A Critical Review on the documentary “Poverty, Inc.”

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The documentary “Poverty, Inc.” has become so influential that it is now part of many courses at the university level. The good news is that at universities we apply critical thinking to the information we receive (or we are supposed to). As a development economist, I share here my views on this famous documentary.

On the positive side, the documentary does a good job in making some points for an audience unfamiliar with economic theory, such as the idea that dependency does not end poverty, or that current foreign aid (money flows between governments) has “unintended consequences that do more harm than good.” However, both ideas are not new in development studies. The much quoted “teach a human to fish” is an idea associated with many philosophers, including Maimonides (about 850 years ago). This criticism of the structure of current foreign aid is a relatively old idea in the development literature. Perhaps the best point made by the documentary is the argument that Non-governmental Organizations (NGOs) can do a better job if they base their strategies on effective communications with local entities, although this idea is not new either.

What are, then, the problems with this documentary? Many. Firstly, the development literature has two main perspectives; namely, the conservative and the progressive. A documentary that omits a whole branch of argumentation is not responsible and carries “unintended consequences,” such as misinforming that unfamiliar audience. Besides mentioning supranational entities, the documentary did not expose crucial structural problems: there is no serious analysis on geopolitics, global power relations, or class issues, among others. A class analysis would not, for instance, focus on stressing that “NGOs need the poor to exist” but that “the rich need the poor to exist”.Read More »

Small and Medium Enterprise Development: A Case of Hamlet without the Prince

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Towards the end of 2016, something remarkable happened in the relationship between the private sector and state in South Africa. In an effort to keep the big three rating agencies from downgrading the country’s the sovereign credit rating to “junk status” the CEO Initiative was convened at the request of the President and his Deputy and led by the then Minister of Finance. The initiative’s initial goals were to prevent a sovereign rating downgrade and to stimulate inclusive and sustainable growth. To achieve this, three work streams were established: a fund for small and medium sized enterprises (SME), a youth employment scheme, and an investment intervention team. This post critically assesses the theoretical basis for SME development as a tool for inclusive growth.Read More »

e-Book Launch: Can Dependency Theory Explain Our World Today?

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Is it time for dependency theory to make a comeback? Its central idea is that developed (”core”) countries benefit from the global system at the expense of developing (”periphery”) countries—which face structural barriers that make it difficult, if not impossible, for them to develop in the same way that the already developed countries did. As neo-classical economics came to dominate the field in the 1980s, the theory lost prominence and traction. Given the vast imbalances that persist within and among nations in the global economy today, it’s an opportune time to revisit the framework.

To that end, INET’s Young Scholars Initiative (YSI) has released a new e-book, Conversations on Dependency Theory. The volume, released by YSI’s Economic Development Working Group, comprises interviews with 13 scholars from around the world who express a variety of viewpoints on the meaning and relevance of dependency theory in today’s context.

The Limitations of Zimbabwe’s Contenting Political Economy Paradigms

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As the 2018 elections in Zimbabwe draw near, the political contest on which political party is best suited to steer the country towards a better future will be dominated by the economic agenda during campaigns. The kind of language that both ZANU PF and the opposition coalition led by the MDC (M) will use to persuade the electorate has become all too familiar.

On the one hand will be the nationalist/patriotic discourse celebrating land reform and advancing the programme for indigenisation and economic empowerment. Inherently connected to that is a sharp criticism of global imperial machinations against Zimbabwe through sanctions against a party determined to defend the fruits of its economic transformation following the fast track land reform programme. Underlying this discourse is the argument that Zimbabwe is using local economic transformation to challenge the worst excesses of enduring global imperialism. ZANU PF will again depict the opposition, particularly the MDC, as a movement that is severely compromised by collusion with the imperialist west to the extent that it will struggle to balance local national interests against those of the British and American governments.

Offering an alternative narrative to this discourse is opposition politics that will claim that the more immediate struggle is against nationalist authoritarianism. Making reference to the unending economic crisis, the opposition will argue that the ruling party presided over a poor human rights record, economic collapse characterised by high deindustrialisation, record unemployment, the informalisation of the economy and hyperinflation in the period between 2000 to 2009; as well as its contrasting current excesses of severe illiquidity. The suggested alternative will be re-engagement with the global economy through attracting investment and creating jobs for all.Read More »

Is ‘Imperialism’ a Relevant Concept Today? A Debate Among Marxists

This month, four prominent Marxists met at The New School in New York to debate the relevance of imperialism. The debate was related to the publication of Prabhat Patnaik’s (Jawaharlal Nehru University) new book A Theory of Imperialism (written with Utsa Patnaik). With him in the panel were geographer David Harvey (CUNY), political scientist Nancy Fraser (The New School), and economist Duncan Foley (The New School). Economics Professor Sanjay Reddy (The New School) moderated the debate. The main question for the panelists was: Is ‘Imperialism’ a relevant concept today? A fruitful debate followed, suggesting that contemporary imperialism is crying out for analysis and critique.

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The Forthcoming 2018 Elections in Zimbabwe: A Gaze from the Economic Lens

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This blog post attempts to proffer insights on the possible influence of prevailing economic circumstances and how they may play out in political dynamics in the run-up to the 2018 elections. Zimbabwean politics has been intensely competitive since the formation of the MDC in 1999, giving the ruling ZANU PF the most effective challenge since independence. Nowhere, however, did the opposition come any closer to clinching electoral victory than in 2008 where they were eventually talked into sharing power after a violent build up to the run-off elections. The two parties will face each other again in 2018 and the question that remains is whether the efforts at ‘grand coalition’ building will address the deficiencies of the opposition. However, as 2018 draws near, it is becoming crystal clear that the structural constraints facing the economy is already setting the battlelines for political parties. Therefore, debates on ‘grand coalition’ building in one way or another will have to address the question of the economy in a manner that will resonate with the ordinary men. The political parties that will see beyond electoral fraud and malpractices in their strategies will most likely have more traction with voters.Read More »