Some thoughts and notes on the Crisis Conference held in London last Thursday — and my first ever storify blog! It’s pretty cool, though almost as terrifying as tweeting as your every word is immediately out there — I don’t know why this blog feels safer but so it is…
It’s rare I read books on development, having a deep distrust of so much of the field — only cemented after reading Allan Kaplan’s The Development Practioner’s Handbook. But that is because of his own critiques of his own field. What he himself has written is a sensitive and nuanced exploration of how development can be facilitated (never forced, imposed, pushed), and how conscientization in the Freirean sense can occur. This is why I found it praised so highly in Nabeel Hamdi’s work, which brought it to my notice.
I haven’t quoted any of the insets, lyrical memories of his first development post, what went wrong and what went right, the process of learning what he is writing about. But I did love them.
Before looking at what a righteous and revolutionary development can be, let’s first have a taste of what development a la World Bank, IMF and multiple international aid agencies has brought and has meant, because that shouldn’t be forgotten:
Thus after over that 30 years of international development practice and theorising, problems of unemployment, housing, human rights, poverty and landlessness are worse than ever. (ix)
What has international development meant for the most part?
First, development is not growth. Development implies structural change with respect to the whole system. The modernisation approach equates development unequivocally with growth in GNP; the status quo is to be maintained while growth leads to development. Moreover, development is seen as a continuous process; there is no sense of timing, of the recognition that a particular level of development will be maintained until a structural crisis leads to a sudden leap to a new level. Modernisation theory assumes that development moves along a smooth and continuous upward path; there need be no radical shifts, nothing which will rock the boat or disturb the status quo. Indeed, development (as modernisation) was seen by its proponents as the instrument with which to maintain the status quo…(35)
Small wonder that Wolfgang Sachs and colleagues,…note that ‘the idea of development stands like a ruin in the intellectual landscape’; they maintain that the development epoch is crumbling under the weight of delusion, disappointment, failure and crime, and ‘the time is ripe to write its obituary.’ (x) (Sachs ed. The Development Dictionary: A Guide to knowledge as Power (Johannesburg: Witwatersrand University Press, 1992)
But the process of working with people and organisations so they are able to step into their own power and define their own lives and surroundings — now that is something altogether different. that is what Kaplan is about and there is much to learn here. I’m in the midst of article writing, so this is more a string of quotes than usual, divided up by Kaplan’s own chapter headings as they were useful in outlining the key concepts.
We can learn about development through observing it as a life process, more specifically as a biological process. (2)
I am always a bit dubious about metaphors that use biological life to explain social life, and that never quite left me in this chapter just as it never left me entirely through the whole of Emergence or Capra’s The Hidden Connections which build on a very similar conceit. But there were a few things I did very much like, like the acknowledgment that while growth and development are often conflated, but
growth is in fact one element of development. Growth is quantitative increase; development implies qualitative increase and qualitative transformation (from one state to another). (3)
I also love the emphasis on the time required — funders and heads of organisations never fucking get this at all.
…development is a process in time….it is a vital observation, for it should bring with it the correct attitude towards developmental processes — that of respect and humility. Development needs time, and flows with the rhythm of time. It cannot be forced, imposed or created. That is not to say that we cannot affect it; indeed , the development practitioner must seek to influence the process of development.
Over and over again the reminder to throw arrogance out the window.
But the appropriate stance becomes one of facilitation rather than force; nurture rather than imposition; respect rather than arrogant presumption. We cannot cause development, we can only nurture the development process. (3)
A few other truths I quite liked:
This reveals another distinguishing characteristic of development: it is irreversible. (3)
Contrary to what we often take for granted, the process of unfolding, the movement of life as maturation or development, is discontinuous. It proceeds in a stepwise fashion rather than a smooth, continuous ‘upward’ motion. It proceeds, in fact, from structural crisis to structural crisis. (6)
And above all, both the difficulties and the rewards:
how else other that through critical turning points can we shake ourselves our of our comfortable habits, overcome our resistance to change and move on? This, I believe, is what is sometimes referred to as the miracle of suffering.
This is where this connects to so much literature I am now reading on struggle and social movement and why things happen when they do. This is one of my favourite insights:
Development is not so much the pain of taking on the new but the pain of letting go of the old. (8)
Every step taken in development, every process of transformation, entails a death so that something new can be born. And the process of death and rebirth, the process of development, entails the overcoming of just such resistances, so that new energy can be released. (11)
It is also a process with no end point, and a process that pain is part of — so how do we create healthy spaces for that, support each other through it?
