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The politics of development

Brij Mohana
Louisiana State University,

To cite this Article Mohan, Brij(2009) 'The politics of development', Journal of Comparative Social Welfare, 25: 3, 255 —
To link to this Article: DOI: 10.1080/17486830903190020
URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/17486830903190020


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Journal of Comparative Social Welfare
Vol. 25, No. 3, October 2009, 255–267

The politics of developmenty
Brij Mohan*

Louisiana State University

(Received 30 April 2009; final version received 28 June 2009)

Global poverty and inequality, in the context of current capitalist crisis,

will remain a daunting challenge in the twenty-first century. This reality will
unleash an era of post-democracy bedeviled by multifaceted meltdowns
in political, cultural and economic structures. The outcome will be a
catastrophe that will be beyond any human intervention unless we think
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self-critically and fast. This article seeks to theorize the main processes that
thwart the rational–humane logic of development in the ‘‘post-American
Keywords: human–social development; poverty of culture; post-American
world; developmental paradox

Trillions are being spent on financial rescue packages. Just 1% of that could turn hunger
into hope for 59 million hungry school children. (World Food Programme, 2009, p. 59)
Development, human and social, cannot occur in isolation from the political culture
in a given society. The same is true about alienation, exploitation and production.
Politics is a vehicle of developmental processes that designs models of transformation
in both regressive and progressive directions. The duality of these processes thus
presents paradoxical paradigms that shape differential structural–normative patterns
in human–societal existence.
Karl Marx, Charles Darwin and Sigmund Freud laid the foundation of modern
system of critical thought that changed all paradigms of knowledge about human
nature and society. The Wall Street meltdown has validated the repressed desire of
those who have waited to write a post-ideological manifesto of the capitalist society.
Fallacies of human and social development impact and shape social transforma-
tions with regard to policy formulation, program development, social reform,
self-revaluation and paradigmatic shifts. We seek to demythologize certain myths
about macro-economics; it is postulated that unraveling micro-behaviors would
reframe the crisis of twenty-first-century capitalism and social practice.

*Email: swmoha@lsu.edu; dialog@cox.net

Paper delivered at the 16th International Consortium of Social Development (ICSD)
Symposium on Promoting Social Development and Diminishing Inequality: Who must be
Responsible?, Monterrey, Mexico, 27–31 July 2009.

ISSN 1748–6831 print/ISSN 1748–684X online

ß 2009 Taylor & Francis
DOI: 10.1080/17486830903190020
256 B. Mohan

A hedonist culture wallowing in hubristic delusions is bound to crash. The

contradictions of a society based on unprincipled consumption and consumerism
is bad news for the future of humankind. Marxist utopia, on the other hand, lies
dormant under the debris of the former USSR. The demise of socialism is not exactly
the triumph of capitalism. There is a silver line in the current catastrophe that has
fiscally eclipsed the globe. Government has suddenly become a less than evil
necessity. Finally, we saw that the king had no clothes! And Marx is more relevant
than ever. Francis Wheen, author of Marx’s Das Capital, has succinctly observed
that Marx ‘‘could yet become the most influential thinker of the twenty-first
century’’; he also likens his work to a vast Gothic novel whose heroes are enslaved by
the monster, capitalism, that they have created (Wheen, 2007).
Yes, Marx is back with a bang (Hitchens, 2009, pp. 88–95). His return in the
midst of capitalism’s worst doldrums was imminent. The bourgeoisie are known to
have been self-grave-diggers.
The main burden of this article is to examine the nature of politics that thwarts
even well-intended development. The patterns of development that we find in
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contemporary societies are consequential offshoots of ideological and post-

