| Evolutions in Development Thinking & the Rise of a New Politics

Our lives are built around trade-offs.

Sometimes the trade-offs are easy to understand, simple everyday decisions about what we purchase and what activities we choose to do. Sometimes we don’t have enough money to purchase exactly what we want, or enough time to do everything we desire.

More often the trade-offs are complex. This is especially true of government policy. Should the US raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour? What are the impacts of Brexit on Britain? Would a carbon tax do enough to limit climate change? For each of these issues there are many competing interests. Who gains? Who loses? How do you weigh those benefits and costs and balance them for the general good?

Sometimes the trade-offs are unknownable. The simplest and most extreme example is climate change.  We have always understood that there were trade-offs between manufacturing and mass production on the one hand, and environmental degradation on the other. Yet our ability to understand climate change has slowly evolved over the past forty years. We can now recognize that the creation of a modern way of life had detrimental, and unknowable, side-effects.

This is the challenge. How do we come to terms with the trade-offs which must occur? How do we weight the benefits and costs of complex decisions? How do we think about and address the unintended and unknowable consequences of change?

Living locally in a global world.

The world we live in calls for engagement in social, political, cultural, and economic issues. These issues have local impacts but increasingly must be understood as part of global trends.

  • Financial flows and government debt
  • Imports and wage decline
  • Unemployment and outsourcing
  • Severe weather events and energy

These are just a few issues that are increasingly linked through globalization. As distance and time become compressed (the essence of globalization), this integration becomes ever more complex.

This process of global transformation is best captured through the field of (as it is variously called): development, international development, or development economics. Tracking the evolution of this field helps give guidance to how communities around the world (including the United States) are impacted by globalization.

People across the globe are asking: How do we move forward? How do we solve problems?

Beyond progress, is there a sustainable future?

A major premise of this blog is that we are currently driven forward by the modern ideal of progress. I refer to it as ‘the ideal’ because the semantics, how we talk about progress, is most often pie-in-the-sky aspirations or representations. Progress by it’s very definition can’t be bad, right?

Progress in the real world, however, remains goal-less and undefinable. Automation of jobs is seen as progress, but are people who drop out of the labor market also part of this “progress”? Should progress value technology over people?

There’s a certain absurdity to an ideology which has on one side of a coin positive change, the other side negative change, but somehow ends up calling the entire coin progress. It is this absurdity which has allowed exploitation to flourish.

I want to explore how sustainability can be defined in a way that creates a world that builds upon the foundation of progress as learning and knowledge, but which gives direction and guidance.

I don’t suspect that sustainability will be less challenging. Indeed, sustainability, like life, must be more heterogenous and complicated, and therefore more challenging than progress, though with better overall outcomes.

We hold the future in our hands.

The goal of this blog is two-fold.

First is to come up with new ways of thinking about sustainable development. I want to drag sustainability through the mud and see what it looks like after.

Second is to explore a new type of politics. One that crosses boundaries; between parties, and peoples, and nations. It is a politics that is both pragmatic, and mindful.

We hold the future in our hands. How will we shape it?