Kerala and measuring "development" (Posted to PEN-L by Jim Craven)

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Thu Nov 4 18:44:39 MST 1999

When I lived in Kerala, I lived in a small village with 150 people. Half the
village was Hindu and half was Syrian Orthodox Christian; half the village
was CPM politically and half the village was Congress-I. In my house, we had
no running water, water was from a well and we would single-boil to bathe
and double-boil to drink. We cooked in an open pit with wood and electricity
was available maybe 3-4 hours per day. All the roads were dirt, and the bus
to other villages and the towns came and went twice a day.

We produced our own pepper, cashews, rice, jackfruit, cocanuts, tapioca,
milk and chicken and whatever surplus we traded (bartered) for other things
from other households and/or sold some things at the local market. A lot of
what was produced and traded never showed up in the State "Gross State
Domestic Product" (Kerala had among the best data collection/reporting
systems among the States of India). Further there was a spirit among the
people--especially village people--of cooperation, sharing and mutual
concern/reciprocity that the core and necessary values of capitalism and its
social engineers--ultra-individualism/rat-race
competitiveness/hyper-selfishness/methodological individualism--seek to
undermine and destroy and indeed must undermine and destroy for capitalism
to take hold.

I remember a case in which a man was beating his wife and children. The
village elders went to the man and tried to explain to him that his wife was
not his property and neither were his children, that he should not do to
them what he wouldn't want done to him--and that next time what he was doing
to his wife and children would be done to him--and that he was undermining
not only his own home and damaging his wife and children, but was
undermining the community as well. They had this notion that no matter how
"wealthy" or "poor" the village in nominal or even real income terms, the
social and human capital--to put in in bourgeois terms-- of the village were
as important--more important--than paved roads or physical capital to
overall development and "civilization". Some time later this guy started
beating his wife again, so some of the village people came to his house and
beat the shit out of him. They told him, "see how it feels to be beaten by
someone stronger?" "See how it feels when someone who is supposed to care
for you instead beats you?". The third time he beat his wife, she left him
and asked the village for protection for herself and her children. The
village banned him, and poor people, very poor people, banned together,
contributed shares of food and other essentials to a fund to help her and
the children, provided work to support herself, and drove the man from the
village--not to return until and unless his wife gave the OK.

These were poor people. there "per capita incomes" were low; sometimes when
the monsoons came floods might take it all away. But they shared, banned
together and supported each other with meagre means. On the other hand, in
this citadel of "progress", "efficiency", capitalism, "decency", "human
rights", high per capita GDP, "civilization", we see 40 million people with
no health care and another 35 million grossly underprotected; we see an
estimated 7 million homeless, one-third of whom are children; we see the
highest rate of children in poverty among 22 industrialized capitalist
nations; we see the highest rates of divorce and reported spousal abuse and
the women and children victims are simply thrown away like garbage with no
support or assistance to speak of; we see the highest rates of HIV infection
among the 22 industrialized capitalist nations; we see myopic selfishness,
rate-race competition, mounting negative externalities, increasing
socialization of risks and costs of production coupled with increasingly
privatized/centralized returns and surpluses from production; we see an
increasingly degenerate, anything-goes, nihilistic and commodified culture;
we see a nation-state plundering, bombing and seeking to undermine any
societies that may stand up against imperial interests/hubris and/or provide
a concrete counter-example and refutation to the purported blessings and
efficiencies of capitalism; we see a society increasingly unable to produce
tangible things and increasingly able to produce only consultants,
pontificators, financial speculators, "experts" for the rest of the world,
contrived data and general "services"; we see mounting environmental crises
and only  "solutions" like the Strangelovian/Eichmann-like "Summers
Solution" being offered (dump the toxics on the poor and Indian
Reservations) etc etc.

There is a whole lot included in GDP or GDP per capita that has nothing
whatsoever to do with "development" and indeed a lot of it actually
sabotages long-run growth and development as most people might likely define
the concepts. Remeber, natural or environmental disasters, coupled with
increasing "spillover effects" like mutated children are actually good for
GDP in the short-run. On the other hand, there are many activities and
priorities necessary for "development" that will not and cannot be
quantified or commodified such that they could be included in GDP. If you
like GDP per capita as a measure or even significant indicator of growth and
development, you'll love nazi Germany--the nazis were really big on
"efficiency", commodification, quantification and "growth"; indeed they had
ideas about "development" and its measurement that the Summers-types would
just love. Indeed even the attempts to "quantify" very complex and
multi-dimensional processes such as development with indexes (no matter how
many variables or sub-indices and no matter how elegantly differentially
weighted in the overall index) like the HDI, GPI etc represent hubris in
that they assume the predicates to be constructed or suggested: what is
"development?"; what are the essential dimensions of overall development?;
are those dimensions to be equally or differentially weighted and by whom
and in accordance with what criteria?

If the indicators of "development" and "growth" are essentially indicators
of general commodification more than anything else, then obviously the
system that commodifies--and must commodify--the most--capitalism--is the
system that produces the greatest "development" and "growth"; no regard for
what and for whom it is being produced, only "how" (in the narrowest sense)
with further indicators that also guarantee that negative externalities will
be grossly undermeasured and purported "positive" externalities grossly
overmeasured and over quantified.

Jim Craven

James Craven
Clark College, 1800 E. McLoughlin Blvd.
Vancouver, WA. 98663
(360) 992-2283; Fax: (360) 992-2863
blkfoot5 at
*My Employer Has No Association With My Private/Protected

Louis Proyect
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