ideological outcomes. ‘‘We are all socialists now’’ (Newsweek cover, 16 February
2009). The Economist cover shows a grisly dead hand arising from a graveyard with
a caption: ‘‘The return of economic nationalism’’ (7–13 February 2009). No wonder
even arch-conservatives in America are talking about nationalization of banks.
India nationalized banks in the mid-1960s. When Indira Gandhi nationalized banks
after succeeding her father, India was demonized as a Soviet satellite. As we
witness the meltdown of financial institutions – broken banks, failed economic
theories and dogmas, and flawed governmental controls; the so-called third-rail of
politics – one gathers a cynical outlook. ‘‘Keynes famously said of someone who
accused him of inconsistency: ‘When circumstances change, I change my opinion’’’,
recalled Larry Summers – and added: ‘‘large swaths of economics are going to
have to be rethought on the basis of what’s happened’’ (cited by Hirsh & Thomas,
2009, pp. 24–27).
A temporal–ideological flux is filled with uncertainties and their vagaries.
‘‘The world economy is suspended between the lofty rhetoric of (last week’s) G-20
summit and the gritty realties of domestic politics,’’ writes Robert J. Samuelson
(2009, p. 25). ‘‘How to understand the disaster?’’ (Solow, 2009, pp. 4–8). That is a
question even economists are incapable of comprehending let alone answering.
What is unseen is fundamentally more important than what is starkly naked.
The developmental scene is much more complex and alarming. Billions of US
dollars spent in humanitarian projects during the past seven years have lead to a
‘‘heartbreaking’’ failure to yield any results, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham
Clinton agonized in The Hague: ‘‘Those of you that have been on the ground
in Afghanistan, you’ve seen with your own eyes that a lot of these aid programs
don’t work’’ (quoted by Dilanian, 2009, p. 6A).
When instabilities persist, fissures and fractures lead to chaos without much help
from the revered chaos theory. If we critically analyze the brief history of the past
25 years, it will not be difficult to see how corruptions of rationality and politics have
bedeviled the humankind. Let us attempt an autopsy since the Teflon Reagan years.
Politics is more about acting than substance. Iran–Contra and Savings Bank
scandals and a few political stunts and slogans made an ailing cultural reactionary
Journal of Comparative Social Welfare 257

into a national hero. His legacy dies hard. But reality has brought back government,
the institution he blamed so much.
All political roles are implicated in a culture of deceptions and depredations until
proven not guilty. Will there ever be an acceptable rationale and due compensation
for the Iraq war that was launched by neo-cons based on lies? Can anyone on this
planet rewind world history and undo India’s partition that created a phony – now a
failed – state named Pakistan, which has become the womb of world terrorism?
A reference to these two historical catastrophes, may I submit, is at the roots of
current cries that have unleashed a tsunami of unanswered issues and unresolved
The underdogs of Mumbai may enjoy the Hollywoodized Slumdog triumph but
the reality remains unchanged. Likewise, occupants of the White House may change
but the policy pendulum is not going to alter its pattern. Even Obama is taking
a middle-of-the-road stand on most of his policy models. What we need is radical
Enlightenment,1 which conflicts with the nature of politics itself.
A cultural meltdown reflects on the nature of social contract that serves as the
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foundation of modern society. The rusted fabric of social institutions is in disarray.

Social institutions are losing legitimacy and their leaders are guilty of bad faith.
Banks cheat; schools do not teach; hospitals sometimes kill; prisons dehumanize;
markets collapse; ideologies mislead; academe sucks; and faith corrupts.
Sociologically, institutions are patterned behaviors of individual and group
needs. They are mirrors of our cultural habits, aspirations and all other trappings
that seek fulfillment. The collapse of our banks, housing and manufacturing industry
is neither an accident nor a result of some natural disaster. It is an outcome of a
scripted design culturally etched in people’s psyche. How do we aspire to succeed?
What does it take to win the race? How do we treat our neighbors, communally or
internationally? How should we distinguish between humans and animals?
The worldwide catastrophe and crunch of faith in basic institutional integrity
is a metaphor for civilizational collapse. However, this is a tip of the iceberg. At the
bottom of this global crisis is our way of life that subverts the evolutionary progress
of human race. The constructs of this mega-catastrophe lie in the phylo-ontogenic
perversity of our culture and civilization that warrant serious attention.
This article is premised on three main assumptions: the outcome of the Economic
Recovery Act of 2009 will globally impact the future of social development
and policy; new ‘‘post-American’’ alliances will qualitatively alter inter-societal and
intra-societal relationships; and the nexus of politics and economics will fundamen-
tally transform the nature of all ‘‘nation-building’’ models in elusive search for global
democracy. Implicit here is an emphasis on the multi-linearity of societal dynamics
that shape individual–institutional behaviors, society–state interactions, and theory–
practice configurations. There are three dimensions of this developmental paradox.
The cumulative compound of these crises constitutes a theorem that I designate
the poverty of culture for subsequent exploration.

