The birth and growth of development economics

World leaders meeting at the United Nations in New York, 2015
World leaders meeting at the United Nations in New York, 2015

Accordingly, a 1970 UN resolution called for a unified approach to development and planning so that no sector of the population would be left behind; structural changes that favor national and participatory development be undertaken; the promotion of social equity through the achievement of equitable distribution of income and national wealth should be emphasized and high priority be accorded to human development and provision of employment opportunities.

Further studies were in support of the Columbia Declaration. The Dag Hammarskjold Foundation issued a report in 1975 and called for a human-centred development approach. In 1976 the International Labour Organization (ILO) issued a report that too emphasized a basic needs approach to development “aiming at the achievement of a certain specific minimum standard of living before the end of the century” (Wolfgang Sachs 1992). In late 1977 ILO organized a basic-needs strategy conference specifically for Africa. The conference highlighted the urgent need to eradicate mass poverty and unemployment through a basic-needs strategy that should be country-specific and dynamic (ILO 1977).

Unfortunately, the implementation of these worthy recommendations during the Second Development Decade was seriously constrained by the difficulties experienced in the 1970s including economic stagnation, rising inflation and unemployment, the oil crises in 1973 and in 1979 and the breakdown of the Bretton Woods system. In response, the Brandt Commission was established in 1977 to study the grave global issues that had arisen from the economic and social disparities of the world community and suggest ways of promoting adequate solutions to development in general and absolute poverty in particular (Brandt Report 1980). This report on a program for survival was published at a time when the focus had shifted from employment and basic needs to macroeconomic issues that focused on inflation and the debt crisis that created tremendous problems. The 1980s and 1990s were periods of austerity and belt tightening in most developing countries that resulted in the 1980s declared as the lost decade for Africa and Latin America.

The 1990s was devoted to United Nations sponsored summits and conferences to find lasting economic, social and political solutions, leading to the Millennium Declaration in 2000 and the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to, among other things, reduce poverty and hunger in half by 2015 using the mixed economy model of public and private partnership that downplayed the application of market forces, laissez-faire and trickle down measures, restoring Keynesian economics through stimulus programs and state intervention in the economy in developed and developing countries.

The post-MDGs 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development to end exclusion and poverty in all its forms and dimensions has launched a new development paradigm shift that integrates economic, social and environmental issues as well as state, private sector, civil societies and community- based organizations (CBOs) so that no one is left behind in the sustainable and equitable development process. This is a revival of development economics. Earlier in his address to American economists, Arthur Lewis had reminded the audience that “development economics remain alive and well among third world students” (W.W. Rostow 1990).

Prof Eric Kashambuzi is a consultant on international issues in New York. He previously worked with the United Nations Development Programme in various capacities in Ethiopia, Zambia, Swaziland, and New York. He has also worked with national governments, African ambassadors in New York, and intergovernmental organizations such as the African Development Bank, Economic Commission for Africa, the African Union, the Southern African Development Community, and the Economic Community of West African States. He has also worked closely with various UN entities such as the General Assembly and its second and third committees, as well as the executive boards of UNDP and UNFPA. He lives in New York with his wife Gertrude.

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