Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Tension of Economic Development

Every now and then some analyst is bold enough to consider whether or not the hostilities in the "developing" world may actually be due to the efforts of industrialized nations to provide the "benefits" of "economic development" (all scare quotes intentional). This argument generally leads to an extended critical analysis of the activities of "development" organizations, such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, which usually culminates in some set of hard existential question concerning the raison d'être of those institutions. One would think that such a perspective is basically a consequence of the massive rethinking of values induced by what appears to be an increasing wave of terrorist attacks in general and 9/11 in particular.
As one who believes that the old books still have much to offer, I was somewhat amused to discover that this particular brand of critical thinking predates all of the current institutions, if not the institutionalization of economic aid itself. I am currently reading Friedrich Nietzsche's Thus Spoke Zarathustra (in Walter Kaufmann's translation for The Portable Nietzsche) and, in a section entitled "On the Pitying," I came across the following sentence:
Great indebtedness does not make men grateful, but vengeful; and if a little charity is not forgotten, it turns into a gnawing worm.
One way to approach the current critical analysis is that all of the well-intentioned minds behind the World Bank and International Monetary Fund could never conceive that any of their actions would turn into Nietzsche's "gnawing worm;" but the hypothesis that every act of terrorism can be attributed to another chomp by that worm seems worthy of consideration.
Consider, by way of an alternative, the Grameen model of banking introduced by Muhammad Yunus. This model is less concerned with turning the entire world into a market-driven culture, which may be the most viable motive behind all loans made to poverty-stricken nations in the interest of their "economic development," and more concerned with the elimination of poverty itself. The small scale of the loans that Grameen offers stands in sharp opposition to the World Bank model, which amounts to imposing "Great indebtedness." A Grameen loan is "a little charity" that is easily forgotten as the recipient gets back on his/her economic feet (if not stands upright for the first time); and there is little sign of "vengeful" feelings among those recipients.
On the other hand such vengeful feelings are no longer confined to the "developing world." What is the Tea Party if not an attempt to institutionalize the expression of such feelings, first in rallies and then at the ballot box? How did such feelings arise? They are the feelings of those victimized by Nietzsche's concept of "Great indebtedness," manifested through the abusive practices of lending institutions, whether for home mortgages or for credit card usage. What, then, is our government to do when those vengeful feelings originate on our own soil, rather than among the disenfranchised around the world that find themselves drawn to loosely-structure organizations, such as al-Qaeda, whose philosophy (if one exists) may well be that the only way to make things better is first to make them unbearably worse? Does our government even recognize that this is a valid question?

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