted Trainer

Visiting Fellow, Univ. of NSW. Kensington, Australia. 30.3.05


The speech for the IX conference of the Coalition "For Humanism!"

The vast development literature, at both academic and activist levels fails to attend to the distinction between the overwhelmingly dominant conventional conception of development, and what might be termed Appropriate Development. Indeed even critics of development theory and practice, notably among the NGOs and on the political left, unwittingly adhere firmly to the conventional, capitalist conception of development and show little sign of recognising that any other is possible.

The purpose of the following discussion is to make clear the enormous difference between these two conceptions, to argue that conventional or capitalist development causes and cannot solve the Third World’s major problems, and that the alternative path could easily do so…if the power and interests of those who currently benefit from capitalist development could be overcome.

Following are some of the core taken-for-granted elements in the dominant conception of development (indented, in bold type), followed by critical comment and the alternative view.

    Development, progress and improving human welfare are essentially about increasing the amount of goods and service people can buy. The more that can be produced and sold the more wealth and benefit there is.

    Development is therefore basically about increasing the volume of business turnover, i.e. the volume of production for sale, and thus the GDP. In other words economic growth is more or less equivalent to development, or at least its overwhelmingly important element

Firstly consider the extreme narrowness in not only identifying development as a predominantly economic business, but of assuming that of all the important elements of an economy the only thing that matters is whether sales are increasing. Obviously development should be about improving all aspects of a society, including the quality of food and water and health services, the opportunities for leisure and cultural activity, the level of debate and discussion, the processes for government and administration, the moral standards, the geographic and aesthetic conditions in which people live, citizenship and social responsibility, social cohesion, equity, concern for those less fortunate, the quality of life, security, ecological sustainability, and especially improving the conditions of the poorest. When within this wide area we com to think about the economy, the goal should be to improve it, not just to indiscriminately enlarging it all the time.

Secondly, the indiscriminate element in the conventional approach to development is seriously mistaken. It says “Don’t worry about what to develop – just free capitalists and markets to decide.” But a sensible discussion of development must begin with crucial questions such as, what do we want produced first, where should development resources be focused to do most good, what should we make sure is not developed, what kind of economy do we want to build, and when will we know we have a satisfactorily developed economy? Increasing the amount people can buy might be relevant, but it is far from the whole or the central point. Appropriate development is not possible unless deliberate decisions are made about goals and means and deliberate action taken to develop what’s socially desirable, and often this will require contradicting and preventing what capitalists and free markets would do.

In other words, Approriate development focuses on developing what is needed, and that is totally different from development defined as facilitating whatever will maximise GDP or business turnover. Many regions that have high rates of growth of GDP have had very little or no improvement in the conditions of the poor, and there are some remarkable cases where the “poorest” people have a high quality of life despite extremely low GDP per capita, such as Kerala and Ladakh (below.).

In fact the relation between growth and Appropriate Development is in general strongly contradictory. If the goal is to maximise GDP this will actually prevent appropriate development, because it will ensure that development resources will go into producing what will maximise sales to people with money, not into what will most satisfy urgent needs. Hence 60 years of conventional development have greatly enriched the rich while the Fourth World of more than 1 billion people are now stagnating or going backwards. About forty countries now have lower GDP per capita than they had 20 years ago.

To define development as increasing the GDP is precisely what suits the rich, because it puts top priority on the freedom to invest in developing what is most profitable and will result in most sales, on freedom for those with more purchasing power to gear production to their demand, and on structuring Third World economies to supply goods to the rich countries. All of these are exactly what the owners of capital and what consumers in rich countries want but they obviously shift Third World productive capacity from meeting the needs of Third world people to meeting the demand of rich world investors and consumers.

Some of the most appropriate development initiatives would dramatically reduce the GDP. For example if some of the land growing luxury crops like coffee to export to rich countries was transferred to the production of food by and for local people, the GDP would drop.

