Academic journal article Prism : a Journal of the Center for Complex Operations

An Interview with J. Brian Atwood

Academic journal article Prism : a Journal of the Center for Complex Operations

An Interview with J. Brian Atwood

Article excerpt

Dambisa Moyo and other critics claim that the global development enterprise has been a failure. What is your response to these critics?

Atwood: I was once on a panel with Dambisa Moyo, and it's interesting that perhaps her publishers write better headlines than what she actually believes. Her concern is that foreign aid has created dependencies in the past, and I share that concern. I think that the way to go with respect to development assistance is country ownership. Developing countries do not always have the capacity, so there's always a tradeoff between whether or not you feel that you can risk using taxpayer money in a country that doesn't have capacity. But we've studied these issues and believe there is more capacity out there than we're responding to. If we really embrace the notion of country ownership and the developing countries genuinely buy in, and we use the budgets of the recipient country, we can create a situation where there is mutual accountability that does away with the dependency problem. But Moyo is right that a lot of foreign aid in the past has created dependency and that has caused many governments to simply sit back and fail to do the job they're supposed to do as part of this mutual accountability prism.

Considering recent profound economic troubles in developed countries and the value-based challenge coming from the Islamic world, do you think the modernization paradigm that development has been based on is still relevant?

Atwood: I would dispute the fact that we've been basing development on the modernization model. I think we learned a few lessons from the effort to try to modernize Iran. We realized that it isn't the stark question of the "Lexus or the olive tree"; that development has to be in context; that we've got to work with countries; that we've got to understand the cultural issues and the institutions of the country; that we've got to build those institutions in those countries where they're ineffective. There hasn't been a modernization motif per se. There is, however, another aspect of modernization: we need to get these countries somehow tied into the global economy, and some of them resist that. They're not sure they want to do that.

We long ago dismissed the notion that we could operate on the basis of comparative advantage, meaning that if a country has minerals, you exploit the minerals, if you've got oil, you exploit the oil. We understand Dutch disease and that single-source economies haven't worked. If countries manage their resources well, then that's fine, but they have to find a way to compete in the global economy or else they're not going to develop. They have to make the decision as to what extent integration compromises their own values, their own norms, their own culture, their own history. I think if we do embrace the idea of country ownership, then they will make those decisions, and they will come up with the strategies that best fit their circumstances.

Since the 1980s, development agencies have been promoting development based on the model of consumer market capitalism. Is thL· model still the way to go for less developed countries?

Atwood: A lot of people are asking that question now as they look at some of the emerging economies and their success in achieving growth. Those emerging economies are moving along a timeline themselves, and the pressures that the Chinese feel, for example, are: should we become more consumer-oriented? Are we doing ourselves any favors by being so export-oriented? They have a huge backup of capital now. Their balance of trade with other countries is skewed. They're worried because they have to operate within a global economy. Is their currency valued at the proper level? No. Most people think that it's tremendously advantageous to their exports. The fact is that they have had another model that isn't entirely based on capitalism and consumerism, but on a controlled capitalism.

Today, Chinese consumers are demanding a bigger slice of the pie. …

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