World Without Want.
by Paul G. Hoffman.
Harper & Row. 144 pp. $3.50.
Economic Development in Perspective.
by John Kenneth Galbraith.
Harvard University Press. 76 pp. $2.50.
As we rode into Magdala not a soul was visible. But the ring of the horses’ hoofs roused the stupid population, and they all came trooping out—old men and old women, boys and girls, the blind, the crazy, and the crippled, all in a ragged, soiled, and scanty raiment, and all abject beggars by nature, instinct, and education. How the vermin-tortured vagabonds did swarm! How they showed their scars and sores, and piteously pointed to their maimed and crooked limbs, and begged with their pleading eyes for charity! . . .
It is the voice of Mark Twain which mocks the beggars of the Near East. He has previously had his fun with the cripples of Constantinople: the three-legged woman, the faceless dwarf, etc. But perhaps we should not be too shocked. After all, Mark Twain was writing almost a hundred years ago, when to many American eyes Asiatic poverty appeared as a kind of gigantic circus side show, an amusing grotesquerie. We no longer read Innocents Abroad to learn about the state of the world in 1869; we read it to learn about the state of the American mind.
It seems a very far cry from the innocent eye of the 19th-century tourist to the knowing glance of the 20th-century development expert. “Walk down the main street of Kasai village in the Congo,” writes Paul Hoffman. “Look at the gaunt frames of the men and women—the swollen bellies of the children. This is hunger—with starvation just a yard away. Look at their eyes. As they meet yours, a glimmer of hope springs up. They cannot believe that you can see their plight and do nothing about it.”
What has changed since Mark Twain’s day are not so much the real conditions: these are all too depressingly the same. What is different are the subjective conditions, and specifically the American frame of mind. Where a Mark Twain chuckles, a Hoffman or a Galbraith draws in breath. Where Mark Twain looks for the outstanding “sights,” they look for the hidden structures. Where he wants only to divert his readers, they want to instruct, alert, even alarm them. And not least, whereas Mark Twain never gave a thought as to what the “beggars by instinct, nature, and education” might think of his words, both Hoffman and Galbraith write with one eye cocked in the direction of the underdeveloped countries themselves.
What they see and what they say is not fundamentally different: the American view of development is not signally affected whether one is an ex-Harvard professor serving as ambassador to India or an ex-businessman serving as Director of the United Nations Special Fund. Common themes, common stresses run through both books. The backward nations are in the throes of a desperate struggle to escape from the hopeless past. The richer nations must help. But help is not merely a matter of transferring money, as we once thought. Before the massive transfer of capital must come a period of intensive preparation. Education is no less a part of development than steel, and must precede or at least pace industrialization. Good government must be cultivated as assiduously as good land. Rigid preconceptions about the programming of development are apt to miscarry: countries differ in their needs, and at different stages in its development the same country differs in its needs. Development is impossible without planning, but planning is unlikely to make much headway without a considerable degree of autonomy for the productive units. Excellent suggestions, cogent warnings abound. The tone is mild but firm. The outlook is cautious but hopeful.
And yet, and yet—what is the note that reminds us of the past? It is not, of course, the brashness, heartlessness, the uninterest of Mark Twain. Is it not, rather, an innocence which pervades the books of the 20th century no less than those of a century ago—an innocence identifiable not so much by what is seen in each era as by what is not? Mark Twain, writing in the flush of the American spirit of the mid-1800’s, cannot see the mountainous fact of underdevelopment looming over his landscape of beggars. Hoffman and Galbraith, writing in the flush of the American spirit of the mid-1900’s, cannot see the mountainous fact of social revolution looming over their landscape of economic development.
Their innocence, in other words, is a failure to recognize that the central, inescapable, and indispensable precondition for “economic” development is political and social change on a wrenching and tearing scale. Economic development is not, alas, a mere matter of tactics to be decided among men of good will and then put into effect with all possible dispatch. It is, anterior to that, a contest among social classes. It is a process of institutional birth and institutional death. It is a time when power shifts, often violently and abruptly, a time when old regimes go under and new ones rise in their place. And these are not just the unpleasant side effects of development. They are part and parcel of the process, the very driving force of change itself.
But this is not the view of development which strikes the American eye today. So it is that Mr. Hoffman can write a primer on economic development and mention only in passing the words land reform and deal nowhere at all with the idea of political struggle, or that Mr. Galbraith can write a series of sophisticated essays on various aspects of the development process but leave unexamined the central question of who is to do the developing or of how is the enormous sacrifice and commitment necessary for development to be adduced and sustained. These are, of course, political questions, and as such they do not naturally fall within the view of the American expert on economic development. But that is just the point.
To be sure, there are mitigating circumstances. Ambassador Galbraith has here reproduced no more than the text of a few speeches he made in India, and he could scarcely be expected, in his official position, to dwell on such delicate and disruptive matters. So too there are reasons behind Mr. Hoffman’s reticence. Like Galbraith, he is not only writing about development but he is striving at first hand to help it to take place, and what is more, he is doing so admirably and persistently in the face of endless discouragements. Hence we cannot expect him to go sounding off on revolutionary notes. He must confine himself to matters of description and prescription within a smaller focus, and this he does very well.
Nonetheless, even if certain distressing matters must be eschewed, what should be the general expectation in regard to economic development given us by so knowledgeable a man? “By 1970,” writes Hoffman, “perhaps twenty nations will have achieved self-sustaining economies. . . . By the year 2000, we can be living in a world that has overcome poverty—a world without want.”
Are these valid goals to hold out to the readers of the industrially advanced—or the industrially backward—world, even assuming as Hoffman does that the rich nations will fully support the advance of the poor? Will the United States be among those twenty nations who, in eight more years, will be launched into “self-sustained” growth? Will the American Negro have been freed from poverty by the year 2000? I would like to suggest these two goals, so infinitely much easier to engineer, so enormously much less tangled in social frictions and political bitterness, as proper bench marks by which to measure the feasibility of the global Great Ascent which Mr. Hoffman so blandly projects before us.
“We often had occasion to pity Americans whom we found traveling drearily among strangers with no friends to exchange pains and pleasures with,” writes Mark Twain at the end of his happy voyage. “Whenever we were coming back from a land journey, our eyes sought one thing in the distance first—the ship—and when we saw it riding at anchor with the flag apeak, we felt as a returning wanderer feels when he sees his home. When we stepped on board, our cares vanished, our troubles were at an end . . . we always had the same familiar old stateroom to go to, and feel safe and at peace and comfortable again.”
Thus the innocent tourist in 1869. Today the expert retires not to the haven of a ship but to the comfortable stateroom of his preconceptions. Looking out from his veranda, he has seen the banners of a distant parade about which he makes what he believes to be shrewd observations, but his sheltered vantage point has saved him from the sight of the great juggernaut itself, carrying along its millions, crushing other millions, as it lurches majestically and dangerously down the road of history.