Towards a General Theory of Development and Underdevelopment

All the theories discussed in this chapter are only partial theories. They explain certain aspects but do not fully explain the cause of underdevelopment. The explanation is more adequate for certain historical situations and specific conditions of production while they are less relevant for others. They offer a strategy for overcoming the prevailing situation and initiating development which may be suitable under certain economic and social conditions but are not applicable to others.

A general theory of development is still lacking. Drawing up such a general theory is indeed a difficult task; it would have to include:

  1. an explanation of underdevelopment for different countries;
  2. an explanation of the development process of industrialized countries; and
  3. a strategy for overcoming underdevelopment in developing countries.
  4. all relevant disciplines and their interdependence;
  5. the different levels at which development takes place, from the local to the international level;
  6. the processes and relations between the different sectors and strata of society and economy; and
  7. the international dimensions of the development process

While the system theory opens up the possibility of organizing such a vast theoretical body, the activities of different researchers hitherto have not yet been successful. Even in the absence of a concise theory to guide political activities, decision-makers must have some yardsticks to measure whether their strategies and tools will achieve the goals of the society. Here, goals play an important role. While, in detail, the question of goals in the development process is a political question, and difference of opinion and conflict are possible, at a high level of abstraction, universal agreement seems to be possible.

It is widely agreed that preservation of human dignity and fulfillment of basic needs are the foremost duties of every society. While there is wide agreement on this goal, differences of opinion exist on the question of the degree to which these basics should be supplied and, as well, how they should be supplied. These differences allow for different paths of development. From the common denominator “basic needs,” one can deduct five basic goals of development:

  1. economic growth to secure food and other requirements for the population;
  2. social justice to reduce inequality;
  3. employment as means of earning an income but, as well, because of its ethical and social value;
  4. participation as political involvement and social sharing;
  5. independence as freedom from external domination

While individual societies may have different opinions on the priorities of these goals, in the absence of a general theory of development; one can use the criterion of fulfillment of these goals as a yardstick in development. Development is then understood as a simultaneous progress towards these five goals.

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