In the realm of human development at least, development does not have an end-point — we are always in a state of becoming.
In addition, pain is an integral part of development and cannot be avoided. It is not only, as we have seen, the spur to further development. It is also often the consequence of a particular developmental phase in the service of future development. This is not said to idealise pain, but rather to emphasis that its occurrence should not be denied or repressed. (15)
Paths and Destinations
Kaplan argues for a rather linear development, part of the metaphor of the life process. But I suppose ultimately it is circular in taht it is repeated over and over again, so could still fit the popular education model of the spiral:
People, as they move through life, move from the phase of dependence, through independance to interdependance. (19)
He uses this to base an interesting critique of Freire that doesn’t fit within my own understanding of his work:
In Paolo Freire’s terms, development occurs when one moves from dependence to a critical consciousness; the ability to analyze circumstance, to question existing reality, and to say no. This, however, only corresponds to the stage of independence. I am saying that this is only partial development, and that interdependence is a phase beyond. (22)
I don’t think that Freire fits into this box, though perhaps practitioners have indeed put him there. Still, I think there are some interesting things raised in this comparison of independence and inter-dependence.
These are the problems Kaplan sees with the ‘independent phase’:
The mode of denial with which it is associated, the mode of critique which is inherent in defining oneself by rejecting that which one is not, generates a new type of dependency. It is reactive, dependent on its opposite for its own definition. It asserts itself against a given reality, rather than in and of itself. (26)
So what is interdependence? A phase that Kaplan goes on to call ‘Organisational consciousness…that phase which I have characterised as ‘maturity’ in the individual. It is the ability to act decisively within the realm of uncertainty, to continually seek the balance between polarities. (25)
Consciousness implies objectivity and the faculty of self-reflection. It is the realm of true freedom, devoid of prejudice. It is the realm of responsible freedom; individuality coupled with respect, care and active membership of the collective. The process of development is the means towards increasing consciousness, thereby increasing humanness. (29)
I don’t know we can be devoid of prejudice, but we can aspire to get there, and know ourselves better as we try.
Social Development as Growth and Revolution
…both our current problem and our future project should be an educational practice whose fundamental purpose is to expand what it is to be human and to contribute to the establishment of a just and compassionate community within which a project of possibility becomes the guiding principle of social order.
–Roger Simon ‘Empowerment as a pedagogy of Possibility’ (32)
I love that quote. I also love Allan Kaplan’s acknowledgment of this:
Poverty is not simply a function of the poor, the powerless, the marginalised. It is as much, some would say more, a function of the rich, the powerful, the few in whose hands resources and decision-making concentrate themselves. (37)
Then there is what to my eyes is a strange critique of the ‘political economy’ approach and Freire, describing them as unable to leave the phase of independence or continue along the path of critical self-consciousness. Kaplan seems to assume that for Freire this would suddenly stop at a certain point that isn’t far enough, that winning revolutions would just result in new people taking power and abusing it, getting stuck in a paradigm of us and them, with no criticism possible as the revolution consolidates.
Ultimately he writes:
The similarities between modernisation and political economy theories speak to the same need. Both paradigms stress modernity and economic growth. In both developed and underdeveloped communities, the near exclusive emphasis on these two factors give rise to increasing poverty and marginalisation, environmental rape, social fragmentation and violence, and a crisis of meaning.
The advent of contramodernisation perspectives hearalds the search for a new meaning with respect to the development process. (46)
From all of the many books by Freire I have read, there seems to me no obvious link here in theory, only in the vicissitudes of practice in a world bent on destroying revolutions and uprisings and anything resembling structural change. But to return to what to Kaplan himself offers….
Development as the building of civil society
His proposal for moving beyond the phase of independence towards interdependence. Opens with a curious discussion of power, and what he calls the ‘myths’ of revolution and growth.
Kaplan begins with Glyn Roberts’ definition of development: “Development is the more equal distribution of power among people.’ For Roberts three different kinds of power exist: political, economic and cultural — Kaplan’s critique is that this is stuck in ideas of power ‘over’ or ‘against’ (52).
Keeping this idea of power over means in independence phase the coercive nature of power is not addressed, power blocks remain though the players change, means development can only go so far.
