Values and Transformation: Changing World Economics

“Values and Transformation: Changing World Economics.”

In dialogue: Satish Kumar, Editor of Resurgence Journal
Andrew Rogerson, World Bank
Wendy Tynedale, World Faiths Development Dialogue.
Chaired by Peggy Morgan, Religious Experience Research Centre.
The 1999 IIC Autumn Lecture, organised in cooperation with the World Faiths Development Dialogue (WFDD), was held on the evening of October 14, 1999 at Mansfield College, Oxford.
Summary of lecture and related discussion:

The 1999 IIC Autumn Lecture, organised in cooperation with the World Faiths Development Dialogue, was held on the evening of October 14, 1999 at Mansfield College, Oxford. Peggy Morgan, IIC Trustee and Director of the Alister Hardy Research Centre, chaired the event. About a hundred people attended.

Andrew Rogerson, the World Bank Representative for United Kingdom and Ireland, could not find an apt metaphor for describing the potential complementarily between technocratic institutions and the great moral and ethical institutions of the world. Instead he came across one which is apt for what most people perceive to be the relationship between the moral and technocratic traditions: “A woman needs a man about as much as a fish needs a bicycle.” It set the tone for a stimulating evening as the speakers and the audience grappled with the question of how problems of poverty and development can be addressed without compromising on basic moral and ethical values.

Andrew Rogerson began with a description of the important lessons that the World Bank had learnt through experience as it tried to fulfil its goal of poverty eradication with a sense of mission and professionalism. The World Bank has just gone through a major exercise, listening to the ‘Voices of the Poor’, getting a first hand view of how the poor perceived poverty, its causes and the efforts being made to address poverty issues. The result has been a ‘wake up call’, a heightening of the sense of urgency to achieve results and the need for changing strategies to be able to achieve results.

The World Bank has learned through experience that technical solutions and finances are not sufficient for achieving success. A holistic, multifaceted approach that takes power relations and cultural values into account has become a must. Equity issues will also have to be brought to the fore. And no solutions are likely to work unless they are locally owned. A recent survey has shown that economic reforms advocated by the international aid community have worked only in those countries where they are locally owned, where the governments themselves are convinced of their need. On the other hand, bribes by the international community to promote reforms have been failures.

Andrew Rogerson then explained how the World Bank was trying to put new approaches into place by assisting governments in developing countries to develop their own strategies. The new approaches are rooted in more humility and underline the need to develop greater understanding. The Comprehensive Development Framework (CDF) being piloted in about a dozen countries was an important step in this direction. The CDF process begins with identifying priority needs for the next fifteen to twenty years, and developing strategies to meet these needs with various institutions, from international to grassroots, acting in co-ordination. Changes are not likely to happen overnight and provide a major challenge for economists who are not used to dealing with intangibles such as culture and values.

It is in this context that Andrew Rogerson felt that a dialogue between faith groups and the World Bank has become necessary. No technical agency, he said, could make changes on a significant scale (‘scale up’) without making alliances. The faith communities, who often are natural advocates for the poor and have an impressive repository of grassroots experience, can help the World Bank by bringing in the missing perspective and to understand the intangibles. The World Faith Development Dialogue (WFDD) is a sincere attempt to build up a dialogue between the faith communities and the World Bank. It is neither a forum for negotiations nor for confrontations. In Tanzania, for instance, it is providing an opportunity for faith groups, who supply 40% of all health services, to influence policy.

Satish Kumar, Editor of Resurgence and the Programme Director of Schumacher College, began his response with a narration of his experience when he crossed the border between India and Pakistan in the early stages of his World Peace March. Friends and relatives who had come to see him and his colleague off at the border were concerned about the reception they would get in enemy territory and urged them to take a few days supply of food with him. Satish Kumar, putting his trust in God and people, refused to do so, fearing that ‘packets of food would become packets of mistrust.’ To his delight he discovered that his trust was well placed. A young man who had heard about the March from a passing traveller was waiting to receive them with garlands on the other side of the border.

Entering into the substance of the debate, Satish Kumar raised issues about the concepts of development and poverty eradication. Development was a term coined by economists that divided the world into two, the industrialised nations, where everything was compartmentalised, and the developing nations, that had to strive to become industrialised. It was a notion that failed to recognise that the so-called developing countries could aim for a different goal.

Similarly, Satish Kumar emphasised that it was wealth and not poverty that was the root of the problem. He cited examples, of Jesus administering a ‘vow of poverty’ and Buddha and Mahatma Gandhi accepting the principles of voluntary poverty, to stress his point. The problem, he said, is not poverty but injustice and inequality. There was enough for everyone’s need but not enough for everyone’s greed. Unlimited economic growth which fuels the greed needs to be challenged. The concept of economic growth, which has become a ‘mantra’ for economists, itself needs to be challenged. It was time for fundamental questions to be raised.

Wendy Tyndale, Co-ordinator for Faiths of the World Faiths Development Dialogue, facilitated the discussion that followed the two presentations with a plea for taking a leap from folk tales to dialogue. She narrated an anecdote of a small boy in a Nepalese village pressing a coin into the hands of the World Bank President, James Wolfenshon, for his forward journey. The cultural divides and barriers were breaking. The time for a dialogue between the technocrats and the guardians of culture and values has come.

A lively discussion ensued. Sustainability of resource use at the global level and associated issues, such as the need to educate the industrial nations to limit the use of natural resources and the need to put back into nature what we take out, dominated the discussions in the beginning. The discussion on these issues was summed up well by Jehangir Sarosh of the World Conference of Religions for Peace who recounted how a three day gathering of youths to explore how they could contribute towards development was concluded with a one point agenda: ‘to educate the West.’

Questions were also raised about the difference between involuntary poverty and abject involuntary poverty, with Andrew Rogerson emphasising that you cannot just ignore the 1.2 billion people, a fifth of the world’s population, who do not even have access to potable drinking water. Satish Kumar clarified that he was not an advocate of hunger and depravation, that he was deeply concerned about it, but was sceptical about economic growth as the model for addressing the issues of poverty. It was a question of perspectives on how to deal with the problems. The concept of growth needs to be replaced with that of sharing, caring and daring.

There were questions on how to effectively link together the two forms of knowledge, scientific and spiritual, into harmony. There were recommendations for changing the culture of economists who find it hard to come to terms with values as it would be impossible to bring about a fundamental change in development concepts without this. There just wasn’t enough time to discuss the pertinent issues that were being raised in enough depth.

Wendy Tyndale raised a challenge to the faith communities in her concluding remarks. She asked whether we are out of our depths and do not have anything to offer to the people of industrial countries for whom consumerism has replaced God. She said it was easy to demonise but more difficult to take a constructive stand. There was, she said, a group within the Bank with a strong faith in faith that met every Friday morning, without fail. How many of us do that? The way ahead was to look for practical value based solutions.

Kishore Shah