On democracy and development
development are both terms in vogue. It is almost taken for
granted that Sri Lanka has entered a new phase of development.
Relative to the immediate past or the period in which the
country was engulfed in a fratricidal war, the period that is
current have to be rebuilt or repaired. In that sense the
current phase has nothing but development on its agenda.
Development, however, has many meanings and definitely
different meanings to different social strata and social
classes. There are also different paths and criteria of
development. It is here that democracy comes in for what is
essential is not development per se but development with
There is democracy and democracy, said Lenin. He meant that
different people and different social classes perceive democracy
differently. What is democratic for one would not be democratic
for the other. For example privatization of State enterprises is
considered the exercise of the freedom of the entrepreneur, a
high tenet of neo-liberal democracy. The workers and trade
unions at those enterprises view it differently, as a threat to
their job security and welfare.
Development could be achieved under diverse dispensations.
Certain countries under military rule such as Pinochet's Chile
developed the economy under neo-liberalism and showed impressive
growth of the GDP. Yet that development was associated with
widespread suppression of people's rights and a widening of the
gap between the rich and the poor.
Neo-liberalism has been associated with more authoritarian
regimes. Though they have recorded economic gains the
beneficiaries were mostly the wealthy classes with the lot of
poor worsening day by day. Egypt and Tunisia had both shown
impressive economic growth though popular revolts had overthrown
the regimes in both countries. Even Libya which had taken a
different path to development had impressive economic gains. Yet
popular discontent had grown.
What is required is not development per se but development
with equity. If the latter is lacking it will lead to social
unrest. Hence the emphasis on equity as an essential component
of development. Equity or the lack of it becomes prominent in
the redistribution of social wealth though the nature of
ownership of the means of producing that wealth is the root
cause of the distribution pattern.
This fact is acknowledged by bourgeois critics who lament
that the benefits of development has not 'trickled down' to the
masses. The use of the phrase 'trickle down' shows nothing more
is expected and that the major share should go to someone else.
If development is to be meaningful to the masses it should
produce a tangible improvement in the lives of the masses. It is
here economic indices such as the GDP could be deceptive. The
GDP per capita, for example, hides social inequalities and could
be far off from the reality. That is why many scholars now
resort to the new index of Human Development to measure
For development to take place the purchasing power of the
people should remain high. If it goes below a certain level and
social wealth accrues excessively at the pole of the rich the
economy would collapse for the goods produced would not be sold.
No regime could sustain itself without guaranteeing the basic
needs - food, clothing and shelter, etc., to the mass of the
people. That is why countries such as ours need a path of
democratic development which is pro-poor and pro-people. It is
not enough to subsidize the entrepreneurs and guarantee them
against vagaries of the market, local and foreign. It is also
necessary to guarantee a minimum living standard for the poor
from the shocks of ever escalating prices and other ills that
affect them more severely just because they are poor.
Sri Lanka is facing a demographic revolution where the aged
or those above 60 years of age would increase to about one third
of the population in a few decades. The situation could worsen
if malnutrition that is now widespread even among some affluent
groups is not curtailed. Now that the war is over
non-communicable diseases and malnutrition have become the
debilitating factors. The development paradigm we advocate must
find a solution to this severe problem. It is a moot point to
what extent the private sector, the so-called engine of growth
would be committed to such a solution.
Obviously the future labour force need to be more productive.
This could be brought about only through higher technology. Have
the authorities realized this need?