He gives the story of the Maccabee revolt, where one brother was prevented from fighting, from being tainted by the war to remain clear of its ravages so that he could become lawgiver at the end.
I struggle with this idea of purity and taint, even as I know full well that taking life in war changes people, tends to harden them, makes them more rigid in their beliefs. I still think it’s more complicated, but to return to the main argument.
Kaplan takes Scott Peck’s identification of a different form of power:
‘Spiritual power…resides entirely within the individual and has nothing do with the capacity to coerce others…It is the capacity to make decisions with maximum awareness. It is consciousness.’ (55)
Put another way, development moves from independence to the phase of interdependence when, having gained the critical power of independence, we are ’empowered’ enough, secure enough in ourselves, to transgress boundary lines,to recognise our limitations and constraints and the realities of our dependence on others, and to work beyond the attitude of ‘us and them’ into the attitude of ‘we’. We are all in this thing called life together. There is no one ultimate theory, no ultimate paradigm, no ultimate ideology, no ultimately correct political party, clique or social movement. To move beyond the crisis generated by independence we need to relearn humility. Not the subservient humility of the phase of dependence, but the conscious humility of interdependence. (56)
It is all about self-reflection and questioning. I wonder whether this can exist in our world without protection from the means of coercion by the kind of power wielded by empire. But still agree with this:
It seems to me that the only way to mediate such a situation, once a significant level of independence has been attained, is through the promotion and facilitation of a strong civil society, one which can curb the hegemonic forces contained in the various power spots which accumulate and grow. (59)
There is a lot to think about here in terms of creating a truly participatory society where people have power over their own lives and the world around them.
A New Stance
It is not reconciliation of compromise which is the essential note of organisational consciousness. Rather, it is the holding of the conflict between opposites as conflict. The ability to hold opposites as opposites , in conflict. Not to reconcile or compromise, but to see both s true at the same time, or at least to see both as embodying aspects of the truth.
Put slightly differently, we attempt to find harmony not through eradicating conflict but through dancing with conflict. We do not look for resolution of the conflict, but rather recognise the creativity which the conflict brings. (70)
I do love this…that certain kinds of conflict are positive (and again, I think this minimises the damage that capitalism does, that development a la world bank and IMF do and how other things can flower despite that).
Until we wander in the dark, embrace the chaotic uncertainty of the places of transition which lie between the worlds of certainty and action, until then we will not be able to embrace the freedom of movement necessary to a state of interdependent or organisational consciousness. (77)
I do think this is also true — and perhaps where an outside practitioner is most useful — someone comfortable and used to holding these things together and allowing new things to grow.
The Practice of the Development Practitioner
As their essential task, development practitioners assist in bringing individuals, organisations and societies to power. They intervene in people’s processes such that they are able to realise their power, and, ultimately, enable people to act out of a centre of awareness and objectivity. Development practitioners collaborate with people in the claiming of their rights, and facilitate their recognition of responsibilities. They facilitate their development towards a more human, purposeful and conscious future, and work through organisations and communities towards the actualisation of a conscious society. (85)
Hell yes to all this. He lists the methods — and the list is very familiar (except for the rural bits, the only thing reminding you this is about a different kind of development than what we did in South Central L.A.):
Rapid rural appraisal, participatory rural appraisal, participatory research, community mapping, strategic planning, vision building, cooperative development, various forms of problem identification and analysis, project planning and implementation, project monitoring and evaluation… (86)
For Kaplan it’s ultimately all about developing instituional capacity and a stronger civil society — I myself am more inclined to think it is more about developing dense webs of connection and support with multiple smaller groupings alongside more formal organisation, but agree with this:
Ultimately the task is to facilitate an increase in the power and consciousness of social grouping. to leave them in a better condition than they were in before, with more capacity to control their world, their context and themselves. But particularly to maintain a condition of awareness and to be able to respond creatively and responsibly to approaching challenges. We arrive then at a picture of the practice of the development practitioner as being the facilitation of the institutional capacity of those institutions forming the building blocks of civil society. (88)
I think there is also something to these phases as well — it takes years sometimes for people to fully step into their own skin and take the power that is theirs:
During the phase of dependency development practice will consist in part of resource provision and activism. As independence is attained these are replaced by the facilitation of clients to come into their own power, and the building of organisational capacity and the provision of training. With the move to interdependence the role of the practitioner becomes the facilitation of the client’s ability to self-reflect, self-regulate and to take conscious control of its own processes of improvement and learning. (102)
This is my favourite line of the whole book, and actually, all skill and learned technique aside, if people working in community development could just manage this, they would probably do all right:
We need to work with a certain awe and wonder for each unique path with which we are privileged to interact. (112)
Thought I’d start out with a funny quote I’d forgotten about, courtesy of Howard Davies. It’s all downhill from here though…
“Bank failures are caused by depositors who don’t deposit enough money to cover losses due to mismanagement.”
