The Concept Of Authentic Development When We Talk About 'Development'

Responding to: Inequality, Authentic Development, and Solidarity

By: Mincheol Kim

February 23, 2015

Everyone would agree that, when we talk about the global development, it is very helpful and also necessary to take the systematic and analytical perspective. That perspective provides us with the tools to view the phenomena without unnecessary prejudices. The concrete data produced out of this perspective can be used to bring about a meaningful change when there is a need.

In that sense, Dr. Kaushik Basu’s lecture is an excellent example of how the academic discipline can approach urgent issues such as poverty and inequality. The perspective that development economics provides for us seems to be relevant and appropriate to handle the problems, and Dr. Basu adopted some key concepts such as Adam Smith’s 'invisible hand,' factors like labor flexibility, savings and interest rate, and the shared prosperity etc., and showed how those are able to be used to tackle the problem of extreme poverty worldwide. Of the brilliant insights, I’d like to focus on an essential concept of development in the perspective of Catholic social thought.

What is authentic development?

Personally, I found it interesting that Dr. Basu compared the economic development of South Korea and India and suggested that the phenomenal growth of South Korea was made possible by the former president Park Chung Hee, whose strong leadership and policy that favors high labor flexibility proved to be the stepping stone for the economic success. Dr. Basu didn't forget to remark on the dark side of his dictatorship and to say that he has no intention of recommending it. He goes on to point out that “there are certain bad things which have good results, certain good things which have bad results.” It is very true, and people of experience would agree, “Life is like that.”

As for me also, I can’t resist admitting it: while I would raise my voice to stress the priceless value of democracy and civil rights, I am still not so confident in myself that I would discard all the fruits of the development that I enjoy when they turn out to be unjust benefits gained at the expense of democratic values. However, aside from the ethical question of whether or not I am permitted to reap the benefit from the unjust system that I suspect and denounce because it oppressed the voice of civil society, I cannot help but to ask myself, “Is the type of economic development which we emphasize necessarily a good and authentic one? Have we lost our right direction towards the authentic development by occupying ourselves too much in the frameworks of development economics?”

Over all, I think these questions may well be joined into one fundamental one: “What is good and authentic development?” To better answer this question doesn’t necessarily involve the discipline of philosophy or ethics. Rather, more appropriately, I think it is a theological subject because the concept of development naturally makes us think of eventually what (who) is to be developed and where the direction of development goes to in the ultimate horizon of our being. In Christianity, it is the human beings (along with all other creatures) that need to be fully developed, and God that all kinds of development are coming from in the beginning, and going to in the end. In other words, the authentic development is what we humans go through to be with God eventually.

So as one who is created in the image and likeness of God, no human being should be treated as the ‘outcast’ and ‘leftover’ in the works of development. Of course, no one would deny that economic development is a necessary condition to feed basic human needs. But it’s not a sufficient one. Though the sophisticatedly-developed indicators of economics might give us better view of how much wealth we have and how equally its distribution is being made, it can often distort our views on the reality because: firstly, there is uncategorized wealth such as ‘nature as it is’ (not the one as it is used and exploited) that can give human beings the invaluable degree of joy, and secondly there is immaterial wealth such as simple joy and peace within a community, that can often be more easily found among the ‘poor’ people.

Furthermore, as Pope Francis says in his Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel), we the members of the Church need to be poor and for the poor: “They have much to teach us. Not only do they share in the sensus fidei (sense of the faith), but in their difficulties they know the suffering Christ. We need to let ourselves be evangelized by them.” We Christians believe that Christ is the source of all good values, and the Pope implies the poor are actually ‘rich’ in such values enough to evangelize us in that sense. Considering these values, high-GDP countries may not necessarily be viewed as more ‘authentically developed’ than the low-GDP ones.

Here I don’t mean to say it’s okay to leave the poor as they are, neither do I mean to insist that we introduce a new type of wealth indicator, which I suspect might be another case of trying to measure the unmeasurable. The point is: when we talk about development, it is not enough to rely on those economic indicators. They may be and actually are useful in the concrete cases, but too much dependence on it can cause us to be ‘lost in numbers.’ As our God sent His only Son not to rain the necessities from heaven, but to be with His people, the preferential option for the poor and development properly understood has its foundation in the personal contact with and reaching-out to the people in their plight, and it can’t be replaced by the mere statistics of wealth distribution. 

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The Concept Of Authentic Development When We Talk About 'Development'