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Mainstream, VOL 62 No 21, May 25, 2024

Choices, Priorities, Freedoms and Mahbub ul Haq | Aijaz Ahmed

Saturday 25 May 2024



Reflections on Human Development
Edited by Mahbub ul Haq

Oxford University Press Inc. UK

1996, 272 pages
Price: 34 pounds

The central theme of Mahbub ul Haq’s book, Reflections on Human Development, revolves around a novel development paradigm centered on human well-being. It argues that while income growth is important, it should not be seen as the sole indicator of development nor as the ultimate goal of human life. Instead, the book delves into development policies and strategies that integrate economic progress with the quality of human lives across different societies.

It also introduces a new human development index, offering a more comprehensive measure of socio-economic advancement, compared to the traditional gross national product metric. Additionally, the book presents a political freedom index for the first time, broadening the scope of measurement for societal progress.

The book comprises two parts: the first with eight chapters and the second with seven chapters (9-17). Reflections delves into the crucial, yet often overlooked, role of human capital in the development process. In Chapter 1, the author emphasises that human institutions and skills are more vital than mere investment capital, citing examples such as Newton’s discovery of gravity and Einstein’s theory of relativity. The lack of human capital is identified as a significant barrier to development in many countries, overshadowing financial resources. The chapter proposes incorporating human dimensions into development planning, adjustment processes, and international decisions.
Chapter 2 introduces the concept of the Human Development Paradigm, which views development holistically, considering economic growth as just one aspect. The paradigm focuses on expanding human choices, encompassing economic, political, social, and cultural dimensions. Unlike the traditional economic growth model, human development prioritises equity, sustainability, productivity, and empowerment. The chapter underscores the importance of quality and equitable distribution of growth, challenging the assumption that expanding income automatically leads to broader human choices.
The author discusses the advent of the Human Development Report, which shifted development discourse towards enhancing human lives rather than solely focusing on economic progress. The report highlights various aspects of development beyond income, such as health, education, environment, and freedom. It aims to quantify social progress, advocate for equitable distribution of growth, and ensure development opportunities for future generations.

Next, he explores the birth of the Human Development Index (HDI), a comprehensive measure of socio-economic progress. The HDI aims to capture a broader range of choices people make beyond income, including life expectancy, education, and standard of living. Methodological challenges in constructing the HDI are discussed, emphasising the need for flexibility, continuous refinement, and investment in data collection. Despite limitations in data quality, the HDI has spurred efforts to improve global statistical systems and promote socio-economic development worldwide.

Known as the father of HDI, Mahbub ul-Haq was a Pakistani economist (1934-1998), international development theorist, and politician who served as the country’s Minister of Finance from 1985 to 1986, and again from June to December 1988 as a caretaker. Haq was President of the Human Development Centre in Islamabad and was Chief Economist of the Pakistan Planning Commission, Director of the World Bank’s Policy Planning Department, and served as Special Adviser to the Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme. He also served as an Eminent Adviser to the Brandt Commission, as a Governor of the IMF and as a Governor of the World Bank. It is important that, thirty years ago, here was a renowned economist from a military-ruled country like Pakistan, talking of the necessity of political freedom.

Emphasising the necessity and measurement of political freedom, Mahbub ul Haq argues that political freedom, the cornerstone of human development, is often challenged on various grounds, including the difficulty of measurement. However, he counters this by highlighting those other intangible aspects, such as literature and art, are routinely judged and ranked, so why not freedom?

He outlines key components of political freedom and proposes four aspects that should be emphasised: political participation, rule of law, freedom of expression, and non-discrimination. These aspects are crucial for ensuring individuals have the freedom to engage in decision-making processes and express themselves without fear of repression. Haq concludes the chapter by presenting an illustrative political freedom index, ranking nations based on their performance in these aspects.

Then comes the concept of sustainable development, focusing on the need to balance economic growth with social and ecological sustainability. Haq argues that sustainable development requires policies that prioritise the well-being of both current and future generations, while also respecting the limitations of the environment. He outlines six policy messages aimed at promoting sustainable development, including the preservation of natural heritage, investment in education and health, and the adoption of environmentally-safe technologies.

Zeroing in on the human development strategies in South Asia, Haq discusses the challenges faced by South Asian countries in achieving human development goals, such as poverty eradication and access to education and healthcare. He criticises the disproportionate allocation of resources towards defense spending, arguing that more investment is needed in social sectors to address the region’s development challenges. Haq emphasises the importance of formulating tailored human development strategies to address the specific needs of South Asian countries and bridge the gap with industrialised nations.

