Back to development
Jaime Ornelas Delgado*

A country may be under-developed in the sense that its technology is backward, when compared with that of other countries, or in the sense that its institutions are relatively unfavourable to investment, or in the sense that capital resources per head are low when compared with say Western Europe, or in the sense that output per head is low, or in the sense that it has valuable natural resources (minerals, water, soil) which it has not yet begun to use” (Lewis, 1955:19-20).

In general, the research conclusions reached by economists, of both neoclassical and Keynesian thinking, were powerful: hard data showed the difference between underdevelopment and development. In the former, the levels of savings prevalent in developed countries were lacking and those in existence were always scare and squandered on luxury expenditure, preventing their productive use; education in underdevelopment was very low, so that “a pre-Newtonian attitude towards the fiscal world prevails,” and there was a lack of awareness of the advantages of technological applications in the productive process; corruption, which if supposedly non-existent in central countries, was a cancer in those on the periphery. While developed countries created institutions to promote economic growth and productivity, institutions were maintained and created in underdeveloped countries that were one more obstacle to development. To top it all, various “scientific theories” were devised to show that racial factors played a determining role in the difference between development and underdevelopment.

Furthermore, through their “theorists” and “scientists” developed nations called for underdeveloped nations to be, where possible, like them, to overcome prejudice, primitive culture and backward civilization, and follow the same paths as Western society. For this their theorists, Neoclassicists and Keynesians offered the tools that would help.

The measures that were devised to show the levels of economic growth and wellbeing reached by central nations did not take diversity into account and in an attempt to homogenize, ended up categorizing development as a set of quantifiable indices, inferior or negative compared to the superior and positive indices of developed societies in the West.

Comparing these measures it was concluded that underdevelopment was simply an inferior stage of development, which all countries had to pass through, a stage that could only be surpassed if the “traditional” and undeveloped society was capable of assuming the values of Western-Christian culture. In the words of Samuel Huntington:

The world is in some sense two, but the central distinction is between the West as the hitherto dominant civilization and all the others, which, however, have little if anything in common with them. The world, in short, is divided between a Western one and a non-Western many (Huntington, [1996] 2003: 36).

However, the problem of non-Western nations is how to overcome underdevelopment and it appears the only solution is to be more like the West. In particular, when Latin America was the object of metropolitan theorist study, their analyses emphasized all that was not the same as developed nations rather than focusing on the characteristics of the region, putting forward examples such as cultural incapacity, unacceptable depravity and different forms of native resistance to being similar to developed Western nations. Western nations were presumed, for example, to have a powerful “saving culture” that made substantial resources available to them that could be productively invested, or to cultivate a high level of scientific and technological know-how to be applied to productive processes – an indispensable attitude in the underdeveloped world-, as well as to have a cultural, civilized, individualist and modern ideal, non-existent in the Latin American community, which was tied to a culture that lacked the modernity required for development.

It was Harry S. Truman, president of the United States between 1945 and 1952, who would divide the world into two: the developed and the underdeveloped, suggesting from the imperialist viewpoint that the latter – by degrees or by force- should follow the growth model of the former (Gonçalves, 238: 45).

The level of underdevelopment in periphery nations was determined by quantifying the shortfalls prevalent in periphery countries, by means of the measures devised and utilized by European nations and the United States to measure their own development. In this context, Rostow’s alternative idea of development was not only the best option but the only path to progress: development was the first stage that they, like all societies must passed through, initiating take-off to overcome difficulties, assuming the values of Western culture, or abandoning their origins and ceasing to be what they were in order to assume the capitalist rationale and so begin their history. Naturally, Latin America does not belong to Western civilization and its history began when it was “discovered” by and for capitalism (Huntington, [1995]2005: 53).

Viewed in this way, development was conceived of as a kind of civilizing crusade, facing the barbarism of cultures foreign to the West, a state that impeded development; 6 On the other hand, “The expansion of the West has promoted both the modernization and the Westernization of non-Western societies” (Huntington, [1996] 2003: 72).

6 According to Samuel Huntington, “The idea of civilization was developed by eighteenth-century French thinkers as the opposite of the concept of “barbarism.” Civilized society differed from primitive society because it was settled, urban and literate. To be civilized was good, to be uncivilized was bad. The concept of civilization provided a standard to judge societies, and during the nineteenth-century, Europeans devoted much intellectual, diplomatic and political energy to elaborating the criteria by which non-European societies might be judged sufficiently “civilized” to be accepted as members of the European-dominated international system” (Huntington, 1996/ 2003: 40-41).