Paradigms, Statistics, Artifacts, "Development" and Planning

Craven, Jim jcraven at
Mon Nov 8 16:44:07 MST 1999

A book I highly recommend is "Compassion Fatigue: How the Media Sell
Disease, Famine, War and Death" by Susan D. Moeller, Routledge, N.Y. 1999. A
particular passage struck me:

                 "The Americanization of crises also plays into this
proclivity. Americans are terribly
               preoccupied with themselves. The Americanization of events
makes the public feel that
               the world subscibes, and must subscribe, to American cultural
icons--and if it doesn't
               or can't it is not worth the bother, because clearly the
natives are unworthy or the issue
               or event is. Media consumers are tied to a tether of cultural
images. this is a fact well-known
               yet rarely acknowledged. Peoples in other countries know that
when they use Western icons
               to help define their struggles the West pays greater
attention. So the student democracy
               movement in Tiananmen Square made sure to carry their Statue
of Liberty in front of the
               cameras and protesters outside an Indonesian courtroom sang
the civil rights anthem
               'We Shall Overcome' while facing the microphones. Would our
interest in those events
               have been as great without those signifiers? We draw
historical parallels and make cultural
               connections between our world and that of the 'other'. the
lone man defying the Chinese
               authorities by standing in front of the line of tanks was for
us another Patrick Henry shouting
               'Give me liberty or give me death'. We take for granted the
placards quoting Thomas Jefferson
                and Martin Luther King Jr., which are written in
English--but are carried by citizens of China
                or Croatia or Chechnya." (pp. 14-15)

This passage gave me a flashback to Kerala--and an extension of the
above-mentioned concepts--when I was teaching a graduate course in
Development and Planning at St. Berchman's University in Changanacherry in
the early 1980s. Many of the students wanted a heavy dose of "Operations
Theory" as they had heard it was quite in vogue in "The West". I had my own
copy of Baumol's "Economic Theory and Operations Analysis" (the library at
the school didn't have a copy of it) and some other stuff and we went into
some of the more esoteric and ultra hypothetico-deductivist stuff. I asked
some of the students:
What is the going rate for a lorry driver in this district?; What is the
going price for a kilo of rice at the government rationing center? What is
the going wage rate for a cocanut tree climber? I went through several
questions like that to which no answer was given. Although some of the
students were "Scheduled Caste" and part of the 20% quota allotment, the
majority were from wealth homes where servants do all the work, make all the
food purchases etc; they just didn;t know. There was the usual joke about
the economist who knows the "price" of everything and the
"value" of nothing; in this case they knew neither the "price" nor the
"value" of anything.

I asked what good are all of these elegant models if the inputed data is
either crap or pure fantasy? At this time CPM was in power and there was
much talk about extending local and regional planning. But planning what and
on the basis of what raw data--to analyze trends and see what needs fixing.
Later, some of the profs got together for some drinking and I asked where
the data from Center for Development Studies and the Governmental Agencies
comes from. They said from the statistics takers who come out from the
cities to survey rural and town markets and conditions. I asked how reliable
is that data. They said not very because the people in the rural areas are
so used to getting screwed over by the politicians and their intellectual
minions who come out wearing their white mundas (in Kerala and other parts
of India, poor workers (men) typically wear printed wrap-arounds called
Kailees whereas the professionals wear white wrap-arounds called "mundas"
and thus status and caste differences are very visible--like the suits
versus the overalls in thw West) that they don't dare give accurate stats
because the stats will only be used against them--to get more taxes etc. I
asked how much planning and development can be done if the statistical base
for planning is bogus based on lies and phony figures. Not much they said.

Then I asked about the statistical categories and constructs themselves.
Since many constructs are based on combining two or more separate stats
(like GDP per capita combining GDP and population), what happens
when the basic elements of the overall constructs are bogus; do you not get
compounded artifacts or bogus numbers; they all said of course and it is a
real problem. But I remember a conversation in which someone said that their
real problem is not only bogus numbers built on bogus numbers, but the real
problem was in the area in what they chose to attempt to measure and not
attempt to measure in the first place. In order to try to get money from
Western institutions, they had to accept and pander to their notions of what
development is or is not about and of course that meant gathering only the
stats and using only the capitalist-based categories and constructs that the
Western, devleoped capitalist economies considered "revealing", "meaningful"
and "valid". Since there was a scarcity of resources available for stats
collection and interpretation and publication, this meant that many
potentially revealing constructs, stats and conditions--especially relevant
in the unique context of Kerala--went ungathered and unexamined--and of
course conditions of misery possibly revealed by other more meaningful
constructs and stats went unchanged and unchallenged. Sort of like pandering
to Western icons/ideologies in order to get some Western media
coverage/donations for your struggles; and of course the  Western coverage
often caricatures and sets back, rather than advances, the particular
sturggles being covered and advanced.

So stats and constructs possibly appropriate for a highly commodified and
"developed" capitalist economy were grafted on to the reality of Kerala
where such stats would/could only "prove" the extent of underdevelopment
generated by socialist-like programs, and such stats would/could in turn
"prove" the development-promoting virtues of neoliberal globalism and
imperialism once allowed in to Kerala--just like any contrived syllogism or

I suggested internship programs in the villages as part of any undergraduate
or graduate curriculum. Let the medical students serve the poor--and really
learn by doing--in the villages; let the engineering students really build
something; let the political economy students deal with real people and
conditions while creating statistical categories and constructs, and let
them actually gather the stats--and live in the conditions measured by those
stats--that they later interpret and use for "operations analysis" and
"planning". I had a hard time thinking about something concrete that
neoclassical economists, sociologists and anthros could do or would be
capable of doing but maybe actually living under--before purporting to
analyze--various class and strata conditions--other than that of the
wealthy--might be in order.

The more I thought about it the more I thought that a basic "internship
program" like they had for intellectuals in China during the Cultural
Revolution--sent to the countryside to do some physical labor--would be
quite in order in the U.S. Just imagine if one year of  living and doing
basic work (no weekends off) in Watts, Harlem or Appalachea or some Indian
Reservation was a basic requirement for graduation from any
university--Harvard, MIT included. Imagine how possibly  whole notions of
what are or are not really relevant or revealing stats and constructs might
change--along with some elitist and etherial attitudes and postures or
hypothetico-deductivist modeling too. Well enough fantasy for today, back to
"reality" and my latest World Bank/IMF/UN indicators.

Jim Craven

James Craven
Clark College, 1800 E. McLoughlin Blvd.
Vancouver, WA. 98663
(360) 992-2283; Fax: (360) 992-2863
blkfoot5 at
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