Haq also examines the human development potential in the Islamic world. He highlights the disparities in human development indicators among Islamic countries and identifies factors such as income inequality, poverty, and gender discrimination as key challenges. Haq acknowledges the progress made by some Islamic countries but emphasises the need for concerted efforts to address the root causes of underdevelopment and promote human development. Here he calls for the formulation of comprehensive human development strategies and investment in science and technology to bridge the gap with developed nations.

Section two focuses on the new imperatives of human security in an era of globalisation. Haq argues that human security concerns have evolved beyond national borders and encompass issues such as poverty, disease, pollution, and terrorism. He emphasises the importance of addressing the root causes of these threats through people-centered development policies, equitable distribution of income, and international cooperation. Haq calls for a shift from arms security to human security and advocates for a new partnership between developed and developing nations based on justice, mutual cooperation, and shared responsibilities.

Discussing the concept of the peace dividend, which arose after the Cold War ended, Haq says, initially, it was intended to redirect military spending towards social agendas. However, while Western nations reduced military spending, many third-world countries continued to prioritise it over social welfare, despite facing significant socio-economic challenges.

The author emphasises the urgent need for third-world nations to shift their focus towards social development, arguing that real progress lies in improving the Human Development Index rather than military strength. Suggestions include reducing military expenditure to finance social programmes and implementing new political strategies for peace and development, with increased involvement from the UN and industrialised countries.

Chapter 11 highlights the need to redefine development cooperation in the post-Cold War era. Despite aid being linked to poverty alleviation, a significant portion of it, particularly from the United States, still goes towards military assistance. The chapter calls for a shift in focus towards fighting global poverty, phasing out Cold War dynamics in the third world, and demonstrating that essential human development goals can be financed without increasing resources. It advocates for a new framework of development cooperation that addresses the imbalance between short-term emergency assistance and long-term development support, emphasising sustainable human development over outdated charity models.

Discussing the transition from public to private sector interests in the developmental process, which has often led to economic losses and increased poverty, he says, market ideologies have marginalised the poor and vulnerable. Therefore, better income and asset distribution, along with social safety nets to minimise human losses during economic transitions are necessary. The author advocates for ‘people-friendly markets’ and efficient state regulation, combining individual initiative with social objectives to achieve more equitable development.

The policies of the World Bank, come under the scanner and Haq examines its efforts to ensure economically, socially, and environmentally sound operations. He criticises the narrow, technocratic interpretation of the Bank’s charter, emphasising the importance of ‘government action quality’ in achieving desired development outcomes. Issues like military expenditure, poverty alleviation and human development are discussed, highlighting the need for improved public sector management, accountability, and reduced corruption.

Outlining the establishment and aims of the Bretton Woods institutions, the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Haq reflects on the motivations behind their formation and their contributions to global economic governance. Initially created to rebuild post-war economies and promote international cooperation, these institutions aimed to stabilise global monetary policies and provide financial assistance for reconstruction and development projects. This, obviously, has not happened in the last seventy years.

The 20:20 Global Compact for Basic Social Services was proposed to address human neglect by focusing on political commitment rather than financial resources. Despite controversy, the proposal aims to overcome human deprivation, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, by allocating funds for education, health, family planning, and sanitation. It calls for public pressure to ensure implementation and suggests refining estimates for better resource allocation.
Haq endorses the proposal to establish an Economic Security Council to address global economic governance needs in the era of globalisation. It emphasises collective action to protect the interests of smaller nations and suggests the Council’s role be in tackling economic crises, providing early warnings for conflicts, strengthening the UN’s development system, and supervising policy directions of multilateral institutions. The author advocates for balanced representation and decision-making based on majority agreement.

Exploring a new development paradigm focused on human well-being, echoing the vision of Barbara Ward, Haq critiques the militaristic approach to global issues and advocates for a humanistic approach that prioritises equality and social welfare. Despite acknowledging present challenges, the author expresses hope in democratic forces of change and the power of human will to shape a more equitable future.

Reflections on Human Development, thus, presents a deep dive into a fresh approach to development, one that revolves around the enhancement of human well-being. The book delves into various dimensions of this paradigm shift and stresses that while income growth matters, it shouldn’t be the sole yardstick of development or the ultimate aim of human existence.

Ultimately, Reflections paints a compelling picture of development that transcends mere economic indicators, placing human flourishing at the forefront of global advancement. Haq’s work is significant in reshaping the discourse on development. He underscores the book’s advocacy for a holistic approach that prioritises human well-being and addresses the multifaceted dimensions of poverty and inequality.

(Author: Aijaz Ahmed is Assistant Professor in the Department of Sociology, Government Degree PG College Bhaderwah, District Doda (University of Jammu), Jammu and Kashmir)

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