Capitalism's Impending Dangers for Global Humane Development

The author suggests that development models influenced by the capitalist model of development overlooks nonmaterial dimensions of development and underdevelopment. As a consequence of this, social sciences, which are shaped by capitalist concerns also, do not examine the negative consequences of colonization on underdeveloped societies. The problem is not just ideological it is also epistemological. Positive social science, according to the author an offshoot of capitalism, is also unable to comprehend the most important consequence of colonization - other underdevelopment - the underdevelopment of the cultural symbols, psychology, and language of the colonized societies. The author advances a model that will help include an analysis of cultural symbolic underdevelopment in the study of development and underdevelopment of societies. 

Development in the Third World

In the last three decades, most Third World countries had unimpressive, disastrous, or even tragic development experiences. The burden of underdevelopment, in Ali Mami's terms, is probably most felt and experienced in black Africa. The human misery in countries like Somalia, Ethiopia, and Sudan has become all too familiar to the whole world, especially through television news reports. Droughts, internal conflicts, and the AIDS epidemic have certainly contributed to the deteriorated state of many African countries. These factors, however, are hardly adequate to account for the ugly state of affairs that prevails in several African countries in the last few years. Their grim situation could have surely been otherwise had development achieved some measure of success. Nation building has been anything but a success story in these countries. Nevertheless, the pessimistic image of development in Somalia, Ethiopia, and Sudan represents the extreme case of failure in the development of the Third World. 

On the other extreme, there are a few developing countries whose development performance has been impressive. Geographically they are situated in Southeast Asia. South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Indonesia, and Thailand have embarked on serious economic and industrial growth. In fact, in the near future they are expected to become rivals to Japan in the Pacific.

In general, however, the state of development in the Third World is very bleak. Those who have seriously studied developing countries believe that the experiences in those societies have been largely unsuccessful. The following quote is a good description of the situation:

In the early 1990s, the community of scholars devoted to the study of Third World development resembles in many respects its 1960s counterpart. The decade of the sixties began thirty years ago with a pervasive sense of optimism that in the new and modernizing nations of Asia, Africa and Latin America, the processes of enlightenment and democratization will have their inevitable way, but it gave way increasingly to disillusionment and loss of theoretical direction. Coups d’e’tat, once thought of as a Latin American phenomenon, become regular occurrences in other parts of the world, particularly Africa and the Middle East. Rates of economic growth in many countries were unimpressive despite foreign aid, and even in rapidly industrializing states such as Brazil, South Africa and Iran, long-term prospects for social equality and political democracy appeared poor. 

With the state of Third World development as briefly described, an intellectual crisis of development theorists of different social science orientations and schools has surfaced. Modernization and dependency social science theorists, in particular, whose credibility has been challenged, have embarked on a fundamental reevaluation of their paradigm.

Capitalism’s Leading Posture in Global Development

The collapse of socialism as an ideology and socioeconomic political system in its place of birth (the former Soviet Union and the socialist block of eastern Europe) has opened the way for Western capitalist domination throughout many societies, both as a superstructure and an infrastructure. The apparent victory of capitalism as a Liberal socioeconomic and democratic political system has prompted Francis Fukuyama to describe this critical historical system shift as the “end of history.” According to this American author, modern Western industrial capitalist Liberal and democratic societies have proven now, beyond any doubt, that their economic sociopolitical system is superior to the socialist system that was in practice in eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. History has ended in the sense there is no more room for large ideological battles. Liberal democracy is not merely triumphant, it is simply what there is, and all there can be. Literally, there is no more room for debate over fundamentals. The crystallization of the so-called New World Order has put an end to the cold war between the two major superpowers, the United States and the former Soviet Union. 

These historical global transformations have favored capitalism as the economic sociopolitical system to become the model to be imitated and adopted, not only in the former socialist eastern European block, but also in many of today’s developing societies. Though in the last few years democracy has been gaining ground in many Third World countries, the democratization process has not been smooth. Democracy has known many setbacks here and there in the developing nations. For example, in January 1992, fearing a victory by Le Front Islamique de Salut (FIS), the Algerian government cancelled the second voting phase of the legislative election. This notoriously undemocratic event in Algeria is just one among many that have occurred in the newly independent nations that have been experimenting with democracy. 

On the economic front, socialist-oriented or state-run economies of the Third World have increasingly given way to the practices of market economy. This enhanced position held by capitalism since the collapse of socialism requires a reassessment of the relationship between capitalism and development. This relationship can be examined through the formulation of two questions:


1. Is capitalism the ideal model that best promotes the development projects that societies really need?
2. Can the capitalism of today’s advanced Western societies help the cause of development in less developed countries?


Jointly put, the two questions add up to this question: How promising, credible, and safe is the use of capitalism as a promoter of development on a more or less worldwide scale?

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