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As conventionally defined, development means progress, improvement, advancement to a higher or preferred state. Conventional economists, equate economic development with economic growth, creating an assumption in the public mind that economic growth represents universal progress and improvement.

According to Mexican intellectual Gustavo Esteva, development was first introduced as an economic term on January 20,1949 when U.S. President Truman, in his inaugural address, called for ". . . a bold new program for making the benefits of our scientific advances and industri­al progress available for the improvement and growth of underdeveloped areas."[1] The announcement of this commitment set in motion a grand scheme to bring universal prosperity to all the world’s people by recreating the world in the image of the industrial-consumer society of the United States. In a mere instant Truman had stripped two billion of the world's people of the dignity due themselves and their richly diverse cultures. They became homogenized and redefined as underdeveloped, i.e., people’s whose consumption levels did not meet the standards that Western societies felt appropriate.

In Esteva's words: "From that day forward roughly two-thirds of earth's people have found themselves in a struggle to escape from the undignified condition called underdevelopment. Yet development's constant press for economic efficiency in a resource scarce world has produced only one commodity in abundance—useless people for whom the economy has no need and therefore to whom it assigns no value.

"For the underdeveloped, to develop means sacrificing the environments, solidarities, traditional interpretations and customs that have given their lives meaning in order to embark on a road that others know better, toward a goal that others have reached. For the overwhelming majority it has meant not the alleviation of poverty, but rather its modernization: a devaluation of their own skills, values, and experience in favor of a growing dependence on guidance and management by bureaucrats, technocrats, educators, and development experts."

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Author: David Korten