Wednesday, August 31, 2011

What is Development? -- Students' answers

At the start of my course on development economics this semester, I asked my students to ponder a question. Suppose you woke up from a long sleep and were told that Nigeria is now a developed country. What would that mean to you? What would be different? What the same?

I should put forward at once that this not a random sampling by any stretch of the imagination. This in no way purports to be what "average Nigerians" (whatever that means) think -- these are economics majors at a private university, with all those facts imply. It was fascinating nevertheless and I will also be interested to see if their idea of development changes over the course of the semester.

Out of 12 students, 8 mentioned improved standard of living with a few using words like "economic growth" and one who even whipped out "GDP and GNP."

But how does that improved standard of living manifest itself? In order of mentions:
1 - Better infrastructure (sometimes as a catch-all term, sometimes with examples listed - roads and power being the top two)
2 - More job opportunities
2 - A stable and constant supply of electricity. During our discussion, with half the evening class spend without power, this got the widest noise of approval from the group. As Hans Rosling said, if you give people the right to vote, they will vote for the washing machine.
2 - Other public goods, which they mostly called "amenities," listing schools and hospitals most frequently.
5 - Lower poverty
6 - Lower corruption

Two students mentioned monetary factors: the Naira exchange rates would be more stable and would appreciate compared to other currencies. One mentioned food, but it was less clear whether food security, food safety, food quality, or food variety were implied. One voted for a high life expectancy, another for sport facilities, another for a balanced economy. Among other interesting comments were that Nigeria would then truly be independent, that former government leaders had all "died or were caught", and one person averred that nothing would change - "Nigeria is the same."

There was a general agreement that their culture would not be changed by development. I'm scarcely a sociologist, but coming from Cornell and a culture that fears Americanization, and right after a conversation with political scientist about how development changes a people's sense of priorities and timeliness, it was odd. It shouldn't have felt that way, though - America will always be America, right? I mean, sure, we've drifted a little from 19th century - or even 1950s - ideals over the course of our development, but that's all for the best, right??? /sarc

The other thing that would be the same? People who won't work continue to set up conditions that lead to  suffering.

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