Peter Marcuse spoke on Tuesday night at University College of London, and Howard Davies spoke in the heart of LSE on Wednesday at noon, so technically I suppose they weren’t speaking to each other. But they should have been. So they shall through me. This is my interpretation and expansion on events of course, not a faithful recording of exactly what I heard…just to be clear.
Who are these guys exactly?
Peter Marcuse is the son of Herbert Marcuse, and a lawyer and planner. He has been a professor of Urban Planning since 1972, for three years at UCLA, and at Columbia since 1975. He has also been president of the Los Angeles Planning Commission, and has written extensively on housing and planning issues.
Howard Davies is the director of the London School of Economics, and the former head of the Chairman of the Financial Services Authority, the UK’s single financial regulator since 1998. He also served for two years as Deputy Governor of the Bank of England after three years as Director General of the Confederation of British Industry.
Two basic summaries of root causes:
Marcuse started with what are commonly seen as the underlying roots of the current economic crisis (then he tears those apart, but I’m saving the best bit for last!). In his view (his headings with with my own filler) these are:
- The housing bubble – you know, that whole mortgage crisis thing. The inflated price of land, the mad speculation in it, the crazy loans to people with no equity. Those damn NINJA loans (I’ve always been with the pirates myself).
- Unscrupulous people – the greedy bankers, the banks, those bastards who were out there sweet-talking your grandma into a loan worth more than her house, one that she would never be able to pay back. So she now lives with you instead.
- Securitization – this is a big word, and of course it’s complicated. It’s deliberately complicated to get around annoying regulations and the agencies that tried to enforce them. Thousands of mortgages all packaged up together and insured and sold and then maybe reinsured and sold again and then maybe one more time…the important thing to know is that it made a lot of people rich as long as the housing market kept going up.
- Deregulation – Not only were those “unscrupulous” people getting around existing regs and preventing the implementation of new ones, but they succeeded in getting rid of the Glass-Steagall Act which was made law in the 30’s to ensure that the Great Depression never happened again. Nice work.
- Too much money floating around looking for something to invest in. You have to laugh at that really (and then cry), I’m sure none of us have known the feeling of too much money, too few options of what to do with it. But apparently there were trillions of dollars floating around the world economy that needed a home. I wished they’d asked me, but if equality and a just distribution of wealth around the world aren’t issues, than I suppose perhaps that could be seen as a problem.
This isn’t actually all that different from the analysis of the problem given by Mr. Davies, though he got much more technical around issues 3, 4 and 5, and sliced them up rather differently. I didn’t catch his final “summing up slide as he was talking fast and out of time, but the earlier top 4 underlying causes were:
- Global imbalances – There was a huge increase in global imbalances, I know this is bad. I can’t remember exactly why, I do apologize! You can see the chart of global imbalances here, along with many other charts full of much technical financial information. I will, of course, be correcting my ignorance.
- Loose monetary policy leading to a mispricing of risk and a credit bubble. What was Greenspan thinking keeping interest rates so low? There was just way too much money out there, anyone could borrow anything, and god help us all, they did. Luckily China was able to come in and sell the West lots of cheap goods (since they don’t really pay their employees) and then buy US treasury bonds. A third of them. That kept the wolf of inflation from the door, but confused everyone as to what kind of market they were operating in. Especially Greenspan.
- Excess leverage facilitated by procyclical regulation and regulatory arbitrage. Yikes, no? It just means that banks were doing the same thing that all of those “gullible” homeowners (the same ones who are now getting evicted) were doing, taking out massive loans with no down-payment and not enough savings in the…er…bank. They had nowhere near enough money to cover their asses. And why did they think this was ok? Because their advanced historical and cyclical analyses of the housing market told them it was one market that would always go up. So everything would be fine. The equations promised.
