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Assignment: Tonic or Elixir

Assignment: Tonic or Elixir

Assignment: Tonic or Elixir


Development: Tonic or Elixir?

In the West, we think of development as a good thing. But we are seeing lots of signs that point to a different and disturbing conclusion: that it’s possible to get too much of a good thing, that overdevelopment can be as detrimental to the health and sustainability of a state and society as underdevelopment. Signs and symptoms of overdevelopment are all around us but are often too easily ignored unless we happen to be visiting Beijing during an “orange smog” alert; or living on the Jersey Shore when a super storm like Hurricane Sandy makes landfall; or caught in an afternoon rush-hour traffic jam on a Los Angeles freeway in mid-July. You can probably think of examples close to home. Go ahead. Try. (Start with what you know from firsthand experience. One example: massive multiacre high school parking lots filled with cars. You won’t see anything like it anywhere else on the planet. By the way, there were about twenty million students in grades 9 through 12 in the United States in 2012. If, say, one-third of these students drive to school …).

All societies are in a constant state of flux, rising or falling. They develop in different ways, at different rates, and at different times. In the modern era, Western societies have led the way, developing economically and technologically along lines congruent with the political institutions that evolved at the same time. In this sense, development was a natural process originating within these societies.

For least developed countries, development is often just the opposite: an alien process that originates from the outside. Development is always disruptive, but even more so when it is forced on societies, whether by foreign powers or by external circumstances.

The story of development does not end with the arrival of the postindustrial state. Most rich states boast high-tech economies offering a vast array of commercial and financial services. They still engage in agriculture, mining, and industry, but these sectors of the economy are eclipsed in importance by high-tech goods that drive the global economy—computer software, pharmaceuticals, and financial services.

The new global economy brings a higher quality of life to consumers but comes with a price—outsourcing of jobs and chronic unemployment, urban congestion and crowding, air and water pollution, epidemics and stress-related illnesses, illegal drug use, overconsumption, energy shortages, waste disposal problems, global warming, extinction of countless plant and animal species, and others.