The homoeopathic politics

What the Obama administration is doing is far worse than nationalization: it is ersatz
capitalism, the privatizing of gains and the socializing of losses. It is a ‘‘partnership’’
in which one partner robs the other. And such partnerships – with the private sector
258 B. Mohan

in control – have perverse incentives, worse even than the ones that got us into the mess.
(Stiglitz, 2009)
Protectionism in different guises, from ‘‘xenophobia’’ to ‘‘nationalism’’, is proposed
as a panacea to overcome the economic crisis at hand. ‘‘This is the politics as
homeopathy: using bad ideas in small doses, in the hope of staving off a nastier
ailment’’ (The Economist, 21 February 2009, p. 54).
When the Wall Street chaos subsumes the life on Main Street, one must question
the purpose of politics that shapes our living conditions. The current fiscal meltdown is
post-industrial society’s greatest misfortune. From banking/credit to housing,
manufacturing to commercial trade, politics to cultural exchanges, we have entered
a new age. The basic postulates of macro-economics and micro-behaviorism are under
scrutiny.2 No society has ever survived the hubris and ravages of its cultural trappings
that rewards itself for disastrous normative behaviors. One can uncover hideously
primitive impulses underneath manifestly benign operations of existential necessities
justifying greed, mass murder, pillage and loot in the name of defensive euphemisms.
The truth remains that civilized patterns of behavior remain entrenched in modes of
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self-deification that destroy the foundations of a civil society. At stake is the very
definition and survival of civility itself. Our adherence to and compliance with
universal code of conduct on national and international levels need not be obfuscated
for the expedient politics of excess that has replaced the morality of development.
‘‘I am almost convinced (quite contrary to opinion I started with) that species
are not (it is like confessing a murder) immutable’’, wrote Charles Darwin in a letter
to a fellow naturalist (cited by Hayden, 2009, p. 43). ‘‘How right he was that ‘man
is the modified descendent of some pre-existing form’ – and that an awful lot of
people would prefer to believe otherwise’’, conclude Malcolm Potts and Thomas
Hayden (2008), whose new book Sex and war ‘‘. . . offers a path to a safer world’’
(cited by Hayden, 2009, p. 43).
Two hundred years of genius have unraveled two central formulations: continued
human incompleteness; and regressive progression of instinctual drives – a
perplexing paradox. The salience of these heretic premises may not find a common
acceptance but this helps a dispassionate understanding of the transformational
contradictions of this civilization that pervert the meaning and substance of progress.
Ethnic cleansing goes unabated; economic growth and post-industrial advancements
are eclipsed by many ecological disasters and man-made catastrophes.
The homoeopathic prescription thus raises some red flags if humankind must
survive as a species of forgivable mortals. Humans will always remain humans.
Seeking immortality is not the point. The issue is: must we not rethink the purpose
of politics and reinvent it as a basic instinctual urge to guard us against ourselves?

Creed, greed, and culture

Wars, Guns, and Votes is about power. Why focus on power? Because in the
impoverished little countries at the bottom of the world economy that are home to a
billion people the prominent route to power has been violence. Political violence is
both a curse in itself and an obstacle to accountable and legitimate government.
(Collier, 2009, p. 1)
Power is inherently narcissistic and predatory in nature. Violence sharpens its teeth
and blunts its sensibility. It is this violence that accounts for ‘‘order’’ and chaos that
Journal of Comparative Social Welfare 259

humans have experienced since the dawn of civilization. To pinpoint ‘‘impoverished

