The Chinese Lion

Investment – (1) the act of investing; laying out money or capital in an enterprise with the expectation of profit; (2) the commitment of something other than money (time, energy, or effort) to a project with the expectation of some worthwhile result (source: Google Define)

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The term investment is used an awful lot in capitalist and capitalist-like economies.  In fact, I would say the act of investing is one of the single-most defining characteristics of the capitalist system, the modern depth of which is not properly conveyed in the above definitions.  Nowadays an investment is not simply a handing over of money; it is a show of faith, of belief in an idea, of trust in payback with greater returns.  Failure to return on investment has social consequences in capitalist-based societies: it can demonstrate an untrustworthy character, a failed idea, or maybe simply a right idea at the wrong time.  But the inherent risk of the investment is (or at least should be) understood by both parties, as no investment is a sure-thing, ever.  The trick with investing is that oftentimes the bigger the risk, the bigger the reward.

There are other side affects that come about as a result of an investment culture.  An increased sense of accountability, and the notion that accountability can actually be profitable.  Being able to prove that should something fail the reason will be know, accounted for, and taken into consideration in the future, helps secure continued investment.  The culture adopts the idea that time and effort have economic value.  Whether it be in the form of currency or clout or karma, your time means something to someone else and therefore has value.  I am of the opinion that these effects, accountability, value of time and ideas, acknowledgement of risk for reward, all contribute to a modern successful society.

Development provides none of these things.  In fact, it seems to me that development is the antithesis of investment.  Mind you, there is a caveat to this statement: the term development exists at a much more abstract level of investment. I will try to clarify for the sake of posterity: Development through goodwill is failing to provide the benefits of development through investment.  Development through goodwill is best represented by NGOs and charities bringing over free goods and services with little expectation of return.  Expecting nothing in return has the negative side affects of removing accountability from transactions.  Good ideas are no longer worthwhile because rewards go to everyone, not just the best, so why bother thinking in the first place?  Whereas development through investment raises up the top with the hopes of bringing up the bottom, development through goodwill brings up the bottom, but the top  has nowhere to go.

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2 responses to “The Chinese Lion

  1. This is interesting.

    Much of the western world was, and continues to be criticized if it partakes in “shock” development. Instant modernization (or to the anti-colonialists: westernization) has always seemed so negative to me because there has been so much effort to resist it. It is taught to be sensitive to the needs of the developing world in a way that seems to inspire independent economic and industrial growth as opposed to selling pre-packaged modernization.

    However, such a process is slow and frustrating. Not only for the governments facilitating aid, but especially for the recipient governments watching other economies skyrocket.

    Do you think that it may be “acceptable” to introduce this shock development to developing countries when it is another non-western nation implementing the process? Is it really highlighting a continuation of anti-colonial sentiment?

  2. I appreciate your expanded insights into some of the matters I only briefly touched upon. I also like the term, “shock development.”

    The first thing I think everyone needs to agree on is that very rarely is there a single, perfect way to help a nation develop. Do too little and you are seen as uncaring. Do too much and you are seen as inappropriately influencing a culture. Anywhere in between these two extremes, and there is bound to be one project or another that cries for attention and when they do not receive that attention, they call a development-foul.

    The only way out of this mess is to potentially set some internationally agreed upon, ultimately arbitrary, standard at which point more traditional (as in, last-two-decades-style) development work can cease and an economy can be exposed to what you call shock development.

    Yet even that is flawed because it will ultimately enforce standards on developing-nation cultures that have maybe only been influenced by the more dominant Western culture. What markers would be used to indicate a culture or society is prepared for shock development? Which Western culture out there can say that they themselves have actually attained those levels themselves? I know of plenty of cases of murder, rape, domestic abuse, etc in the United States, yet we are all allowed to have automobiles, high speed Internet and in general high standards of living. Ultimately any metric we use will be flawed in both its application to developing nations as well as when it is applied to countries we consider developed. How much grey area do we allowed to exist before the shock development kicks in?

    Aggressive profit-oriented capitalism has its own metrics based simply on supply and demand. It is culture-agnostic, or rather, it may be more in tuned to what culture really is than any other arbitrary metric we could create. We always talk about letting the people of the developing nation choose what they want for themselves, and so I say again, if they choose they want to improve their lifestyles by being able to purchase finished goods, then who are we to tell them that is not their culture. Are we to tell them that they are being clueless, that they are blinded to the long-term impact upon a society if development were to occur this way? Do we actually have any proof ourselves of the true impact of this shock development? As far as I know, Kenya is in the first generation of post-colonial nations to be the attention of development agencies worldwide, and the job here isn’t done, so how do we know what the end result will be? We ourselves don’t have proof that what we are doing is better than what Chinese importers are doing.

    Some of the largest cultural transformations, and developments we have seen in modern times were those that aggressively adopted Western-style ideals when and where they needed them. Look at early 20th-century Japan and its Western-style industrialization. Was that not a shock development? Yet Japanese culture is still alive, vibrant, rich. Singapore, the darling Asian Tiger economy, implemented many aspects of Western style business culture while retaining that which they value in other areas of life. These countries that successfully develop economically without the mass help of a bunch of twenty-somethings, wandering-through-life, professional adults from other countries, demonstrate that culture and society can develop mutually with economies if under proper governance when exposed to the global economy.

    With all of this, I guess my short answer is that Western-style goodwill development treats culture as if it were some infant that needs constant protection and we get frustrated when the baby tries to grow up so we intentionally stunt its growth (this is not an accusation that NGOs want to keep themselves in work, a point I would argue otherwise in fact). In reality, culture is what the people want it to be. It is a survival of the fittest, where particular aspects of a given culture strive for the allegiance of its people. Those aspects that gain enough support continue on into the next generation of economic growth and internationalization of the nation. Those that do not fall to the wayside. Last I heard we don’t have witch-trials anymore in my native New England. Is anyone sad that cultural aspect lost out? To a certain degree shock development should be used much more, as long as proper governance is used to prevent it from becoming shock exploitation.