If we critically examine the path of development that Nepal has followed after it’s opening to the world in 1950s, we could know that Nepal actually never had its own philosophy of looking at development and have blindly accepted the dominant paradigm, in general and aid regime, in particular, of respective time. Modernization, basic needs and neo-liberalism are three distinct aid regimes that shaped development project in Nepal after the World War II. In fact, Nepal kept on changing its development approach just to receive the aid that was available there in the West without even contemplating about the repercussion of blind acceptance. So, this article will critically evaluate the neo-liberal philosophy of development that Nepal is incessantly tiring to copy at present and will argue about the need of formulating our own understanding of development, suitable to our own context.
Neo-liberalism is a unanimously agreed philosophy of development for all the political parities of Nepal. Even the UCPN (Maoist) which fought against the state in the name of communism has now been a strong proponent of it. However, the ultimate aim of neo-liberalism, a linear model of development, is the creation high mass consumption society, similar to the fifth and the last stage of Rostow’s growth model. In sum, the main idea behind neo-liberalism is to foster development through the unprecedented amount of wealth created and flowed in the market.
However, the experiences of the West in relation to the consumerist societies have not been pleasant. Unprecedented environmental degradation already destabilizing natural balance and the struggling economy especially after its break down in 2008 are some the serious question being raised over neo-liberalism. In addition, according to a recently published Oxfam Hong Kong Poverty Report, one-fifth of the people living in Hong Kong – one of the successful neo-liberalist settings – are below poverty line with high income disparity even wider than Singapore and USA. Likewise, role played by migration and remittances, a part of neo-liberal thinking, in decreasing the percentage of people living in absolute poverty in Nepal from 40% to 25%, can no longer favor the neo-liberal philosophy. The Pete Pattisson’s recent report on theguardian about the Nepali migrant showing the worst conditions of Nepali in Qatar has really made us rethink whether foreign migration is better than subsistence farming that we have been doing in Nepal since ages. So, there is a huge discussion going around figuring out whether it is an economic crisis or crisis of economics.
In this background, is it wise for Nepal to blindly follow the theory of neo-liberalism without having a suitable and favorable context for it? Is Nepal suited for economic development based on consumerist society? Do the environmental sensitivities of Nepal sustain the haphazard economic growth any more? Could an environment be left out of the economic theory as a mere constant now? Can’t we, being a protégé of the oldest and self-sustaining civilization, extract/develop our own development philosophies or theories or models suitable to our context?
The truth is that we have wasted more than half-of-a-century in trying to copy-paste other’s theory of development neglecting our own traditional customs and practices that have sustained us since millenniums. Despite being an ancestor of the oldest and self-sustaining civilization, the Government of Nepal have been incessantly trying to apply the same concept and approach towards development that worked in the Western context centuries ago that too at the cost of environment. The situation becomes worse with the fact that we are still trying to mimic the Rostow’s growth model which lack Nepalese context and has also been criticized for being insensitive towards environment.
So, Nepal, which is yet to witness the carbon intensive period of industrialization, should really strive hard to find some leapfrogging points to bypass the industrialization phase. In short, Nepal should learn from different development issues the West is facing in the present time and gain knowledge from mistakes and right-takes that the West did in its path towards development. Sustainable development, in particular, can be one of the development concept that Nepal can learn from, however, it should be kept in mind that a mere copying is just a waste of time; contextualizing is the most important aspect of adopting any practices successful on other parts of the world. But, the important place to find the answers related to development philosophy that is suitable and sustainable to Nepali context would be look into our own traditions, cultural practices and even to our own religions. For an instance, according to Dr. Karan Singh, Indian philosopher and statesman, Bhumi Sukta in Atharvaveda can be one of the Hindu religious texts where we can learn about living a sustainable life. Similarly, some many traditions and cultures in our country are directly and indirectly related to sustainable livelihood.
Acharya is a last semester student of Masters in Development at Kathmandu University, and is currently in Uppsala University, Sweden, as an Erasmus Mundus fellow specializing in Sustainable Development.
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