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Has the Age of Development Ended?

"The number grows of those who want to put on another reel. In politics, the little protest in Seattle was revelatory. The degree of self-certainty in personal lifestyles is trifling today. Therefore offering alternatives is very important." Wolfgang Sachs is the leader of the Wuppertal Institute and a spokesperson of Attac Germany.
Has the Age of Development Ended?

Conversation with Wolfgang Sachs on Finding Words and Attitudes for the Global Situation

[This conversation originally published in: Frietag 33, August 11, 2000 is translated from the German on the World Wide Web,  http://www.freitag.de/2000/33/00330801.htm. Wolfgang Sachs is a member of the coordinating circle of Attac Germany.]

Freitag: What was your self-image in writing your new book "Planet Dialectics"? What reactions did you expect from foreign aid institutions or the economy?

Wolfgang Sachs: I spell out a minority perspective, making that perspective visible for all who share a similar sensitiveness. I offer alternatives for the growth society without expecting a reaction from institutions.

Will unemployment increase with your proposals?

The reaction in the whole economic establishment is divided or conflicting. Some people see me as competent in formulating uneasiness but not in creating realizable alternatives. No invincible distance appears but two different truths and challenges: those of politics and those of intellectuals.

You oppose the idea that the number of people in the South is a potential danger.

Right. The age of development has left behind a double inheritance. This inheritance is divided in a globalization- and a security discussion. How can the dollar circulate? How can a policy of limiting conflict be organized with crisis reaction forces and a world peace service? Whoever speaks of "development" no longer believes in the possibility of a development for everyone to our prosperity. Mary Douglas once said that speaking about security and risk is the last moral resource of our society. What otherwise mobilizes when the appeal to solidarity and justice has lost its effectiveness? Something only moves today when security needs are at stake.

What would you do as a foreign aid minister?

Two things. Emphasizing the ability to survive of people and cultures, sustainable livelihoods, instead of development promises. The present shouldn't be sacrificed to the future. The present should be treasured. There is no universal standardized model for this. Nevertheless this model is the opposite of stagnation. In the Peruvian Andes, farmers told me they didn't want to develop their region but to make their region blossom. Developing presupposes a distant goal for which many strive while blossoming means approaching what we regard as right.

The other point is: Must developing countries pass through the way of industrial development or can they immediately arrive where the rest of the world must go? For that, one must bid farewell to the model function of the North since this model is not a conventional development in the last 50 years.

Once again, the opposite of development is not stagnation. People must have the possibility of improving their life situation. Tradition can be a resource and need not be an obstacle or burden.

You reject the term "development" without proposing any alternative for "developing countries".

Must I do that? Perhaps "countries of the South" is a problematic term. Dividing the globe into two parts is a joke or artifact. The South today is in the North and the North is in the South. The nation state underlying the idea of development does not exist any more today. Therefore the age of development has ended. One problem of the discussion today is that words are lacking to describe the world without speaking about states and nations. I speak of the "global middle class" and the "social majority world". This is an attempt at a more realistic terminology though I am not satisfied with this solution. Diverse groups with very different power chances are hidden behind these new terms.

On one side, you say globalization should be accepted. On the other side, you vigorously criticize the Earth Summit of Rio that brought the world to one table. Why?

The main destroyers of the ecosystem are in the North. Thus the G7 or the mammoth transnational corporations must resolve massive reductions and a new direction of development. The weakness of all international environmental agreements is that nation states commit to reforms in their own countries. In contrast, the WTO aims at strengthening non-governmental actors, transnational corporations. This is much more effective. The environmental agreements are much less appropriate to a globalized world than the WTO.

Do you see advances in the environmental agreements?

Kyoto is a success. The states, even the US, agreed to obligatory goals although gaps exist that are as large as barn doors. Slow work occurs at a higher level of discussion. What is central is no longer the necessity of reduction goals but the question how comfortable the backdoors or loopholes may be. We are further today than ten years ago.