nations’’ as evil is historically incorrect and morally disingenuous. Collier’s neo-
Kiplingian approach to developing nations is fraught with dated dogmas of
Eurocentric delusions.
The demise of the American Creed is best symbolized by the omnipotence of its
failed ideological chimeras and capitalist institutions. Corporatism and corruption
became synonymous after the fall of Enron. It was a harbinger of a fiscal–moral
tsunami. But it was not the primordial model of unbridled human–corporate
rapaciousness. While conservatives across the oceans danced at the fallen statues of
Lenin and Saddam Hussein, they said nothing about the obvious obscenity of
warmonger-profiteers – Halliburtons and their ilk – who became billionaires at the
expense of Iraqi children, women and the poor who were used as collateral damage
in the fires of a grand game played by the Bush dynasty. The mantras of self-
righteous ‘‘Holy Wars’’ have been chanted by people who have raped humanity with
impunity. Alas, this has also been a key rationale for ‘‘nation-building’’, the Holy
Grail of postmodern developmentalism.
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Corporate criminality has often been a subject of cinematic reality. Most relevant
to the context is a film that became a runaway success. Americans loved Slumdog
Millionaire, a Bollywood masterpiece that Indians hate for both right and wrong
reasons. Even though the film is based on a fictional story, it came to represent a
pervasive reality that evoked both positive and negative emotions on the two sides
of the Atlantic. A non-fictional true story goes as follows. A man of very modest
means gets a loan of more than one million dollars from his bank without putting
any down payment and capacity to repay monthly notes. When he is about to lose
his house, he sues the bank for giving him the loan he could never pay back. This is
an epitome of our cultural morass. Sure, banks are implicated in this scandalous
business. But something is hideously wrong with a scenario and value system that
entices and promotes a flawed lifestyle based on a perverse means–end relationship.
International depicts a global banking racket that uses indebtedness of developing
nations to promote its control and interests in the name of social development
under the aegis of reputed institutions such as the World Bank and the
International Monetary Fund. Foreign aid has been a tool for varied strategic
interests. As the new US administration is now focused on the north-western frontier
of the Indian subcontinent, especially Pakistan, it is dangerously unclear how
monetary and military assistance can salvage a country bedeviled by bad politics
and succession of lousy rulers. Doyle MacManus, a columnist of the Los Angeles
Times, writes:
US probably can’t expect much help from Pakistan’s civilian president, Asif Ali Zardari.
The widower of Benazir Bhutto, who was once known as ‘‘Mr. 10%’’ for his reputed
commissions on government contracts, is scrambling to rescue his slumping popularity
among the Pakistani electorate. Last week, he insisted that the new leaders in Swat were
merely ‘‘traditional local clerics.’’ And the Obama administration wasn’t impressed with
Kayani’s assurance last month that he’s working on a strategy to reassert government
authority in Swat. ‘‘Frankenstein’s monster has taken over the lab and is threatening to
move into the kitchen and dining room,’’ a US official told me last week. But the
Pakistanis ‘‘have not yet decided to kill the monster.’’3
Foreign assistance in societies ravaged by the post-colonial chaos offers excellent
case studies to show how developmentalism fails the very people it seeks to help.
One may even question the motives of assistance. Moreover, polluted intelligence
260 B. Mohan

corrupts the basis and outcome of all intervention approaches. Vietnam and
Iraq would not have happened if intelligence had not failed the ruling elites. The
consequences of these disastrous political mischiefs have played havoc with people
and their self-and-social-development. Certain lessons are prescient in the nearest
future. Leslie Gelb writes: ‘‘Even with bets espionage and analysts, they can’t escape
the distortions of their culture and politics. Presidents can also take consolation
in the fact that as important as good intelligence is to successful policy, there are
more important things’’ (2009a, p. 9). These ‘‘more important things’’ include
circumstances beyond human control; our hubris; and the unwritten law of
development that underlines the value of submerged forces and factors under the
proverbial iceberg tip.
Bureaucrats and developmental economists easily forget the frailties of human
behavior. This dissonance has unseen, often unrecognized, impact on the policy and
politics of development. Also, it remains a hitherto undeveloped aspect in
development research. Rich Cohen (2008) succinctly observed: ‘‘As a player in
political life, the mustache lives on only in the Third World’’.
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As if the Wall Street meltdown was not enough. The Madoff–AIG scandals
represent a nadir of public immorality in the evolution of modern civilization. The
social contract that brought civil society in existence stands violated beyond quick
governmental fix. A predatory business culture dwarfs the banality of criminal
behavior. The greatest loss that humankind has lately suffered in this horrid debacle
is the breakdown of public faith in our social–economic institutions that constitute
the bedrock of the American Creed: Justice for all. What we confront in reality
is the exact opposite of the noble creed. Should this be our common destiny, only
the rapacious with manipulative power and control will survive and flourish at the
expense of the rest. The governmental bailout of faltering, irresponsible and
unethical companies simply underscores the malignancy of behavior that killed
primordial innocence and the social bond that transformed the state of jungle
and established the rule of law. It is no accident that even new interpretation of
‘‘post-material’’ progress tends to support the avarice of this predatory culture
(Mohan, 2009a).4
We are at a new juncture entering the watershed moment in history. Textbooks
written on capitalism, socialism and policy models do not adequately and correctly
explain the bewildering ideological conundrum that we face today. Social work
cannot escape implications of its dependence on these flawed paradigms. As a
professional discipline, social work has thrived on its power to humanize the rusty
edges that dehumanize marginalized populations. In doing so, our practitioners and
theorists have capitalized on market-driven forces that reinforce cultural safety nets
and support resilience, enhance capacity-asset-building, and strength-based mod-
alities. Public and social policies that shaped the twentieth-century welfare systems
suddenly appear inane and even irrelevant in the wake of a fiscal tsunami that has
engulfed the planet. The twenty-first-century challenges call for a sense of new
business ethic.
‘‘The United Sates will lose its status as the superpower of the global financial
system’’, Peer Steinbruck, the German finance minister, said last year (quoted by
Florida, 2009, p. 48). One need not be a genius to predict the demise of an empire
deeply mired in debts, obscenely over-consuming and arrogantly under-producing
(Florida, 2009, p. 48). This crunch will change the contours and calculus of
Journal of Comparative Social Welfare 261

