Ted Trainer


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 the dominant approach 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.


A few people are allowed 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 country should decide what the development priorities are, and these should be meeting the urgent needs of the poorest.

The basic assumption is that development is (or the key to it is) getting the economy going, cranking up business turnover, that is, the amount of producing and consuming going on. A rising GDP means more wealth is being created.

It is a serious mistake to think that economic growth is development. That is an extremely narrow definition, which asserts what those with capital want, i.e., more and more buying and selling going on. Firstly the goals should include improving all aspects of society, including movement towards more desirable social, cultural, moral, leisure, governmental etc. systems and institutions, and especially improving the general quality of life. Great progress in this can be made on these fronts without much increase in GDP. Making the growth of GDP the goal interferes with that progress e.g., governments take land etc. from peasants to boost export plantations.) Yes raising the GDP creates more “wealth”, but this is a very inefficient way to meet the most urgent needs.

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

The market system is an extremely unsatisfactory way to try to get the most urgent needs met or the right things developed. 

Firstly the extremely unfair distributions of the world's resources result because it is an economic system in which scare things go to those who can pay most for them.  Rich countries are allowed 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.  It will always distribute things according to "effective demand", which means that richer people and nations can take what they want and the poor must do without.

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.

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 crumbs from the tables of the rich … and there are not enough resources for the growth ns 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 is 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 o with the global economy as possibler. You should be as economically self-sufficient as possible.  Produce for yourself as many of the basic goods you need as you reasonably can.  The proportion is very high, if your goal is to enable sufficient provision for all. 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.

You must use many trade barriers and much protection. It is absurd to think that you can ensure that your resources will go into the most needed purposes if strong action is not taken to stop them being taken by rich corporations and consumers operating according to market forces.

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.  

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 ultimate goal 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.


Many people in tribal and peasant society’s, and in rich countries now reject conventional-capitalist development and are following 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.

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.


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