Thus the more that increasing the GDP is taken as the goal of development, the more inappropriate the resulting development will be. Increasing the GDP is not a goal of Appropriate Development; some of its elements may increase the production of some items for sale, but others will reduce it considerably. A well-developed Thailand for instance would have far less work, production, trade, foreign investment and GDP than it has at present.

    Development results from the investment of capital. Therefore it is necessary to persuade people with capital to invest, or to borrow it.

    What is developed is decided by those who own capital. Governments must attract owners of capital in to invest.

In our society capital is mostly owned by a very few people and they decide what is to be developed by investing their capital in whatever will maximise their incomes.

The concept of Appropriate Development recognises that there can be an important role for capital, and it is not opposed to foreign investment and loans. But it emphatically rejects “capitalist” development. There are two crucial points here. Firstly it is farcical to assume that if you allow the things to be developed in your country to be determined by what will most enrich a few already extremely rich people living on the other side of the world then you will get development of things that are most likely to meet your most urgent needs!

What you will get of course is development of enterprises that will use your land, resources and labour to produce luxuries to export to rich world supermarkets, at the lowest possible return to you. And if you are one of the perhaps 50 countries where transnational corporations can’t maximise their profits producing anything at all, then you will get no development at all.

This is absurd, morally repugnant, literally catastrophic, and totally avoidable. All those fifty countries have immense productive capacity and could have developed into very satisfactory societies without any poverty and with thriving economies and rich cultural systems and a good quality of life for all, if development had been conceived in terms of putting those resources into producing to meet needs.

But the second point is much more important. Appropriate Development rejects the assumption that capital is important or a necessary factor for development. (Note that even Marxists take capitalist development for granted; they assume that there can’t be development without investment of capital, although they do not want the capital to be privately owned.)

This is the fundamental contradiction between conventional and Appropriate Development. Little or no money capital is needed for the development that can meet basic needs and provide all with a good quality of life. All the resources necessary for this are there, in the land and labour of the people. All that is needed is the organisation that an Appropriate Development vision brings, so that people work together to devote the productive resources around them immediately and directly to producing what they need.

Hence the painfully tragic situation constantly visible wherein millions of people suffer malnutrition, poor housing, inadequate water supply, poverty, unemployment, depression, illness etc., while there are all around them abundant food producing resources, house building resources, etc.

It is not that poor people never understand any of this. Many pursue Appropriate Development as best they can. The problem is mostly that the rich, especially the rich countries, will not permit Appropriate Development. (Detailed below.)

    Therefore, plunge into the market! In order to acquire things money must be earned by the production of something that can be sold. In order for the country to be able to pay for development and to acquire goods, it must earn from exporting.

    The process of development is best determined by market forces. Market forces maximise efficiency in the allocation of resources. Market forces must determine what is produced, who gets it and what is developed. Non-market exchanges must be eliminated. All productive items, including land, must be made into commodities for sale in a market. Productive activities which take the form of “subsistence” outside the market must be moved into it.

The market system could play a (minor) role in a satisfactory economy, but the market is directly responsible for most of the poverty, suffering, conflict, ecological destruction and underdevelopment in the world. This is because market forces ignore need and what is just or appropriate or ecologically necessary, and respond only to monetary bids. In a market system things go to those who can pay most. Market systems for allocating things or deciding what is to be developed are therefore precisely what rich people, corporations, banks and consumers want…because market systems guarantee that they can take all the available resources while the poor get few if any. Thus each person in America gets about 26 barrels of the world’s scarce oil every year while the poorest one billion people get almost none of it. Thus 600 million tonnes of grain, a third of world production, is fed to animals in rich countries every year while more than 1 billion people are malnourished. These crucial contradictions are direct and inevitable consequences of the fact that we have a global economy in which who gets resources is determined by market forces. That is the way of proceeding that obviously enables the richest few to take what the poor need.

