University of Earth
Projects Overview (Explanations)
Human Development Project (Explanations)

Significance: Economic bias

Human Development Project


1. Subsumption of human development

Within the international community, human development has usually been understood to be an aspect of economic and social development. As with social development, it has long been considered as a secondary consideration compared to economic development. When either social or human development have been accorded attention, it has been as a consequence of reluctant recognition that economic development policies have disrupted the social fabric to the point of inhibiting the development process that they were theoretically designed to enhance. From this perspective human development is an unfortunate necessity if economic development is to be effectively achieved.

The systematic neglect of human development in intergovernmental development programmes, and their national counterparts, was highlighted in 1985 in the Roundtable on Development, jointly convened by the North-South Roundtable and the UNDP Study Programme. "Recent economic pressures, national and international, have led to serious neglect of the human dimension in development. Unless remedied, this neglect will distort and handicap the future development of at least a generation to come." (Haq et al, 1986).

In a review in 1988 by UNICEF (The Child in South Asia; issues in development as if children mattered) notes that: "The human condition in large parts of the world today suggests that economic development has substantially neglected the human factor -- which is the ultimate objective as well as the main instrument of development. The explanation for this situation lies in one or another of the familiar approaches to, or models of, development. When development is understood as a cumulative sequence of diverse economic deeds, consisting of a cut in consumption, savings, capital accumulation, increased production, higher consumption in the future and more savings for investment, the social factors of development tend to be relegated to relative unimportance. Even when the conventional model is adapted to enable the drawing in of unemployed resources -- like labour, skill, management, raw materials, capital equipment and external funds -- there are but narrow limits to its usefulness in underdeveloped economies which are short of such resources in the necessary balance."

2. Recognition of the neglected dimension

This recognition was in large part a reaction to the evident setbacks in attempting to implement policies of economic adjustment, with their accompanying cutbacks ("austerity measures") in public expenditure on the development of human resources. "The overwhelming preoccupation with the pressing economic problems of debt, balance of payments and economic survival has shifted the attention of national and international policy-makers from long-term goals to short-term adjustment, and from broader concerns to narrow financial matters." (Haq et al, 1986)

The introduction to the report of the roundtable notes: "The ongoing crisis brought into focus the larger illumination of thirty-five years of development experience and thinking: that human development is both an input and an objective of development. Yet the statistics tell the story of our failure to recognize it as an objective. The conventional wisdom of each decade has tended to offer single-factor recipes for economic development -- investment in physical infrastructure, industrialization, export promotion, import substitution, basic needs, etc." (Haq et al, 1986)

This recognition was followed by the conclusion that: "The latest thinking acknowledges that whilst all these elements are necessary conditions of growth, they are not sufficient without inputs into human capital formation, since it is on human beings and their capacity to utilize their skills and experience that self-sustaining development ultimately depends." (Haq et al, 1986) From this it is clear that interest in human development is primarily defined in terms of its contribution to economic development. Human development in these terms is only an objective of development to the extent that it serves to enhance economic development.

3. Evolving scope of human development

The reluctant recognition of a "human factor" in development has evolved over recent decades (Haq et al, 1986). Originally human resource development had been defined somewhat narrowly in terms of labour supply and the provision of skilled manpower. In the early 1960s, human resource development focused on primarily on education and secondarily on health. Skill formation was seen as an investment in human capital required in parallel with investments in physical capital. In the 1970s, the emphasis shifted to the socialization function of schooling, with educational planning seen as being responsive to labour markets and their segmentation. When economic growth and technical progress are just as capable of de-skilling jobs as of generating new jobs, general academic education is a hedge against technical dynamism. Recurrent education and retraining are then an ongoing requirement in a dynamic society. In the 1980s there has been increasing recognition that other factors may be involved such as innate ability, motivation and other psychological factors. These are proving necessary to explain the current economic momentum of some countries and cultures (notably in Southeast Asia) in contrast with others.

4. Questionable official statements

Great caution should however be taken in interpreting official texts defining the scope of human development. Whilst great insights can apparently be embodied in them, these tend in practice to be used for rhetorical purposes or in a totally reductionistic manner. The views embodied in earlier texts may therefore be much more indicative of current practice in most settings, however effectively the more recent broader interpretations are used to suggest subtler options -- whether or not there is any real intention of making them a reality.

It is important to note the concept of human development that emerges from early examples such as the following:

(a) During the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (Santiago, 1972), Robert S McNamara, President of the World Bank, stated: "But the improvement of the individual lives of the great masses of the people is, in the end, what development is all about." But by individual lives is here meant the physical living conditions and opportunity for gainful employment. For most of its existence the World Bank has chosen not to employ any full-time professionals in the non-economic social sciences who might be sensitive to the full range of "day-to-day deprivations" which he noted "degrade human dignity to levels which no statistics can adequately describe."

(b) In the United Nations report on the International Development Strategy, the "ultimate object of development must be to bring about sustained improvement in the well-being of the individual and bestow benefits on all." But the section on human development is divided into sections on the following topics only: population growth, employment, education for development needs, health facilities, nutrition, involving children and youth, housing, and the ecological balance.

(c) A report of the ECOSOC Development Planning Committee, after arguing the importance of adequate social structures, which makes any increase in production or income merely one of a number of relevant economic and social indicators, notes that because many of the social indicators are lacking, social goals can only be identified qualitatively. It is then able to conclude that in fact economic and social questions are so closely interwoven that there is hardly any sense in making the distinction between them. The remainder of the report identifies methods of increasing production and income. Development is in effect generally accepted as meaning first and foremost economic development.

(d) The Secretary-General of the United Nations Conference on the Application of Science and Technology for the Benefit of the Less-Developed Areas (Geneva, 1963) stated: "The core of human resource development is the planning and execution of a policy of education and training - two aspects of the same coordinated process designed to provide the trained manpower at all levels of skill required to achieve the objectives of the economic development plan."

From Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed by Anthony Judge
under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 License.