Inadequate food production and the population explosion in developing countries were favourite themes for economists during the 1950s and 1960s. They have generally suggested that there is a need to modernize agriculture and increase food production, and take effective measures to bring down the population growth. The 1970s brought into sharp focus the dependence of the West on the developing countries for raw materials, particularly oil. The emphasis shifted to interdependence of the West and developing countries. Everybody seems to have also awakened to the reality that the fruits of economic development are not reaching the populace. This awareness has led to a process of rationalization by the authors of the development process. They attribute the entire phenomenon of maldistribution to the population explosion out-stripping the developmental process. So, growth rates, which were taken as indicators to judge the performance of the economy, were replaced by concepts like ‘diffusion of poverty’
Radha Sinha’s book Food and Poverty reflects the viewpoint of the school of ‘Interdependence’ scholars. His macro-level study comes to the inevitable conclusion that cooperation between the developing and developed economies can resolve the problem of hunger and malnutrition. If efforts are not initiated in this direction there will inevitably be a confrontation between the two economic groupings. To demonstrate the interdependence, he impressively marshalls facts and figures. On the whole the book is a useful contribution to the current literature on the ‘New International Economic Order’.
But Dr. Sinha’s belief that confrontation is possible on a global basis through a collective boycott by poorer countries of trade and aid from richer countries is rather naive. Probably his belief arises from the way OPEC was able to pressurize the developed countries. But two points have to be noted here. First, immediately after the 1973 oil crisis, OPEC started considering the other developing countries as liabilities rather than assets. Oil-producing countries have granted few concessions to the other developing countries at the conference on International Economic Cooperation (North-South Dialogue) in Paris. Second, the unity of OPEC is coming under strain. The recent decision on differential crude prices by Saudi Arabia and the Emirates shows that OPEC’s unity can no longer be taken for granted.
No doubt, Dr. Sinha does warn that the developed economies have the capability to manoeuvre and disrupt the unity between developing countries. Whether it is because of such manoeuvring or the lack of extra-national perspective in the leadership of the developing eountries is another question. The fact is Third World unity remains only an idealized concept. Even the late Mao Tse-tung, in retrospect, probably falls into the category of leaders who could not extend their vision beyond national interests. Perhaps Gandhi was the only one to do so in present times. But he is alone; and many more Gandhis are needed if we are to radically alter the international order whether political or economic.
In such a situation, the only solution to global economic problems is to keep open the dialogue between the rich and the poor. This does not mean that developing countries should foreclose other options of coercive action if they are available, but essentially try to strengthen their bargaining power. To the extent that awareness of the need for a fairer distribution of the world’s riches is kept alive in international forums, the effort towards achieving a new economic order would prove useful.
Sreedhar Rao is Research Officer at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi.