economic development

Part 2 of Lecture on Spirituality and Development: Friday, 27th Jan 2017 by Dr. Asad Zaman, VC PIDE — for Students of Religion & Development Paper, Center of Development Studies, University of Cambridge. Link for part 1: Spirituality . 50m Video lecture:


  1. The meaning of development has varied dramatically across time, space, cultures.
    1. When Britannia ruled the Waves:
      Development definition suited Britain: Sea-Power, Coal Mines, Industry, Climate, Race
      No entry for “democracy” in Encyclopedia Brittanica, 1930
    2. Post-War Rise of USA
      Initial Definition: Democracy, GNP per capita – both criteria serve to ensure leadership of USA.
    3. Later, some Oil Economies had Higher GNP/Capita than USA
      So REDEFINE Development to include Income Distribution, so as to keep US on top
    4. Later, Switzerland, Japan and some other Scandinavian countries had Higher Wealth + Lower Gini. How to measure development to ensure USA is on top? Answer: Redefine Development to include Infrastructure
    5. Conclusion: Definition of Development Changes to suit the powerful. Criteria are chosen to ensure that the powerful are on top.
  2. Read More

Since the late 1980s,  the World Bank has been defending a policy agenda that reinforces the free market model of endogenous economic growth where human capital plays an outstanding role since the acquisition of abilities would increase the productivity levels, and as a result, the income levels. In the model of endogenous growth, the evolution of the level of product per worker depends on the increase of productivity. Regarding the human capital model, the long run growth in each country is analysed considering the particular features of infrastructure and human capital. The divergences verified in the levels of product per worker among different countries can be attributed to the abilities accumulated by labour and to the infrastructure of the economies.  The emergence and diffusion of the  model of endogenous growth reflected the intellectual victory of  the  ideas about the supremacy of the competitive economic order and the rejection of interventionism to promote economic growth and social justice. Considering the relevant economic outcomes of this intellectual victory, the main question that arises in the context of economics education is: What is at stake in  the economic discourse that privileges the economic competitive order as the pillar of economic growth?

The competitive order, as a necessary one, is the pillar of Hayek’s theoretical construction.  Hayek’s economic discourse turns out to “naturalize” the competitive market as a superior arrangement. However,  the “naturalization” of the competitive market – by considering it a “natural” arrangement – is overwhelmed by political interests that play a crucial role in the economic and political decision procedures, and in the institutional management of such issues.

Taking into account a real-world approach  to economic growth, it is relevant to highlight  the ideas of  Keynes, Minsky, Kalecki, Rifkin in order to re-think  current economic growth challenges

1. Uncertainty

John Maynard Keynes  enhanced a more fruitful apprehension  of the real-world  where  the outcomes of the entrepreneurs’ decisions are not submitted to stochastic behaviour, that is to say, they are not predictable.   In his opinion, the process of decision making is based on conventions. As uncertainty is inherent to all entrepreneurs’ decisions, Keynes relied on the concepts of credibility and degree of confidence on a conventional judgment that is historically built within the markets.  In a specific historical setting, the average opinion of entrepreneurs on future scenarios shapes a convention based on a precarious set of expectations about the behaviour of aggregate demand (consumption, investment, net exports, for example). Keynes  focused the analysis on the expectations associated with investment decisions in a business environment where uncertainty about the future pervades the decision-making process.  The very nature of wealth management under uncertainty in a monetary economy is the cause of business instability. In this sense, on behalf of the uncertainty about the future, entrepreneurs  could postpone spending decisions and search for alternatives of wealth management. One of the main thesis of his contributions to policy making, as opposed to the classical economists that defend the free-market system, is that government policies and actions could play a fundamental role in shaping a business environment that could reduce uncertainty and favour investment decisions.

2. Finance and business cycles

Hyman Minsky considered the role of finance in the business cycle and developed the financial instability hypothesis which states that financial crises are inherent to the capitalist economy. From the Keynesian tradition, Minsky considered the capitalist economy as a set of interrelated balance sheets and cash flows among income-producing companies, households and banks. Minsky adds to our understanding that banks play a crucial role in determining the path of sustainable economic growth since investment decisions are, therefore, affected by available finance. Through the period of boom, entrepreneurs borrow from banks and accumulate debts.  A sentiment of euphoria takes over and entrepreneurs begin to be over-optimistic in their short-term expectations while financial innovations impact upon banks’ assets and  liabilities.

During the expansionary period of the business cycle, investment demand increases, so does the demand for finance and funding. However, as financial fragility grows,  lower levels of loans increase uncertainty and pessimism in the economy. Banks become unwilling to lend money because of higher credit risk since income flows turn out to fall short of debt repayment plans. As the investment decisions collapse, through the multiplier process, employment, income and consumption fall leading to a recession. If the financial crisis also leads to a sharp decline in prices, debt deflation can occur, where asset prices fall.  In short, while considering the relevance of investment as the unstable component of aggregate demand, the Minskyan approach also points out how banks’ strategies and a weak financial regulation turn to induce financial fragility.

3. Income distribution

Michael Kalecki’s  theoretical contribution elucidates how profits grow throughout cyclical fluctuations and economic crisis when the capitalist class strengthens its power relative to workers. Besides, the Polish economist shows how the evolution of income distribution affects the evolution of aggregate income. The dynamics of income and employment mainly depends on the level of   spending of the capitalist class. Given the income distribution in each economic sector, “the capitalists earn what they spend“.  However, the aggregate level of the workers’ consumption is subordinated to the consumption and investment decisions of the capitalist class. That is why Kalecki states “the workers spend what they earn”. Besides, his analysis of the oligopolistic trends in contemporary capitalism sheds light on important distributive issues at the micro level. The analysis of the role of the markup over prices introduces distributive challenges – not just between capitalists competing for market shares but also between capitalists and workers.  Indeed, the evolution of prices depends both on the market power of firms and on the trade union struggles to win higher nominal and real wages.

  1. Technology and labour conditions

Technology transforms the labour scenario as the result of the diffusion of new practices at the micro-level. More recently, the technological impact on the future of work was deeply analysed by Jeremy Rifkin. According to him, we are facing a new phase of history – Third Industrial Revolution – that is characterized by the steady and inevitable decline of jobs in the production and marketing of goods and services.  Today, the Third Industrial Revolution is a convergence of internet and renewable energy.  The internet technology and renewable energies are currently starting to merge in order to build a new infrastructure for a Third Industrial Revolution (TIR) that will change the distribution of economic power in the 21st century. Indeed, changes in power will provoke a fundamental reordering of human relationships – from hierarchical to lateral power – that will impact the way we conduct economic and social activities. The intelligent TIR infrastructure—the Internet of Things—will virtually connect every aspect of economic and social life via sensors and software to the TIR platform. The connections will feed Big Data to every node—businesses, homes, vehicles, etc. — in real time.  In turn, the Big Data will be analysed with advanced analytics, transformed into predictive algorithms, and programmed into automated systems. On behalf of this high-technology revolution, the number of people underemployed or without work will rise sharply since computers, robotics, telecommunications, and other cutting-edge technologies are replacing human beings in manufacturing, retail, and financial services, transportation, agriculture, and the government sector. In truth, in an increasingly automated world, workers are being polarized into two forces: on one side, an elite that controls and manages the high-tech global economy; and on the other side, a growing number of displaced workers who have few prospects for meaningful job opportunities.


In contemporary Western societies, most people experience a feeling of uneasiness about the current model of growth  that reveals an unsustainable path. For many, the outstanding feeling is that, in current societies, the outcomes of the so called “progress” have  been economic instability, deleterious working conditions an inequality.

Our critical gaze is fixated on the mainstream  mode of thinking about economic growth that uncover the current real-world challenges. In this attempt, rethinking relevant theoretical issues about economic growth is a call for a deep reformulation in the economics curriculum






Kalecki, M. (1954) Theory of Economic Dynamics. London: Allen, Unwin.


Keynes, J. M. (2010 [1936]) The General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money.Mansfield Center, Connecticut: Martino Publishing.


Minsky, H. P. (2008) Stabilizing an Unstable Economy. New York: McGraw Hill.

Rifkin, J. (2011) The Third Industrial Revolution: How Lateral Power Is Transforming Energy, the Economy, and the World. Palgrave Macmillan

World Bank (2004) Making Services Work for Poor People, World Development Report Copublication of the World Bank and Oxford University Press.


Ifaohungermapf any group of concerned citizens would gather to discuss economic problems, it would seem natural to begin with the problem of feeding the hungry. Strangely enough, one would not encounter this problem within a standard course of study of economic theory at any of the leading universities throughout the world. This is due to two major mistakes made in the formulation of conventional economic theories currently being taught and practised throughout the globe. The first mistake is the idea that the goal of an economic system is the production of wealth, broadly defined. For example, Adam Smith takes the fundamental economic problem to be the production of wealth. The maximisation of GNP per capita currently forms the core of economic growth theory. The value of human life can be evaluated in terms of how much wealth the human can produce. This also accounts for the use of the degrading term ‘human resource’, which basically puts humans on a par with other resources, like factories and machines, as inputs to the production process.

A revolution in economic theory would result if we replace this completely mistaken idea with its opposite: the goal of an economic system is to increase human welfare. Wealth is important only to the extent that it can bring about increases in human welfare. In conjunction with wealth, many other types of invisible inputs, such as social capital, cultural norms and institutional structures also play an important role in determining human welfare, broadly understood in terms of all dimensions of life which contribute to our collective well-being. Wealth, industry and production of goods and services are resources to be used to help improve human lives. A central goal of economics should be the relation between resources, and their relative efficiency at contributing to human welfare. In particular, providing food to the hungry is clearly the single most important and universal invariant in production of human welfare. The fundamental economic problem is to study how to use a given amount of wealth to produce the maximum amount of welfare.

The second mistake, engendered by the first, is the idea that investment in physical capital is the main source of growth and development. Mahbubul Haq pioneered the replacement of GNP by the Human Development Index. Similarly, Amartya Sen in his book, Development As Freedom, argues that progress is about the development of human capabilities. The UN now defines development as the ability “to lead long and healthy lives, to be knowledgeable, to have access to the resources needed for a decent standard of living and to be able to participate in the life of the community”. Of course, food is the sine qua non of human development. Many factors not usually considered by economists also play an important role in improving quality of life. The elements of trust, cooperation, culture and communities are gradually gaining recognition as important contributors to welfare.

A revolution in planning for growth would result from taking seriously the idea that human beings have far more capabilities and potential than any kind of machine. History gives us many examples of human beings who have changed the world. Given the right environment and training, all children have the potential to achieve extraordinary genius. It is our collective task as a society to ensure that all children get the opportunity to develop this potential. The economic system is valuable only as a means to achieving this goal. This means that providing basic necessities like food, healthcare and education is actually the most valuable investment we can make. Unfortunately, conventional theories of growth, currently routinely being applied throughout the world, do not recognise this fact. As a result, these false economic theories lead us to invest in industry, instead of our children, who represent our greatest potential and our future.

The spectacular failure of conventional economic theories during the global financial crisis has strengthened and created several movements for reform of these theories, ranging from mild to radical and revolutionary. Many of these reforms are taking on board the idea that economic growth is a means to providing for the people. Our greatest treasure is our people and investing in them is the surest path to prosperity.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 23rd, 2015.

GNP[Clarification — this is not the followup post to Misconceived Project of Social Science — that will be posted a few days later — however, it is part of sequence showing the serious defects of modern economic theory]

Observations of the real world massively contradict trickle-down theories, so economists generally do not admit to believing this idea that further enrichment of the wealthy will lead to prosperity for all. Nonetheless, trickle down is built deeply into the foundations of modern economics. The greatest illusion fostered on the un-suspecting public is that GNP per capita is the best measure of economic growth. The use of GNP per capita as a measure of growth is equivalent to the assumption of a trickle-down effect. The “per capita” means that this statistic is calculated by dividing total national income produced equally among all the people in the country. Unfortunately, the reality is starkly different from this fairy tale statistic, which assumes equal distribution of income. Since the 1980’s, an increasing share of all the income produced in the world has been going to a small elite minority within the top 1%. The starkest demonstration of this inequality is furnished by the recent research which shows a fifteen year gap in life expectancy between the richest 1% and the poorest 1% in the USA. Similarly, Oxfam published statistics showing that the bottom half of the world lost a trillion dollars, while the top 62 people, who own more than half the planetary wealth, gained half a trillion. The statistics furnish strong evidence for a vacuum cleaner effect: a powerful suction of wealth from the bottom to the top. This vacuum cleaner effect means that the GNP per capita furnishes an excellent demonstration of the famous aphorism: “Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics.” This statistic is not just misleading, it is deliberately deceptive, and directs attention away from issues which are essential to progress and development.  It is a brilliantly crafted piece of propaganda in that it misleads people by measuring a fairy tale number: what would happen if we took all the national income and divided it equally?

Famous economist Joan Robinson said that “The purpose of studying economics is not to acquire a set of ready-made answers to economic questions, but to learn how to avoid being deceived by economists.” One the major weapons of mass deception in the arsenal of the economists is the GNP per capita measure. In the battle of ideas, achieving widespread acceptance of the idea that GNP per capita is the main measure economic progress has been a major victory for the wealthy. One cannot oppress the majority of the population without achieving their consent in some measure. False measures of progress are a key to victory. Today, governments all over the world are measured by their achievements in rate of growth. A thousand crimes are forgiven at the altar of growth, while tremendous accomplishments are ignored if growth is slow. Making GNP per capita the center of attention ensures that no one pays attention to where all this growth is going, which is in the coffers of the already wealthy.

It is very worthwhile studying the propaganda tactics used by economics textbooks to get innocent students to believe in absolutely incredible myths about how the economy works. In the entering class of graduate students in the Ph.D. Economics program at Stanford, most of us were motivated to study economics in order to solve the major economic problems we could see around the globe. We wanted to help solve problems of poverty, and create better lives and prosperity. During the course of our studies, we were taught to believe that free markets solve all economic problems automatically, and the main economic problem is do-gooders (like us) and governments, who wish to help. If everyone would pursue their self-interest, it would automatically lead to the best economic outcomes for all. The ideals of serving humanity were washed out of us, and replaced by the pursuit of personal ambitions. Julie Nelson has beautifully captured this brainwashing process in a paper entitled “Poisoning the Well: How Economic Theory Damages the Moral Imagination.” She states people would act in socially responsible ways, but are pushed by the economic theory of self-interested utility maximization to believe that it is permissible to be irresponsible, opportunistic, and selfish in when participating in markets. She describes the large number of ways that economic theory counters natural moral instincts, and the tremendous harm that has resulted to societies as a result of this immorality taught by economics.

Among the propaganda tactics used for this brainwashing, one of the most powerful ones is the creation of a single minded focus on GNP per capita as the primary goal of economics.  Every effort is made to ensure that economics students do not pay attention to distribution, so that the rapid and increasing income inequality, and the vacuum cleaner effect created by blind pursuit of growth, does not come to their attention. For example, Nobel Laureate Robert Lucas writes that: “of the tendencies that are harmful to sound economics, the most seductive, and in my opinion, the most poisonous, is to focus on questions of distribution.” Students can go through entire courses with the deceptive titles relating to Income Distribution, Inequality and Poverty. These courses go through a lot of mathematical material on how to measure inequality, and descriptive empirical material, but implicitly teach students to regard these as natural features of an economy. There is underlying message of indifference: inequality does not matter, and the best way to combat poverty is through economic growth. The use of the GNP per capita measure helps sustain these myths. The rapid transfer of trillions from the bottom billion to the top 100 people will not show up in the GNP per capita statistics.

It would be a critical victory for the bottom billions if we could shift the focus of the debate from GNP per capita to measures of poverty and employment. Before the well was poisoned by economic theories, it was clearly understood by all that it is our collective social responsibility to provide for education, health, jobs and social welfare needs of all members of society. If these statistics made the headlines, and governments were held responsible for improvements in the incomes earned by the bottom 25%, instead of the top 1%, there would be a significant change in policies. However, such changes will be strongly resisted by the wealthy, who benefit from widespread poverty in many different ways. This creates a wide pool of labor available for ready purchase to those who have the money. It is this money of the wealthy which drives think-tanks, research organizations, and universities to produce tons of research supporting the use of GNP per capita as the primary target of economic policies. Many have recently raised voices against the numerous deficiencies of this measure, most notably the Stiglitz-Sen-Fitoussi report which includes two Nobel Laureates among its authors. Deficiencies include neglect of damage to the environment, society, and many other issues which directly affect well-being of all members of the society. Unfortunately, while the gears of the statistical machinery are well-adapted to measuring GNP per capita, they have not been designed to measure the things which matter. One can only get shoddy and incomplete data on measures of inequality, unemployment, education and health which are of critical importance in assessing the welfare of nation. This is actually important to conceal the realities which would lead to revolt against the exceedingly unfair system. For instance, recently  researchers stumbled across an amazing statistic related to white US Middle class. In contrast with nearly every other social group, the life expectancy of this group has been rapidly decreasing. Why? It seems that the primary cause is suicide, either direct, or indirect by means of alcohol and drugs. As somebody remarked it is depressing and sad statistic. The question, why was this discovery accidental? A good set of statistical indicators would have picked it up right away, so that steps could be taken to cure the problem The answer is that inequality, misery, poverty are actually beneficial to a small number, who have learned to enjoy the benefits of creating crises which leave millions homeless while the financial elites reap trillions from the catastrophe. For them to create the consensus necessary to implement these cruel policies requires projecting certain types of statistics while hiding others from common view. Angus Deaton remarked that all statistics are political. Simply a display of the statistics related to social welfare of the public would be remarkably useful in the battle for justice. But it hard to prevail against status quo and ignorance.

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The anniversary of his birth on 24th Feb 1934 is an appropriate occasion toHDI remember Mahbubul Haq, our unsung national hero. The depth of his achievements remain vastly under-appreciated, especially in his own country.  Virtually single-handedly, he changed the direction of the development discourse from a single-minded and harmful focus on wealth production, towards attention to the human beings who are both the drivers and beneficiaries of the process of growth. One of the greatest strengths of Mahbubul Haq was his ability to learn from experience. Unlike many others whose ideological commitments blind them to the facts, Mahbubul Haq was a lifelong learner, radically revising and sharpening his theories when confronted with adverse experiences. He also had the rare ability to translate idealistic and visionary ideas to the practical realm of the real world. In this article, we will trace his intellectual trajectory and legacy, which remains of great practical importance. Even today, most policy makers throughout the world are following practices which Mahbubul Haq tried and rejected as he moved on to a deeper and more sophisticated understanding of the complexities of the growth process.

During his Ph.D. at Yale, and post-doc at Harvard, Mahbubul Haq imbibed the same simple-minded and misleading economic models of growth which continue to be taught today at universities all over the world. Across the board, economics textbooks equate growth with the accumulation of capital. According to these theories, policy makers are faced with a cruel choice: either they can feed the population, or they can accumulate capital and achieve rapid growth by starving them. Under the influence of these disastrously wrong theories, planners throughout the world continue to sacrifice the social welfare of the public at the altar of economic growth. In the 1960’s, the young Mahbubul Haq implemented these policies as Chief Economist at the newly established Planning Commission, and achieved a startling 7% growth.  While the government was celebrating the Decade of Development, and offering him accolades, Mahbubul Haq did something which shows his rare qualities and character. He embarrassed the government and tarnished his own achievements by showing that the so-called development was superficial, and had enriched twenty two families without bringing about significant reductions in poverty.

With characteristic courage, Mahbubul Haq used his experience to challenge the deeply imbedded orthodoxy that GNP growth was the all-important goal of development. His powerful arguments for provision of basic needs, earned him the label of a ‘heretic among economists’. He started the trend towards attention to human development which has now established firm roots as an alternative to orthodoxy. World Bank President Wolfensohn, who carried on his legacy, acknowledged his contributions in the following words: “… more than anyone else, (Mahbub) provided the intellectual impetus for the Bank’s commitment to poverty reduction in the early 1970s.[…]His unique contributions were trend setters for the world and focused attention on the South Asian social realities, urging all of us to look at the dark corners of our social milieus’.

The breakdown of the Bretton-Woods agreement in the 1970’s led to an obviously unfair international monetary regime, where dollar replaced gold as the reserve currency, effectively enabling producers of dollars to purchase third world resources (including politicians) by printing money.   Mahbubul Haq played a leading role as an exponent of the New International Economic Order in the 1980’s, which was an  attempt by the Third World to counter the financial power of the first world.  His forceful advocacy earned him the title of “the most articulate and persuasive spokesman” for the developing world. Lacking leaders of his stature, the third world today has quietly acquiesced to a financial system which enables yearly transfers of about 600 billion of dollars in debt service from the poorest countries to the richest, plus an even greater amount in the form of capital flight via the multinationals.

It is impossible to cover the rich legacy of Mahbubul Haq within the scope of a brief article. The Human Development Index and the Human Development Report are the most well-known reminders of his human centered approach. Economists and planners have not yet absorbed his central insight that instead of sacrificing people to achieve growth, provision of social services is the best route to growth. If we just provide sufficient social support, our people will prove to be far more efficient drivers of growth than the false gods of capital accumulation currently at the center of economics textbooks. Unfortunately, planners continue to rely on primitive and obsolete Ivory tower theories, and ignore the advanced lessons learned by Mahbubul Haq based on a lifetime of experience. Greater recognition of Mahbubul Haq and his achievements would go a long way towards providing us guidance on the architecture of domestic and international policies desperately needed today.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 22nd,  2016.

The recent Great Financial crisis has restated the menace of deep depressions among the current economic challenges while the livelihoods turned out to be subordinated to speculation, financial instability and the bailout of domestic financial systems. Looking backward, in the context of the 1930 Great Depression, John Maynard Keynes pointed out that the evolution of capital markets increases the risk of speculation and instability since these markets are mostly based upon conventions whose precariousness affects the rhythm of investment and increases pressures on the political sphere.

Keynes called attention to the fact that the capitalist system has endogenous mechanisms capable of destabilizing the levels of spending, income and employment. At the heart of his theory, he suggested a reconsideration of the understanding of the relations among individuals, society and governments within the markets where institutions and conventions could shape human behavior. Aware of the need to overcome the concept of rationality that overwhelms the Homo economicus, his contribution enhances a more extended understanding of entrepreneurs’ decisions or, more in general, firms’ decisions. Besides, his approach enhanced a more fruitful apprehension of the real-world where the outcomes of firms’ decisions are not submitted to stochastic behavior, that is to say, they are not predictable.

As a matter of fact, firms’ decisions are based on conventions. As uncertainty is inherent to the capitalist decision making process, Keynes relied on the concepts of credibility and degree of confidence on a conventional judgment, that is historically built within the markets, to promote changes in the international economy.  In his attempt to re-shape the world order in the 1940s, Keynes pointed out the need of a wide measure of agreement, that is to say, the need to create new conventions based on trust.  Indeed, trust turns out to be a conventional concept related to the level of confidence built in a society around the future business environment, that is to say, around the legal, regulatory, macroeconomic and political setting that would impact the evolution of the markets. Under his perspective, trust has a historical and social nature. Indeed, trust deeply impacts economic and social development. It’s high time for explicitly introducing this discussion in the economics curriculum.

The Brazilian economist Celso Furtado  (1920-2004) promoted an analysis of underdevelopment that turned out to be known as “structural and historical”. The interpretation of the Argentine economist Raul Prebish had strong influence on him, particularly the center-periphery approach. In the 1950s, Furtado focused the center-periphery dynamics in the capitalist system, that is to say, the relations between industrialized countries and those countries exporters of commodities. His approach was based on the idea that development and underdevelopment were part of the same process: the world-wide capital accumulation process. In his view, underdevelopment results from a process of dependency that has cultural and political nature. Students of economics should be aware of the inner nature of this process.

After the Second World War, Furtado considered that  Latin American economic growth was, in fact, a false modernization as it did benefit only a minority and reinforced social heterogeneity. After the 1970s, he criticized that national states put emphasis on price stabilization instead of encouraging developmental policies. In this historical setting, Furtado pointed out to a “new dependency” where financial capital accumulation has not only dominated social dynamics but also reinforced poverty, illiteracy, income inequality and wealth concentration.  This new dependency has turned out to subordinate livelihoods to transnational and financial interests.

Indeed, Celso Furtado privileged the understanding of underdevelopment as a process of cultural and political domination. In his latest works, he highlighted the need to rescue the cultural factors in any effort of thinking development.  Students of economics should also be committed to this attempt.