Volume 44, Number 175,
October-December 2013
Challenging Conventional Economics:
An Ethical Development Paradigm
Nikos Astroulakis

The overall premise of this study is that situating development ethics in the context of social economics produces a new alternative to mainstream economics, centered on the social and human aspects of the development ethics paradigm.

This section begins with a brief introduction to the history and intellectual foundation of development ethics and how it can be integrated with social economics. Development ethics first arose as an independent field of study in the area of social sciences in the mid-twentieth century, proposed by Louis Joseph Lebret (1897-1966), a social scientist, philosopher and Dominican priest, made famous by his student Denis Goulet (1931-2006), a social economist, philosopher and activist. Working from Lebret's ideas, Goulet essentially founded and formulated the field of development ethics. Its objective is to produce growth at the local, national and international levels. Development ethics encompasses social problems on the global scale, like poverty, environmental destruction, resource imbalances, injustice and the dual nature of the world economy. Development ethics explores questions such as: What do people consider to be a “good society”? Is there a single path for all societies and individuals? How are decisions made within societies and on the global scale? And, what is the relationship between human needs and desires? Development ethics is therefore commonly defined as a moral reflection on the ends and means of local, national and global development (Goulet, 1975 [1971]); 1997; 2006; Crocker, 2008). In the words of the person who coined this term, "development ethics functions as a kind of ‘disciplined eclecticism’ [...], eclectic in its choice of subject matter but disciplined in its study of it” (Goulet, 1997: 1168).

Development ethics and social economics share points of view that oppose the positivism of conventional economics. For development ethicists, the problem of development is seen not only in strict terms of growth defined as the material expansion of welfare, but also in the qualitative enrichment of human beings in all relevant aspects of human life. "Authentic development is a process of achieving material and social benefits to enrich the lives of the majority of the population" (Goulet, 2006: 161). Conventional economists believe that it is a positive science, while social scientists argue that "the fundamental concern of social economics is to explain the economy in overall terms [...] This explanation includes cultural, political and ethical aspects as required for full understanding” (Waters, 1988: 113). By contrast, development ethicists add something else to the pluralist perspective of social economics. Development ethics strongly agrees with the nature of economics in terms of the context of social economics, as an interdisciplinary field that links social sciences and humanities by including economic, political, cultural, institutional, ideological and ethical aspects of society and individuals.

It is important to understand how mainstream economics defines development in order to separate and distinguish it from development ethics in the context of an alternative type of social economics. A good society is generally thought of as the final stage of development. Based on the framework of mainstream economics, the completion of development is determined by the quantity of savings that lead to investments and growth of the gross domestic product (gdp) by increasing material consumption in terms of the economic welfare and maximization of individual utility. This text argues that the perspective of mainstream economics on development contains an ideological and ethical imperialism.

More specifically, conventional economics believes that the end of development is a good and prosperous society, like Western society. Conventional economists hold that nations achieve development through economic growth and the consumption of goods and services. They overwhelmingly believe that the more an individual or society consumes, the more standards of living improve. In general, the theory of economic growth measures development through the gdp growth rate, and this is the means by which to achieve this type of good society. In response to the question of how this can be achieved, mainstream economists would say that the amount of savings a nation has leads to, through investment, gdp growth, as is predicted by Solow's (1956) endogenous growth model. Consequently, these mainstream economists believe that a higher gdp reflects greater economic growth and generates human welfare. As a result, the more the gdp increases, the greater the level of development and the better the society.

On the other hand, there is welfare theory, which uses the utility function to measure individual satisfaction. This is mainly determined by the consumption of goods and services, and the possession of wealth and leisure time. DeMartino (2000: 47) points out that “welfarism appears to free [mainstream] economists from the burden of making value judgments.” Mainstream economists do not pay enough attention to the notion of “equality” precisely because they embrace economics as a positive, value-free science. For example, Kaplow and Shavell (2002: xvii) argue that social decision-making should be exclusively based on welfare theory and should not depend on equality, justice and/or “similar concepts.” By contrast, DeMartino (2000: 49) declares that “given the objective of achieving value-free science, the result is unsurprising: the question of inequality and what distribution is inherently fair is because the need is full of values.” In this mainstream economic framework, ethical issues such as political and social topics and economic dualism, human participation in decision-making, social institutions, the role of technology, science and innovation, social distribution and inequality, human desires and needs, values, power relations, culture, social and individual diversity, the environment and solidarity are usually reduced to matters of secondary importance in discussions concerning development.

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PROBLEMAS DEL DESARROLLO. REVISTA LATINOAMERICANA DE ECONOMÍA, Volume 49, Number 194 July-September 2018 is a quarterly publication by the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Ciudad Universitaria, Coyoacán, CP 04510, México, D.F. by Instituto de Investigaciones Económicas, Circuito Mario de la Cueva, Ciudad Universitaria, Coyoacán,
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