Ted Trainer 

4  pp.



Possibly the most disturbing aspect of the entire “development” field is that the definition just about everyone unthinkingly accepts is only of one form of development, that is, the capitalist approach. The most important goal should be to help people, especially Third World people, to realize that there could be other forms, that this dominant approach is grossly unsatisfactory, and that there is a far better alternative. 


The contradiction between capitalist development and the Simpler Way alternative can be summarised as follows: the alternative is indented in bold. 




Conventional development allows a few people to own almost all the capital and to decide what will be developed.  They only invest their capital in developing whatever will make most profit for themselves, and this will always involve using Third World land, labour and resources to produce things richer people want to buy. 

The alternative/appropriate approach involves the poor country deciding what to develop in order to maximize benefit to its people. 

The basic assumption is that development is (or the key to it is) getting the economy going, cranking up production for sale and thus business turnover, i.e., increasing the GDP.

The best way to increase the GDP is to free and encourage investors to put the country’s resources into production of whatever will sell most profitably, e.g., put land into export crops. But satisfactory development involves far more than increasing sales; it involves improving all aspects of society, not just its GDP. The more that growth of business turnover is prioritized the less attention will directed at meeting the most urgent needs. Satisfactory development would involve preventing the ventures investors would most wish to set up and making sure the resources are devoted to meeting needs. This would mean GDP would not be maximised.

It is most important to free market forces as much as possible. The market system is the best/only way to facilitate development.

The market system never gets the most urgent needs met or the right things developed. The market results in scare things going to those who can pay most for them. Thus the global economic system allows rich countries to outbid poor countries to buy scarce things. That’s why over 600 million tonnes of grain are fed to animals in rich countries each year while over 850 million people are malnourished. The market has no concern whatsoever for what humans need or what is just or best for the environment.

This also explains why the development taking place is so grossly inappropriate; the wrong industries are developed. Market forces determine that most of the development is of industries to provide crops and consumer goods for the small rich local elites or for export to the rich countries. Yet all that labour and land could have been fully devoted by poor people to meeting their own needs.

Giving maximum freedom to market forces is precisely what the transnational corporations and local business classes want. They do not want any restriction on their freedom to go where they like and produce what they like and sell it where they like. Satisfactory development would make sure scarce resources were devoted to meeting urgent needs.

Yes at first conventional-capitalist development is uneven … the rich benefit more than the poor…but in time the increased wealth will trickle down to enrich all.

The trickle down rationale should be totally rejected. Very little trickles down, it would take many decades to deliver reasonable living standards to the poorest, it is morally repugnant to accept a process that delivers to those in most need only crumbs from the tables of the rich … and there are not enough resources for the growth and trickle down process to lift all people to rich-world affluence. 

Labour and the environment are regarded as mere commodities that can be bought or ignored in order to make maximum profit. The environmental, social and human consequences of economic activity are defined as "externalities" and therefore not very important to take into account. 

These points reveal the unacceptable assumption that economics and development are only about monetary costs and benefits and therefore considerations of morality, justice, rights, social benefit and cohesion, future generations and the environment are secondary or irrelevant. Appropriate/alternative development puts them ahead of merely monetary or economic considerations. 

You must plunge into the global economy, produce something/anything to sell into it in order to be able to buy from it the things you need, to pay off loans and to build infrastructures.  

Have as little to do with the global economy as possible. Try to be as economically self-sufficient as possible.  Produce for yourself as many of the basic goods you need as you reasonably can.  Yes the costs might be higher than if you imported but the less you import the less you have to export. If you try to succeed in the global economy you will have to compete against all the other poor countries struggling to sell something, which is delightful for rich countries as it lowers the prices they need to pay. 

You must eliminate trade barriers, protection for your industries, subsidies for the poor … because these raise your export prices, and you should not interfere with the freedom of trade. 

Use many trade barriers and apply much protection of industry. If you do not then market forces will devote your resources to producing for richer people, and allow foreign corporations to take over  your industries.

Minimise government regulation, and ownership of productive enterprises. Don’t interfere with market forces. Don’t try to plan or direct your economy; leave it to the market. 

Prevent the market from being a major determinant of what happens. It might be given a role, but the basic production, distribution and infrastructure development decisions must be made by society in view of its needs

If you interfere with the operation of market forces your economy will be inefficient; the GDP will suffer, less wealth will be created. 

That’s true, but it isn’t important. What matters is whether the quality of life and ecosystems etc. are improving, and whether you are in control of your development. The free market allows investors, mostly foreign, to take control of it.    

The ultimate goal of development is to rise to rich world levels of industrialization, infrastructures, travel, consumption and affluence. 

That goal is a) morally unacceptable; it is about squandering vast quantities of resources on trivia, travel, too-big houses…, b) not going to deliver a high quality of life (consider rich world rates of depression), and c) impossible for all to achieve; there are nowhere near enough resources left on the planet!  The goal of appropriate development is to provide lifestyles, infrastructures etc. that are sufficient; i.e., as resource-cheap and frugal as possible while enabling a satisfying way of life.



Note the "uni-dimensional" assumption; i.e that all countries can be put in order according to their position on the one slope from least to most developed, as given by their GDP. Development is about moving up the slope towards where the richest countries are. Such a notion cannot deal with Cuba which has better health and environmental statistics than the USA, or Bhutan which holds happiness as the development goal...or with Simpler Way theory which claims that the highest quality of life requires a low GDP per capita.

Conventional development theory legitimizes a grossly unjust world economic system, one which routinely delivers most of the world’s wealth to the rich countries and enriches corporations and their super rich shareholders, while depriving half the world’s people of satisfactory conditions...but few seem to see this. The theory is a powerful ideology; conventional development is only capitalist development, that is, an approach whereby what is developed is decided by what those with capital think will most increase their profits. Obviously the alternative does not allow this, but makes sure the available resources can be used by people to produce what they need.

Appropriate/alternative development in the Third World would be a disaster for the rich world corporations, banks and consumers.  If we could not get (buy) the proportion of world resources we presently get, because Third World people no longer need to export many of them, our lifestyles, business turnover and GDP would be devastated.  

Many people in tribal and peasant societies and in rich countries now reject conventional-capitalist development and are trying to follow the alternative path.  Perhaps the most impressive examples are the Zapatistas in Mexico, the global Via Campesino movement, now including perhaps 200 million people, many in Indian and Pakistani villages, and the Catalan Integral Cooperative in Spain. Similar values are being pursued in the Eco-village, Downshifting, Transition Towns and Voluntary Simplicity movements.





For the full, c. 25 page account of Third World Development, see  For a role reading putting the main themes in a form useful at high-school level see