Still we don't have an infinite amount of time! Joint implementation and the pollution markets propagated earlier by your former foundation director Ernst-Ulrich von Weizsacker are not successes!

I agree. These are not advances. The geographical flexibility must be limited,

In your book, the finiteness of the earth, its limited possibility for absorbing pollutants, is emphasized in every chapter. What now prompts this nerve-wracking patience? The situation today is worse than ten years ago.

Yes. If the US maximally exhausts the gaps of Kyoto, it can even increase its CO2 emissions. Global emissions trading is a deception. However from a political perspective, it is an excellent starting point for advancing the equity discussion. There are also two truths here.

We have Rio minus ten for our resource condition. A new brashness is added. I really don't know how to overcome the grand delusion of self-righteousness.

You often make fun of colleagues of the Wuppertal Institute and write that the "gospel of efficiency" is na´ve. On the other hand, you stress "Factor 10". How can "sufficiency" be indispensable?

The sufficiency decision is primary, for example the resolution to build an eco-car that only goes 100 km/hr. Sufficiency doesn't mean appealing to a sports car driver not to drive faster than 100 km/hr. More is involved than building a fuel-efficient car. A user-friendly BMW is never an eco-car,

How would you make self-restraint into the model in our competitive culture?

The idea of a low-performance car is charming. Car-sharing goes in the same direction. Availability is central here. A low-consumption house is a union of sufficiency and efficiency.

You assume the individual person knows what he or she needs and can articulate this. Development goes in another direction. Certain menus are offered. Computer networks are constructed so no one has any desires beyond the menu. How can sufficiency be made into the model?

Generally I have no unerring strategy. However experiences and attitudes change in the course of time. War against France is inconceivable for me but was clear for my grandfather. Sometime or other, there could be war "against the French". With time prosperity, the individual senses very quickly that it is better not to be captured but to take enough to make one's own stamp. Many people realize this. They want to work less and have more free time.

But only the middle class can afford this.

I don't believe that. Look at how people spend money. Do they need all this? The question is still: why do I spend money? Is it rewarding to slog away so much? This is essentially a focus or fixation on oneself from an economic perspective. Both the rich and the poor tend to follow their prejudices. Both don't question themselves.

What will be the consequences for the economy if many want to live so self-oriented in the future?

Societies of persons can adjust. Stock corporations cannot because the stock price is based only on expected growth. We urgently need an ecological reform of the stock markets. Stocks must be valued according to the ecological benefit. The Tobin tax would check the dangerous dynamic from stock trading, short-term speculation. Transnational corporations are also under more growth pressure than small- and medium-sized businesses.

Self-restraint requires an end of growth pressure, not an unconditional end of growth. A mixture occurs: one doesn't do one thing any more but something else, something that costs less nature, a new aircraft that holds 600 or 1000 persons instead of the airbus. We could travel in zeppelins and simultaneously encounter one another by computer. Sufficiency is made easier through expansion in another category. Globalization can take place intensely in the virtual space - with greater regionalization of physical contact. A playroom exists in the transition to the post-material and post-industrial society. The question is whether new achievements will melt off the material base of this economy or whether they will achieve an acceleration process requiring an even greater material base.

What should be the German role in the necessary re-orientation?

One problem is that loss of remembrance is almost nowhere as great as in Germany. Where are the anti-globalization activities? In other countries, there are clearly articulated minorities.

Elsewhere and worldwide, people repress that we are already in the climate change. We don't have climate change in the future. A natural disaster is like a film tear or mental blackout. One asks in what film that occurred. One is irritated because one lived in a double truth. Everything was right. One did what everyone did. Nevertheless this was wrong. The number grows of those who want to put on another reel. In politics, the little protest in Seattle was revelatory. The degree of self-certainty about one's own lifestyle is trifling today. Therefore offering alternatives is very important.

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