geopolitics. Preparing for the twenty-first century, as Paul Kennedy argued, does not
assume that there is an ideal blueprint or marching plan. Today’s global society, he
contends, is presented with a greater challenge ‘‘as advanced technologies threaten
to undermine the economies of developing societies’’ (Kennedy, 1993, p. 13). ‘‘The
death of the old order’’, Fareed Zakaria writes, is also illustrative of the ‘‘rise of the
rest’’ (Zakaria, 2008, pp. 52, 78, 218, 232 and 244). As ‘‘the toxins trickle
downwards’’ (The Economist, 2009a, p. 62), the downturn that began in the rich
world is hurting the ‘‘bottom billions’’ (Collier, 2007). It is a myth that aid will
transform the ailing third world (Easterly, 2006; Moyo, 2009).

Cultural dissonance: a tale of two democracies

Democracies of unfreedom: The United States and India was written to develop
‘‘comparative social development’’, a notion still in embryonic stage (Mohan, 1996).
The world’s two greatest democracies still confront dilemmas and barriers that
thwart establishment of fundamental democracies. Many a time, conflicts of national
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interest thwart their avowed objectives. It took a common existential threat from
terrorism that forged a belated alliance. Free market economies did facilitate this
From Antarctica to the pyramids, the dimming of lights symbolically calls for a
new awareness for action. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called Earth Hour
‘‘a way for the citizens of the world to send a clear message: They want action on
climate change.’’ ‘‘We are on a dangerous path. Our planet is warming. We must
change our ways . . . We need sustainable energy for a more climate-friendly,
prosperous world,’’ Ban said.5 Science and nature, survival and progress, and
struggle for peace will have to co-exist in a free world. This lends support to the
human–social development thesis (Mohan, 2007).
The post-September 11 dynamic has sharpened the edges of an otherwise divided
world. Invasion of Iraq and its aftermaths have confounded a new chapter in conflict
management. The widespread use of terrorism as a tool in this inter-societal
aggression is evolving into a new crisis that poses daunting challenges for all policy-
makers. The implications have far-reaching consequences for social development in
the whole world.
There is something fundamentally wrong in our aesthetico-cultural discourse.
We deride the poor and the sick when they need basics to survive. The whole welfare
backlash has been on account of this so-called ‘‘entitlement’’ culture. But it is the
epitome of our cultural poverty when we bail out incompetent and often
unscrupulous banks and fraudulent insurance companies and corporations.
Nicholas Kristof has a stronger point:
Impoverished parents in developing countries often try to keep their sons alive in
famines by taking food from their daughters, so mortality is disproportionately female.
The United Nations Development Program says that in some countries, the increase
in child mortality during an economic downturn is five times higher for girls than for
boys. One of the most preposterous ideas floating about is that the world’s poor feel
‘‘entitled’’ to assistance. Entitled? Wall Street plutocrats display a sense of entitlement
when they demand billions for bailouts. But the poor typically suffer invisibly and
Oxfam has calculated that financial firms around the world have already received or
been promised $8.4 trillion in bailouts. Just a week’s worth of interest on that sum while
262 B. Mohan

