Saturday, July 14, 2007

Development as Opulence

The historical specificity of development is important to keep in mind. The social context of development is still important because it belies much that is taken for granted when discussing issues of development. Development is a misnomer because it depends on the assumption that countries move forward on a trajectory that would eventually lead to a society that is similar to those currently deemed developed. This idea is untenable because the “developed” world is unsustainable and it would require massive change in order for even a portion of the world to reach that level of decadence.

Instead the development paradigm that is put forward by many dominant institutions is not sufficient to allow for actual change. This is particularly reflected in groups such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund that place both responsibility and blame on the countries themselves for not "developing." This blame is not appropriate because these countries exist within a world trade system that is horribly unfair and does not serve their interests.

The contradiction of "development" can be seen clearly in China. As China begins to turn into a consumer society the ecological footprint of many of its citizens is increasing exponentially. This situation will continue to exacerbate the already dangerous trajectory we are on for consumption of resources. By exporting neo-liberal consumerism as the mode and end of development we are selling short a chance at a more just and equitable world.

A Plot Most Despicable

A recently released report makes the charge that the U.S. did in fact set up illegal and secret prisons in Europe that were used to interrogate suspects in the war on terror. The report also alleges that flights were known about by different countries that were involved. While the CIA has recently rejected these charges it is difficult to believe their assertions that there is no truth. This is once again a damning indictment of the Bush administration and represents a significant threat to democracy in America as well as the other countries involved. It is telling that this sort of thing is plausible because of previous actions of the administration, such as wire tapping, Guantanamo, and the designation of "enemy combatants." These actions put more Americans in danger as we are continually seen as an evil superpower. If other countries were to do the same actions we would not stand for it, thus we cannot allow it to happen here either.

The Breakdown of Democracy

It is truly scary when a presidential candidate is laughed out of the election because of how he looks or how he talks. Dennis Kucinich represents a significant change in politics. His proposed policies would attempt to create solutions that would be a value to a majority of Americans. He refuses to be beholden to corporate or ideological interests. Kucinich is often called "Dennis the Menace" for his dogged approach and willingness to propose legislation that others are afraid to. This undeserved moniker is an indication of the poor state of democracy that the U.S. currently is subject to. Three major factors show that we have truly lost course: money required to run, confused public perception, and a poor system of elections.

An increasingly ludicrous amount of money is required to run a campaign for election for either the presidency or for seats in Congress. This leads to a system were raising funds becomes the most important aspect of a legislators time. Less time is left to work on issues and actually create quality legislation. This system, which is taken for granted by most Americans, is actually very different than democracy found in other countries. Election cycles in Europe last only a matter of months (though this number is now increasing), candidates spend a fraction of their U.S. counterparts, and the voters are able to be more informed on issues. Because parties are the focus in Europe, as opposed to the individual focus of the U.S. system, it is much easier to identify what policies would be pushed for if one of the parties is elected. The parties hold their members to the party line and because there are multiple parties it is much easier to find one that fits the politics that you would like seeing.

Now I am not saying that we have to go to a proportional representation system that is seen in Europe, we do need to implement significant electoral change. Changes that would make legislators less beholden to special interests, allow them to actually legislate, and allow U.S. voters to understand what the benefits of voting are.