Development: The Book Definition

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In our first editorial in this three-part series on development, we explored the common man’s view of development. We said that not having set foot in a classroom was no indication that a man does not know development (or the lack thereof) when he sees it. We established that when he watches a European football match or an American movie, he sees and recognizes development. As such, we argued that leaders should not underestimate or mistake the unlettered for uneducated. Constituents know what they need and expect — good roads, good schools, a clean environment, development.

In our second editorial in the series, we defined development at the national as well as the personal level. We also said, however, that the technical specifics of it may vary from nation to nation. For America, it may mean ending its dependence on Arab oil. For Liberia it may mean roads, schools, etc. But we did argue that the world over, development is all the people ever want out of their leaders. Not promises but tangible, sustainable development.

In this final piece in the Development series, we want to explore the official, book definition(s) of development to see whether that of the common man holds any water book wise.

To that end, our first source was the Business Dictionary, which gave us a four-fold definition of development:
1.) The systematic use of scientific and technical knowledge to meet specific objectives or requirements.
2.) An extension of the theoretical or practical aspects of a concept, design, discovery, or invention.
3.) The process of economic and social transformation that is based on complex cultural and environmental factors and their interactions.
4.) The process of adding improvements to a parcel of land, such as grading, subdivisions, drainage, access, roads, utilities.

The Business Dictionary went on to define a Developed Economy as:

“An economy enjoying sustained economic growth and security. Some of the common characteristics of a developed economy are low birth rate and higher life expectancy, high level of literacy and a well trained workforce and the export of high value added goods. High gross domestic product is also a common measure of a developed economy.”

Our second source, the site Globalization101.org, provided a more qualitative definition of development:

“The term ‘development’ in international parlance… encompasses the need and the means by which to provide better lives for people in poor countries. It includes not only economic growth, although that is crucial, but also human development—providing for health, nutrition, education, and a clean environment.”

Finally, we went to the Center for Global Development, which provided a most comprehensive definition:

“Traditional welfare economics had focused on incomes as the main measure of well-being until [the] ground-breaking work [of Nobel-prize winning economist Amartya Sen] in the 1980’s which showed that that poverty involved a wider range of deprivations in health, education and living standards which were not captured by income alone. His ‘capabilities approach’ led to introduction of the UN Human Development Index, and subsequently the Multidimensional Poverty Index, both of which aim to measure development in this broader sense. Then in 1999 Sen moved the goalposts again with his argument that freedoms constitute not only the means but the ends in development.

“Sen’s view is now widely accepted: development must be judged by its impact on people, not only by changes in their income but more generally in terms of their choices, capabilities and freedoms; and we should be concerned about the distribution of these improvements, not just the simple average for a society.

“But to define development as an improvement in people’s well-being does not do justice to what the term means to most of us. Development also carries a connotation of lasting change. Providing a person with a bednet or a water pump can often be an excellent, cost-effective way to improve her well-being, but if the improvement goes away when we stop providing the bednet or pump, we would not normally describe that as development.

This suggests that development consists of more than improvements in the well-being of citizens, even broadly defined: it also conveys something about the capacity of economic, political and social systems to provide the circumstances for that well-being on a sustainable, long-term basis.

“Development is instead a system-wide manifestation of the way that people, firms, technologies and institutions interact with each other within the economic, social and political system.”

We rest our case, as does the common man.

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