it’s waiting to be deployed would be enough to save most of the half-million women who
die in childbirth each year in poor countries. (Kristof, 2009)6
It is reason, not politics, which should be the bedrock of twenty-first-century global
development. Today’s science, however, is confounded by the ideological burdens of
the twentieth century. The essentialist view of objectivity is untenable in a hot, fat and
flat world. We live in a post-Enlightenment age. We cannot ignore the lessons that
our fore fathers did not learn enough. Goethe famously said: ‘‘If you don’t know
what happened in last three centuries, you are living hand to mouth’’.
The first and foremost imperative of this prudential wisdom is to recognize
the fact that all humans are nature’s children. We cannot mindlessly go on
destroying Mother Nature and its ecosystems for short-term priggish interests.
Human existence depends on how humans respond to the challenges of Earth in the
balance (Gore, 2000/1992). ‘‘A pattern of dysfunctionality need not persist
indefinitely, and the key to change is the harsh light of truth’’ (Gore, 2000/1992,
p. 236).7 A dysfunctional world order must change should humankind survive
its own stunning dissonance. The ‘‘marketplace of ideas and decline in the quality
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of public discourse and the triumph of ‘fear, secrecy, cronyism, and blind faith’ has
created an environment that is hostile to reason’’ (Gore, 2007).
‘‘Afghanistan is no longer the graveyard of any empire. Rather, it just might
become the model of a somewhat stable Central Asian state’’, concludes Peter
Bergen, a senior fellow at the New America Foundation.8 The boot-camp ‘‘social
engineering’’,9 however, may not be an enduring solution in a historically troubled,
geopolitically complex region.
Obama, who called Pakistan’s western border region ‘‘the most dangerous place
in the world’’, said new non-military aid to Pakistan would encourage opposition to
extremists in that country – all part of a drive to ‘‘disrupt, dismantle and defeat
Al Qaeda’’. This is significant step toward a ‘‘perilous quagmire’’ that heralds the
triumph of maximalists.10
The new killing fields have shifted from south-east to north-west Asia. Now that
the conflict of nations has taken a little more diplomatic turn, power rules
(Gelb, 2009b) seem to have changed the dictionary of international strife. Yet, things
are not crystal clear, as pundits like Leslie H. Gelb would have us believe. He is
brutally candid in naming three demons ‘‘that render America’s politicians
congenitally foolish and unable to project power creatively – our tendency to turn
principles into dogma, domestic political pressures, and the delusion that America
can do anything’’ (Klein, 2009, p. 23). The world is flat (economically), America’s
influence is waning (or waxing), and the nature of power is changing, growing softer,
more multilateral (or unilateral) (Klein, 2009, p. 23).
The banality of terror and its politics is a pervasive global evil (Mohan, 2009d).
From domestic violence to the destruction of World Trade Center and the Taj Mahal
Hotel, one finds the imprints of a man gone wild. The contours of the power game
are different but the nature remains unchanged. Our lenses and interpretations are
somewhat at odds. A great amount of the western approach to developing nations
has been driven by selfish rather than benevolent motives. The euphemisms of
nation-building have implied regime change at one place and the ‘‘freedom agenda’’
at another, but the basics remain unchanged. The Afghanistan–Pakistan axis has
Journal of Comparative Social Welfare 263

a potential of becoming Obama’s Waterloo if history is not read correctly. While the
US President was attending the G-20 in London, rampage and carnage in Pakistan
went on unabated with a frightening tone:
‘‘They were barbaric,’’ a senior trainer at the center said. ‘‘They had no demands.
We didn’t understand what they wanted. They just kept killing.’’ . . . Pakistan,
a nuclear-armed state, has been mired in political wrangling since an election last
year, with leaders fighting each other instead of joining efforts against the insurgency,
which is slowly strangling the country. The government’s impotence will greatly
complicate the Obama administration’s efforts to bring order to Afghanistan, whose
militants slip through Pakistan’s porous borders.11
The tale of two democracies – The United States and India – assumes special
meaning in the post-American world. The contextual relevance, however, is marked
by the irrational rationality of two newlywed allies by force of circumstances.
Yet, there is a substance to it.
India’s economic progress, a widely attributed triumph of globalization,
perverts the meaning of progress. India’s pre-colonial and-post-colonial history
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defines its psyche, the engine of its hyper-democratic manifestations. In a fascinating

