2.7 Public action as enabling immanent development
Now let us turn to the idea of how public action can enable development within the framework of immanent development. Thomas (2000, p. 25) defines immanent development as meaning a ‘spontaneous and unconscious’ process of development from within, which may entail ‘destruction of the old order to achieve the new …’ The role of ‘development’ here is to be understood within the immanent process of capitalist development, and therefore the most important agents of development are individual entrepreneurs. The state, however, has re-emerged from the old days of the 1980s and early 1990s of being ‘rolled’ back; it is now the key provider of an enabling framework for immanent development.
Much has been written about enabling capitalist development within the former socialist economies of Eastern Europe, collectively known as the transitional economies (i.e. they are undergoing a transition to capitalism). Also, there is much current debate as to whether or not China – still under Communist Party political control – is in fact undergoing a transition to capitalism. To enable capitalist development in these economies, the state has to build up basic infrastructural services, capacities and means by which to support private enterprise. For instance, water supply, electricity and raw materials need to be more easily and readily available. In a competitive market, private business cannot function efficiently if it runs out of raw materials or has to request them through state distribution systems that are lengthy and require much administration. ‘Red tape’ – too much needless bureaucracy – has to be cut through and new systems pioneered to promote change of practices.
Private ownership also means institutional changes, for example, government or legal institutions that will draw up contracts and define property rights. A change of employment relations will also generate further institutional changes. For instance, the worker moving from a state-owned to a private enterprise will still be concerned with employment protection and health and safety measures, and may seek these through setting up of trade unions or other such bodies. A private employer on the other hand may seek support from business alliances and so on. The crucial point here is that the setting up of these practices and supportive institutions enables a more systematic rule-based system under which private enterprise can operate with abroad consent from society. A haphazard, uncontrolled (unruly) development may lead to all kinds of exploitative practices, social unrest and criminal activity that might actually undermine the legitimacy of private enterprise and therefore be disabling.
Enabling development within the framework of immanent development can face considerable constraints. Some of these concern the resistance to change from powerful existing institutions, especially if such institutions stand to be transformed by the changes. But constraints also arise from a variety of factors including historical mismanagement of resources and the environment; histories of regional, ethnic tensions; attitudinal factors; and state capacities to respond to changes. In considering the mismanagement of the Aral Sea basin in the former Soviet Central Asia, Spoor (1998) advises environmental management strategies that may be more familiar to market-led economies of the western world. (See Allen and Thomas, 2000, p. 145, Box 7.2 for an account of the Aral Sea crisis.)
One of Spoor's arguments is that the transitional economies of central Asia continue to regard water as ‘God given’, which is why it is not used as efficiently as it can be. In echoing neo-liberal views of environmental management, Spoor suggests that one of the problems is that ‘water remains either free, or symbolically priced’ (1998, p. 413). The solution is to create socially acceptable policies such as investment in new smaller-scale, more efficient irrigation systems, along with the introduction of ‘tradable water rights’, water pricing and pollution charges. Spoor also calls for a change in the political will of the Central Asian leadership in negotiating regional conflicts over water and suggests that ‘Civil society environmental organisations could play an important part here, but at the moment the role of such organisations is minimal; in Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan particularly, they are struggling to emerge and have little influence on the still powerful state structures’ (p. 424).
As well as discussing the enabling of development, Spoor in his article also advocates a larger role for civil society organisations such as NGOs, for example, The Association of Environmentally Clean Fergana and the Women of Aral, who were active in Uzbekistan when he wrote this article. But I think implicit in his definition of ‘civil society’ and a much larger role for NGOs are international environmental NGOs. However, is there not a danger in lumping together the interests and agendas of the ‘civil society’? Will these differing groups form a consensus on what their role will be, and how they will meet this?
Changes towards a market system, no matter how embryonic, therefore require new attitudes and a re-evaluation of how best to make market reform strategies and policies workable and ruly. As discussed at the start of this sub-section, such changes in turn generate a need for new institutions, and a review of what practices may best deliver growth.