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In further confirmation of his thesis, Sen observes that life expectancy in China has suffered a slow decline since 1979, when the new market-oriented reforms were undertaken. Another relevant example is the Indian state of Kerala, long under leftist rule and with "a long history of extensive public support in education, health care, and food distribution." Here, improvement in life expectancy is comparable to China, though it is one of India's poorer states.67
These are all serious and difficult questions, with far-reaching human consequences. The development strategies imposed upon the Third World by Western power, implemented by the international economic institutions or the states and corporations themselves, have enormous effects on the lives of the targeted populations. The record shows plainly enough that the policies that are advocated or enforced by the Western powers, and the confident rhetoric that accompanies them, are guided by the self-interest of those who hold the reins, not by any solid understanding of the economics of development or any serious concern for the human impact of these decisions. Benefits that may accrue to others are largely incidental, as are the catastrophes that commonly ensue.
As the collapsing Soviet system resumes traditional quasi-colonial relations with the West, it is coming to be subjected to the same prescriptions -- in part by choice, given the intellectual vacuity that is one of the consequences of decades of totalitarian rule. One Polish critic writes that if the words of the popular Chicago School
become flesh, this government would be the first in the history of the world to adhere firmly to this doctrine. All developed countries, including those (such as the Federal Republic of Germany) whose governments pay obeisance to the liberal doctrine, apply a wide spectrum of government interventions, such as in resource allocation, in investments, in developing technology, income distribution, pricing, export and import.68If the result is Third World norms, popular resistance is likely to follow. And it is also likely to elicit the classic response by those who uphold our traditional values.
On a visit to Europe a few days before he was assassinated by elite government forces in San Salvador in November 1989, Father Ignacio Ellacur”a, rector of the University of Central America, addressed the West on the underlying issues. You "have organized your lives around inhuman values," he said. These values
are inhuman because they cannot be universalized. The system rests on a few using the majority of the resources, while the majority can't even cover their basic necessities. It is crucial to define a system of values and a norm of living that takes into account every human being.69
In our dependencies, such thoughts are subversive and can call forth the death squads. At home, they are sometimes piously voiced, then relegated to the ashcan in practice. Perhaps the last words of the murdered priests deserve a better fate.
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67 Sen, "Indian Development: Lessons and Non-Lessons," Daedalus, Vol. 118 of the Proceedings of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 1989. For further details on the Kerala exception, see Richard Franke and Barbara Chasin, Kerala: Radical Reform As Development in an Indian State (Institute for Food & Development Policy, Food First Development Report No. 6, October 1989).
68 Mieczyslaw Mieszczanowski, Polityka, Dec. 16, 1989, cited by Abraham Brumberg, Foreign Affairs, "America and the World," 1989-90.
69 Env”o (Managua), May 1990.