Even worse, when market forces are allowed to determine what is developed the productive capacity of the Third World is devoted not to producing what Third World people need, but to what consumers in rich countries want. A glaring illustration is the fact that more than half the best Third World land grows luxury crops to export to rich countries. Similarly, most of the factories on their land produce goods to export, not things their people need.

Advocates of the market claim that it is the most “efficient” way of allocating things. But this is true only if “efficient” is defined merely in terms of what will make most profit. If on the other hand your goal is to meet human and ecological need, then obviously the market is the most appallingly inefficient system!

Consider the benefit that “trickles down” to the people from this arrangement. People in Bangladesh producing shirts are paid 15 c an hour, part of which they must then spend buying from supermarkets owned by rich world corporations. They would be far better off if most of their work time could be going into the production of necessities in small local farms and firms they owned. But rich countries and their agencies such as the World Bank simply will not allow this -- development is only allowed to take the form that suits corporations seeking to maximise profits according to market forces. The Banks Structural Adjustment Packages expressly prohibit anything else, and they dismantle any other arrangements governments might have had in place, especially subsidies for poorer people. The only form of development they permit and enforce is development of precisely what suits corporations and rich world consumers.

Just think what would happen if markets were not allowed to determine allocation and governments decided what was to be developed and who was to get the things produced. Good governments would make sure that their people got the wealth the land produces. Bad governments would make sure that the local ruling elites got most of it. Either way rich world corporations and consumers would get less! So that’s not acceptable to them –- they want a system that enables them to get most of the available wealth. Having market forces determine who gets it not only ensures the rich get the wealth, but it legitimises the process; -- it makes it seem OK because everyone is free to bid in the market. (This is why the rich world spokespeople, notably President Bush, constantly harp on the importance of “freedom”. What they mean however is only the freedom of the rich to take what they want and invest in what they want, as distinct from the freedom of poor people to escape hunger or to produce for themselves what they need.)

Obviously the development of what is appropriate in view of the urgent needs of people, societies and ecosystems is not possible unless a great deal of production and distribution and investment takes place contrary to market forces. Many things should be developed that are not very profitable and many things should be developed that can never pay. The general principle is that market forces prevent appropriate development. Yet again, conventional development theory totally rules out any “interference with market forces.”

Another serious fault with a market economy is that it pits us all against each other as individual competitors in the market place. But the best way for humans to do things is cooperatively. Most things work out much better if they are done by people working together, pooling their capacities, striving for the common good, and making sure that all are looked after and no one is dumped or trampled. But conventional economics all disqualifies all collective values. Again this suits the rich and powerful very nicely – they don’t want people to get together to take control over their situation – they want everyone to compete as isolated individuals against them, the rich, in the market where the rich can win and take what they like.

Thus, Appropriate Development rejects the absurd conventional economic assumption that the best for all results if individuals compete against each other pursuing their self-interest in free markets. In a satisfactory society there could be much freedom for individuals, many small private firms, and a (minor) role for market forces (under careful social control), but the main institutions and procedures would have to be basically cooperative and collective, and there would have to be considerable regulation of the economy.

    Plunge into the global economy! Individuals and nations must find something to produce and sell, because they can’t expect to be able to acquire anything unless they have been able to sell something, including labour. So, crank up some export industries, and entice in foreign investment. Trade! That’s crucial if you are to be able to accumulate capital, pay for imports, and for loans and infrastructure development.

Again the fundamental mistake is the assumption that the only thing that matters is getting money and using it to buy things. This totally ignores the key to Appropriate Development, which is the immense capacity for self sufficiency outside the monetary economy. Conventional development theory and practice have no interest in the fact that households, communities, localities and nations can easily produce for themselves most of what they need outside the monetary economy and with almost no dependence on capital or markets or corporations or banks. (They might not produce as “efficiently” as distant corporations, but that is of no consequence.) The main purpose of this paper is to drive this point home and it will be elaborated below.

