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Vision of All-Round Development

Understanding Development: People, Markets and the State in Mixed Economies by Ignacy Sachs; Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2000; pp ix + 204, Rs 450.

The author, a Brazilian-Polish economist, spent three years in India studying economics at the Delhi School of Economics under eminent economists like B N Ganguli and K N Raj. Those three years also happen to fall during the heady period of the Second Five-Year Plan when India was charting an optimistic economic future for itself. Whatever he had learnt and absorbed during his student years in India has not left him, and everyone of the books he has penned since his Delhi University PhD dissertation reflects that thinking. When he left India in 1960 to join the legendary economist Michal Kalecki in Warsaw, he says, “India’s unique experience in her search for the middle path and democratic planning played an important role” in his work. Even when he had to leave Warsaw due to political repression and join Daniel and Alice Thorner in the Ecole des Haute Etudes in Sciences Sociale, Paris, his ideas on development did not undergo any substantial transformation although it has been influenced considerably by environmentalist thinking.

In this slim volume, Ignacy Sachs presents a series of essays written during the last decade based on research undertaken on the occasion of the United Nations conferences on Enviornment (Rio de Janeiro 1992) and Social Development (Copenhagen 1995). The opening essay takes as its theme the challenges that faced the World Summit for Social Development that was held in March 1995. It begins with a brief survey of the developments in the post-second world war that saw wholesale decolonisation, collapse of the seemingly monolithic Soviet socialist empire, enormous advances in technology, rapid growth of capitalist economies and an amazing expansion of world trade and development. Considering that in 1992 world’s average per capita income was $ 4,300 which compares favourably with the US per capita income in 1900 at $ 4,096, in general every one in the globe should have been reasonably well fed and clothed. Unfortunately, that was not the case as Sachs points out: “the inequality that characterises the distribution of incomes among different countries and within each country divests this statistical average of any meaning”. He takes particular pains to underline this gross inequality that is not only prevalent but increasing on a global scale. Thus in 1991 the richest fifth of the world’s population enjoyed 84.7 per cent of the world’s GNP while the bottom 20 per cent had to do with a mere 1.4 per cent of the same. What is even more alarming is that this disparity had gone up from 30/1 to 60/1 in the course of three decades. Obviously this sad state has nothing to do with man’s capacity to produce goods and services for everyone, not even due to the sheer exploitation of the powerless by the affluent, but solely due to “faulty social and political organisation”. The rest of the volume is an elucidation of this view with the purpose of locating alternative strategies of development.

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