analysis, Robert Kaplan succinctly presents ‘‘India’s new face’’: ‘‘. . . the spirit of
India has undergone an uneasy shift in this new era of rampant capitalism and
of deadly ethnic and religious tensions, which arise partly as violent reactions
against exactly the social homogenization that globalization engenders’’ (Kaplan,
2009, p. 74).
The ghost of Mahmud Ghazni who looted and destroyed the Somnath
temple in 1025 still haunts, at least politically, ideologizing the reactionaries
in both India and Pakistan. ‘‘We lost. The British conquered. We lost. We were
a defeated society. We needed to come together as Hindus.’’12 Gujarat may well have
become ‘‘a mecca for development’’ (Kaplan, 2009, p. 76), but ordinary people on
the subcontinent are still mired in the age-old ravages of hunger, poverty and
violence. The human situation in Pakistan is doubly troublesome. Its ‘‘paradise’’ –
the famed Swat valley – has been signed off to the Taliban where the Muslim law
allows beheading young lovers and destroying girls’ schools. The West needs and
placates Pakistani rulers for geopolitical reasons. Precisely for this long-term
objective, India was divided by the colonial powers in 1947. Also, it had become a
Whiteman’s burden13 (see Guha, 2008; Khan, 2007; Luce 2007; Rashid, 2008; Sarlia,
2006; also Easterly, 2006).14
India’s ‘‘schizophrenic economy’’ (Luce, 2007, p. 3) is a dependent variable; it is
a byproduct of a cultural hiatus that undergirds its antiquity with a neurotic present.
All facets of human and social developments can be attributed to a continuing multi-
faceted crisis of identity, confidence and character that have ruled the people of this
‘‘wounded civilization’’ (Naipaul, 1977).
India – ‘‘a noisy democracy that has finally empowered its people economically’’,
writes Zakaria – ‘‘looks strikingly similar to wealthiest one, the United States of
America. In both places, society has asserted its dominance over the state’’ (Zakaria,
2008, pp. 138–140). Often maligned, says Zakaria, the Indian state has ‘‘been a
roaring success’’ (2008, p. 240). Can this state under a neo-fascist Hindu rule
continue to be a democracy? I fear, hoping that I am wrong, that India’s humanity
may pay a heavy price to survive the appetites of its diversely differentiated
264 B. Mohan

democratic demigods. John Galbraith once famously described India as a functional

anarchy. Despite India’s membership of the G-20, the state of democracy has not
really changed if one takes into account the maddening manifestations of caste,
corruption and creed that bedevil the Indian humanity. The ghosts of partition, the
gods of hatred, and the guns of Jaliyanwala Bagh in undivided Punjab continue to
haunt the collective psyche troubled by a feudal–colonial past.

Greed and foolhardiness were not invented recently. The problem is that Panglossian
ideas about ‘‘free markets’’ encouraged, on one hand, lax regulations, or no regulations,
of a potentially unstable financial apparatus and, on the other, the elaboration of
compensation mechanisms that positively encouraged risk-taking and short-term
opportunism. When the environment was right, as it eventually would be, the disaster
hit. (Solow, 2009, p. 8)
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It will remain debatable whether capitalism failed the free market or vice versa
(Posner, 2009). Vagaries of human and market forces have brought down the gods
that failed humanity.
It is not wars, guns and votes that militate against developing democracies as
experts like Paul Collier would have you believe (Collier, 2009). It is cultural
meltdowns of varied hues that destabilize systems of sustenance that render
democracies vulnerable to the creatureliness of reptilian behaviors. From the Wall
Street to Rwanda, the gluttony of greed and gloom has produced widespread
dysfunctionality that thwarts all democratic institutions. To put the blame solely on
developing nations is to blame the victim. It is the perpetual conflict of ‘‘ghosts, guns
and gods’’ that imperils humankind (Mohan, 2009b).
We need to signify the nature of a dynamic interface that undergirds a new
symbiosis between policy and human behavior. The United States has the lowest
safety net amongst the advanced nations. In the wake of a global fiscal crisis, with a
two-trillion-dollar budget deficit, Americans cannot expect to ride out this
recession. ‘‘The misery of mass unemployment looms’’ (The Economist, 2009b,
p. 11). The implications of this fiscal catastrophe are impeccably intertwined within
a self-defeating cultural morass that both practitioners and researchers should
understand. In India, the whole political system revolves around caste and chauvinist
chimeras of cultish loyalties.15 Imagining India is fraught with many ideas of change
(Nilekani, 2009).
In general, we are left with three important lessons:
(1) a new policy pendulum that swings along human trappings independent of
market forces;
(2) the volatility of the social contract and its implications for international
peace and nation-building; and
(3) the need for post-colonial social interventions beyond ideological prescrip-
tions and territorial imperatives.
Implicit here is our self-critical commitment to human dignity. I have maintained
that poverty is an outcome of instinctual predation nourished by a culture of
hegemonic motifs. It is not the culture of poverty; it is the poverty of culture that
should be our focus of analysis. Poverty is a consequence of politics of hegemonic
Journal of Comparative Social Welfare 265

