Explaining a World of Extremes

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Review of 'World Development: An Introduction', eds. Prodromos Panayitopoulos and Gavin Capps, Pluto £16.99

In 1999 World Bank president James Wolfensohn admitted, 'At the level of people, the system isn't working.' This book will help you understand why. Introducing students, teachers and NGO workers to debates about the relationship between state, industrialisation and Third World development, it makes it clear that capitalism is a highly uneven system, creating winners and losers.

Good introductory academic books, such as this, used to be standard in development studies. Hopefully students will read this one before they are fed the routine sycophantic books found on courses today.

It begins with an excellent summary of the historical development of capitalism laying the basis for an analysis of its uneven outcome and the consequences for the majority of humanity. The chapter 'Globalisation in the Millennium' is full of information that subtly exposes the hype surrounding globalisation. Far from patterns of foreign direct investment integrating the world equally, it remains highly selective and concentrated. Japan, North America and the EU received 60 percent of all private sector investment by multinational corporations in the 1990s while 48 of the world's poorest countries account for 0.3 percent of world trade, half what it was 20 years ago.

So what have a poverty-stricken region of Brazil and the employment starved Swansea Valley got in common? Both were, at differing times, the most developed parts of the world. Uneven capitalist development 'lies at the heart of the world system', a world 'of extremities in both the level of economic development and in the state of the human condition'.

The authors ask us to think about the usefulness of the one size fits all argument that free trade and the market are the only path to development. The encouragement to think critically about the assumptions behind such economic and political ideas enables the reader to make an informed conclusion about the desirability of neoliberal polices. This is aided through general discussion and detailed case studies ranging from Mexico to London garment workers and those working in the Spanish tourist industry.

Early sections of the book refer to periodic global recessions without elaborating on them, and detailed discussion on the fundamentals that link recessions in the 19th century through the 1970s to the present day would have aided the political thrust of the book. Considering it is partly dedicated to those who protested in Seattle in 1999, I expected a case study of those resisting the implementation of neoliberal policies, the global anti-capitalist movement, or the role of labour and popular struggles in both developing and industrial countries. This would have complemented, in a vivid and exciting way, the book's critical questioning.