Thus a core principle of Appropriate Development is, minimise economic connections with the rich countries and the global economy. Borrow very little if anything. Export only a few surpluses in order to be able to import only a few important items. Allow foreign investors into your nation only if they will agree to produce necessities on your terms. Maximise local and national self-sufficiency. This principle enables security from the devastation the global economy can instantly inflict if export prices fall or if capital moves out. No matter what happens to coffee prices or on Wall St you can continue to provide most if not all you need for a high quality of life.

    Globalisation is good. It brings a bigger, more unified and integrated world market into which Third World countries can export and from which they can purchase from the cheapest suppliers.

Globalisation has been a massive catastrophe for the poorest half of the world’s people. (For extensive documentation see .) It forces the poorest and weakest to compete with the very strongest for resources and markets. It prohibits Third World governments from regulating, protecting, assisting or intervening, that is it prevents them from taking control of their own development. Development is only of whatever corporations want to develop and unless governments assist this their country will be boycotted by investors and banks and the World Trade Organisation. Globalisation enables the corporations to come in take all the resources, markets and businesses they wish. Globalisation forces poor countries to compete against each other to export resources to rich countries as cheaply as possible. Globalisation enables the corporations to destroy businesses and livelihoods, by taking the sales and putting local people out of work. Globalisation allows the corporations to take over industries meeting basic needs such as water supply, and maximise profits by jacking up prices and cutting supply to the poor. If governments resist they come under massive attack from rich world institutions; e.g., they will be cut out of trade and cut off from loans.

    Development is slow. Development problems can’t be solved quickly because capital can’t be accumulated quickly.

    Development is uneven. Some people and sectors will develop more rapidly than others. Inequalities will increase. Those rich in the first place will gain more.

Conventional development has seen significant improvements in Third World living conditions over the last 60 years. Averages for infant mortality, literacy rates and life expectancy have improved greatly. However the fact that significant progress has been made does not mean that conventional development is satisfactory. The major criticisms of the situation are:-

As has been explained, most of the benefit has gone to the rich in the Third world and especially to the rich countries and their corporations. Conventional development delivers only a miniscule fraction of the wealth generated to Third World people. Appropriate development would produce far less increase in GDP, but all of the benefit would go to the people in proportion to their needs.

The rate of improvement is extremely slow. Let’s ignore the many countries where GDP per person is actually falling. In the other cases the real incomes of most people would take 30 to 100 years to double, and after 60 years of this path half of the world’s people would still have an average income of about $800! Thus it is a grossly unsatisfactory rate of development even when narrowly defined in dollar income terms.

Consider how intolerably slowly conventional development benefits most people. Assume that the poorest billion are increasing their $1 a day incomes at 1% p.a. It would take them 350 years to rise to $25 a day, and it would take something like 200 years for them to rise to the present average income in rich countries.

A development model should be judged mainly by how well it solves the most urgent problems, i.e., improves the conditions of the poorest. Yet there is a great deal of evidence that conventional development is making those conditions worse.

Appropriate Development enables all people to meet basic needs and to achieve a good quality of life in a few years if not months. There is no excuse for anyone being left behind, let alone to have to wait generations until satisfactory conditions trickle down from the obscenely rich.

Clearly therefore, conventional development is a process of expropriation…of taking wealth from others. Once Third World people had all the land and forests and fish…now they have hardly any of these while the wealth they produce mostly flows out to rich people far away. That is theft, but it is disguised because it mostly happens via the normal working of market system. Conventional development has developed the Third World into a state whereby it produces mostly for the benefit of the rich. Conventional development is therefore best described as a form of plunder.

    The ultimate goal of development is to become like the rich countries, with high material “living standards” and GDP, and with predominantly “modern” or Western ways.

This is the most ignored element in the entire discussion of development. This goal of conventional development is totally impossible. There are nothing like enough resources on the planet for all people to rise to present rich world living standards” and rates of resource use – let alone those the rich countries will have as they continue to pursue growth. (See “The Limits to Growth analysis" .)

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 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 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.

    Consider Ladakh.

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.

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