oppression; it is not the cause of inequality. Poverty of culture is a notion that

implicates institutional behaviors as the source of human deprivations and misery
(Mohan, 2009c).
Contemporary development is fraught with the corruption of politics, human-
heartedness and rationality. Science is a better substitute for the dysfunctional
chimeras of hope.
Over-achieving yet under-producing, highly organized but internally fractured,
over-consuming but non-manufacturing, deeply stepped in debt but outlandish
in new Keynesianism, a society blinded by the hubris of power is bound to self-
destruct by default. The actual threat comes from this dangerous delusion rather
than the failed states that seem to bother Paul Collier and his ilk.

1. Which I often refer to as Enlightenment Two (Mohan, 2007).
2. See Michael Grunwald’s excellent article ‘‘How Obama is using the science of change’’ in
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Time (13 April 2009, pp. 29–32).

3. The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved March 8, 2009, from http://www.latimes.com/news/
4. A Letter to the Editor, Column perverts economic term, The Advocate, 23 April 2009.
Retrieved April 23, 2009. from http://www.2theadvocate.com/opinion/43499877.html
5. Retrieved March 28, 2009, from http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20090328/ap_on_re_as/
6. The New York Times. Retrieved April 2, 2009. from http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/02/
7. Retrieved March 28, 2009, from http://books.google.com/books?id¼QDbNhec98iEC&
8. The New York Times. Retrieved March 28, 2009. from http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/
9. This is how the British brigadier Neil Baverstock views this army-oriented national
building as key ‘‘to the international coalition’s project in Afghanistan’’ (Lowry, 2009, p.
10. The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved March, 28, 2009. from https://email.lsu.edu/exchange/
11. ‘‘Rampage in Pakistan shows reach of militants’’, The New York Times. Retrieved March
31, 2009, from http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/31/world/asia/31pstan.html?_r¼
12. Robert D. Kaplan was told by Vijay Chauthaiwale, a member of the Hindu nationalist
movement (Kaplan, 2009, p. 77). This is an irony that both Hindu and Muslim
fundamentalists, apparently at daggers drawn, are closest allies in engineering mayhem
and carnage. Indeed their evil existence depends on this nefarious alliance of political
13. See Sarlia (2006); see also Guha (2008), Khan (2007) and Luce (2007).
14. In a CNN interview with Fareed Zakaria, Ambassador Richard Hallbrook and Pakistani
author–journalist Ahmed Rashid confirmed the dangers that El Qaida presents to South
Asian stability. Hallbrook, and indeed the whole western establishment, including the
ruling elites of Pakistan, have begun to realize that their ‘‘enemy’’ (India) does not harbor
any nefarious motives; it is their own Inter Service spy agency that created its own
Frankenstein by supporting terrorism against India (CNN, 19 April 2009). See Ahmed
Rashid’s (2008) Decent into chaos.
15. The 53-year-old dalit leader Mayawati, Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh – a woman
with lust for power and vast following – has horrified ‘‘India’s English-speaking elite’’.
The Economist reports from Rajgarh on India’s general elections: ‘‘Venal, autocratic and
266 B. Mohan

nakedly opportunistic, Miss Mayawati is the epitome of the wrecking regional leader, a
type that has helped ensure, during two decades of coalition rule at the centre, that India’s
governments have mostly been quarrelsome, inefficient and corrupt . . . The BSP has no
ideology . . . ‘Our party wants growth of capital and not development of capitalists in the
country’’’ (The Economist, 2009c, p. 46).

Notes on contributor
Brij Mohan is author, most recently, of Fallacies of development: The crises of human and social
development (Atlantic, 2007). His forthcoming books include Culture and poverty: Toward a
theory of poverty of culture and Seven killers of wisdom: The end of Enlightenment.


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