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close this bookCERES No. 074 (FAO Ceres, 1980, 50 p.)
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View the documentNot one event, but a long process

Not one event, but a long process

by Umberto Di Giorgi

In this collection of essays, the author studies the relationship between the poverty of each country in particular and the accentuation of inequalities at international level. The basic idea behind the book, which gives it an organic character, is that international integration has aggravated the dependence of the Third World and unleashed the process of national disintegration.

The author is equally at home with methods of economics analysis and with those of sociology. Of these, three seem particularly important: analysis of social classes (class differences imply conflicts of interest); of the role of power, both political and economic, with all the consequences this has for the international economy; of the category of the historical period: forces in action in the international economy do not fluctuate around a point of balance - on the contrary, they continue to create imbalances.

One of the causes of this imbalance is technical change, the driving force of the world economy. The new technology developed in the advanced countries sets in motion on the international market forces that help to accentuate the inequality between North and South. This process is not without consequences at national level; it involves a more and more sharply defined stratification of society, of which an outstanding feature is the unity of interest between Third World elites and those of the advanced countries, reflected within the Third World by a conflict of interest between the ruling classes and the great majority of the people.

Shed new light

It goes without saying that this very rough outline of the author's theories does not do justice to the richness of his analyses. One might think it was just another book on dependence and inequality.' Nothing of the sort. It is, on the contrary, an original contribution, both in the method followed and in the author's capacity to match theoretical analysis with precise historical examples to support his point. The essays on the international transfer of inequality, the role of foreign capital and poverty in the Third World, which constitute the first three chapters, shed new light on these questions. This work could also be seen as a continuous dialogue on the theoretical level between those who advocate a return to the classics (Smith, Ricardo and Marx) and those who are still faithful to neo-classic analysis. Griffin comes out clearly in favour of the economic thinking of the classics, emphasizing that the free play of market forces is not in itself enough to achieve social justice.

The reality of the Third World is depicted in an extremely pessimistic light. Unlike Griffin's other works (The Political Economy of Agrarian Change, for example), this book does not always provide a positive exit to analysis. In other words, it does not always give precise answers to the fateful question, "What is to be done?" This is undoubtedly the limitation of this work. It is true that, here and there, one can find some interesting ideas. For example, in the essay on multinationals, Griffin maintains that, in the context of a development policy hinged on basic needs, multinational enterprises of a new type could make their appearance, offering different kinds of products with different technologies. Such a policy would lead to a more equal distribution of income, and also make the role of the multinationals largely marginal in relation to the global development process. It would however be a role "marginally beneficial rather than the reverse."

But although he accepts the basic needs philosophy, he remains extremely sceptical as to the concrete possibilities of its implementation, so that it becomes much more of an interpretative manure than a new economic policy. This scepticism is evident when he comes to the problem of the new international economic order (NIEO), which is the keystone of the alternative to present development policy. There are certainly many obstacles to the implementation of NIEO, and they can be found inside as well as outside developing countries. But this is no reason to avoid the task of overcoming them. In fact, a detailed review of the state of negotiations, even if one thinks of the slender achievements of the Manila Conference, should not let us forget that the restructuring of North-South relations is not one event, but a long-drawn-out process, as Mabbub ul Haq pointed out with his usual perspicacity.

Works like Griffin's are, however, useful, because they bring out a bitter reality which could serve as a stimulus, both to international organizations and to Western public opinion, to tackle Third World poverty on a global scale.