Academic journal article Journal of Economic Issues

Sustainable Development-An Institutional Enclave (with Special Reference to the Bakun Dam-Induced Development Strategy in Malaysia)

Academic journal article Journal of Economic Issues

Sustainable Development-An Institutional Enclave (with Special Reference to the Bakun Dam-Induced Development Strategy in Malaysia)

Article excerpt

Analysis of sustainable development has always been the Achilles' heel of the science of economics. Despite a plethora of attempts to articulate its theoretical concepts more closely and rigorously, the notion of sustainable development remains an elusive term that has been subject to a wide range of interpretations. The fundamental problem here is that the rigors of its theoretical constructs appear to have made little headway on environmentally disruptive problems arising from a number of unsustainable projects in the developing world. (1) Indeed, the magnitude of environmental disruptions has reached such an unprecedented scale that it poses the question of the analytical tools needed to deal with the present development impasse. This implicitly raises a far-reaching indication that managing sustainable development is not merely a matter of integrating environmental factors into economic policies, which has been believed to underpin the decision-making process, but it is also a matter of understanding the interaction between institutional forces and economic behavior.

The basic thrust here is twofold. First, it is contended that more effort is needed to understand the existing and potential constraints governing the achievement of sustainable development. This necessarily requires us to determine how the environment should be defined and conceptualized in policy-planning processes. Second, in order to come to grips with the problem of environmental disruption, it is necessary to examine the causal mechanisms that give rise to a range of unsustainable environmental transformation. Here, it is relevant to identify the institutional processes that legitimate the increasingly exploitative mode of capital accumulation. This institutionalized framework of analysis is therefore aimed at unfolding important clues for generating a sustainable mode of social regulation which can help to redirect an economy away from its potentially damaging and materially unsustainable form of development process. The mode of social regulation refers to an institutional ensemble encompassing elements ranging from concrete institutional structures such as legislation to intangible determinants such as values and norms of behavior (Jessop 1990, 174; see also Tickell and Pack 1995 and Drummond and Marsden 1999). These elements define rights, constraints, opportunities, and powers that influence the ways in which the real causal mechanisms are expected to operate. Social modes of regulation are essential for ensuring that the conditions for the accumulation process are put in place (Drummond and Marsden 1999, 51-53). Regulation as used here does not subscribe to the ordinary English term as a legal apparatus. Quite akin to the notion from system theory, it relates to the process that reciprocally adjusts to a given set of conditions to yield some orderly dynamics (Coriat and Dosi 1998, 9; see also Aglietta 1979).

Causal mechanism as used within the present context refers to a process or sequence of events or a set of conditions through which outcomes or empirical regularities are brought into being. The analytical explanation of the causation process is known as causal analysis, Causal analysis provides a useful framework to explain how underlying causal mechanisms can produce certain unsustainable practices. It also provides potentially useful insights on how the modes of social regulation can be employed to contain or mitigate those environmentally and morally unsustainable practices. This in turn allows us to formulate a sustainable resource management system that can harmonize economic growth with socio-environmental sustainability (see figure 1; see also below for further illustration). The scheme of the present investigation is demonstrated by a case study in Malaysia in connection with the promotion of a dam-induced development strategy which necessitates the destruction of a massive natural environment.

Sustainable Development in Retrospect

The notion of sustainable development is defined by the World Commission on Environment and Development (the Brundtland Report) as "development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of the future generations to meet their own needs" (1987, 43). …

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