- ‘excess’ unmanaged growth of the financial sector – it exploded into one area really, securitizing mortgages and playing with derivatives, and by moving into this area the financial sector thought it was diversifying risk (you know, putting down bets on lots of horses, not just one. And placing bets as part of a pool so to speak, by insuring your bets and…it’s complicated). But turns out so much money was being put into trading these property related bonds and CDO’s and etc, they were actually creating risk rather than managing it. A failure of betting strategy if you like. The fall of dominoes was insanely impressive however.
As a combination of factors it all makes some kind of sense, it certainly hangs together. And if you’re a bit rusty on your economic jargon, it makes your eyes glaze over but it sure sounds damn impressive. I think I’ve got a handle on most of it, but who really knows? Understanding the ins and outs of what actually happened takes a massive amount of energy, involving remote corporate skyscrapers, hundreds of acronyms, and unfathomable sums of debt being sliced up, repackaged, insured, reinsured, moved constantly from one major player to another. And it’s all happening on a global scale. And let’s not forget the distracting million dollar bonuses and offshore accounts…
And so these kind of explanations lead to even more complicated solutions, we are witnessing a grand escape into the technical. For Howard Davies? We need more and better regulation, better internal management of banks, better global coordination and so on into excruciating detail and even bigger words.
But instead of delving into all of that, let’s return to Peter Marcuse’s lecture: everything I have written above is interesting, but really it is missing the point entirely. You got it. Missing the point entirely. How is it that so many incredibly smart people are missing the point?
Focusing on technicalities of regulation and management hide the reality that the economic system itself is fundamentally flawed.
Some of us take that for granted, others will never believe it is true. Capitalism? Well, you know what they (or some of us) say. Crisis happens. We’ve been in crisis quite regularly for several hundred years, and that will continue as long as the system continues. Because crisis is inherent to the capitalist system.
What is the motor of the current system? Adam Smith called it self-interest, but it seems rather silly to expect people to hold the contested and rather imaginary line between self-interest and greed. Greed ultimately is the motivating force, it is the entrepreneurial way and a constant pressure. When you see regulation as the answer, you really aren’t giving people enough credit. They are hell of smart. And there are thousands if not millions of them trying to get around any rule keeping them from their self-interest. And they will. The mass securitization of incredibly risky mortgages as sound investments was just one clever proof of the power of invention to get around regulation. We can fix that loophole, but there will surely be others as it is symptomatic of the fundamental basis of the current economy.
Why is this particular crisis concentrated in real estate, as so many of them are? When buying real estate, you aren’t just investing in land, you are investing in a commodity that has only a fixed supply. There’s only so much of it, and it’s all spoken for. Because of this, you can sit on it, do absolutely nothing at all to improve it, and it will continue to grow in value. This value is due entirely to population and urban growth, it is socially created, it is ‘easy’ money. It invites speculation, always has and always will until we change how the housing market and property ownership work, and we change it completely. As long as housing is seen as a means of profit and vehicle for investment, this kind of crisis will be a recurring one. There’s nothing new about housing bubbles!
Too much money? No, there isn’t too much money, there is too much capital. Capital is what is produced by the exploitation of workers, it is profit extracted from production and at great cost to those who actually produce, and it is money whose sole purpose is to be reinvested to make more money. For me, this distinction goes some way to explaining a world where we can have simultaneously the problem of ‘too much money’, and millions earning less than one or two dollars a day. Clearly there needs to be change there, as the fundamental dark absurdity of such a world is obvious. Isn’t it?
So if Marcuse is right, and I rather think he is, it renders much of current policy and debate a bit meaningless really. All of these solutions are looking at the “fundamental” roots of an issue that really has foundations much deeper still. And if we dig those up, what will we build instead? That is the perennial question.
So the next blog will be about Marcuse’s vision of the Right to the City and the role of critical theory in building a new world…very exciting, even my cynical self can get somewhat excited about that. And I will.
The other very exciting note is that Howard Davies admitted that we’ve seen the failure of the efficient market hypothesis, a mainstay of economics for years. The idea that investors will act rationally? Well, obviously, that’s been proved laughable, so we really need to start all over again there. They’re creating something to take a look. I’m going to have to watch the aftermath of such an admission, I mean, where can they go after that while keeping within their framework? I have no idea, but do hope it will be interesting. It should be, I have immense respect for their intelligence. So we’re all rebuilding, though not quite together, and not quite for the same people. But it’s an interesting time to be alive.