Big ideas: a guide to developing a more functional world

Oxford Prof. Ian Goldin's 2016 book is an asset for urban development officers and planners, helping to drive prosperity, education and innovation

You don’t usually read a review of the physical makeup of a book, unless it’s an art book. But Ian Goldin’s book has been standing out on my desk and on my shelf for a while. It demands comment.

Pursuit of Development: Economic Growth, Social Change and Ideas (2016) is an ambitious title and Oxford Prof. Goldin should know about this. He’s a former vice-president of the World Bank, advised former South African president Mandela, helped the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), and so on.

Minus footnotes and appendices, the book is just 171 pages. It’s also physically small at five-by-seven inches. But it’s a hardcover book, perhaps signifying big ideas in a little package built to last.

Goldin goes through some history of development and related terminology. There have been rich-poor, Third World, north-south, emerging, developing, and lots of other terms used over the years. The international community has made its share of mistakes with aid and help that doesn’t aid or help.

This book focuses on a few tangible areas that we can grab onto and provide some aid and help to all. For example, poverty reduction is a worthy goal, whatever you call it. The book notes the real progress that’s been made in this area. It also cites the International Labour Organization (ILO), which has said that poverty anywhere is a “danger to prosperity everywhere.”

This is no doubt true and I wonder how the Arab Spring might have played out if there had been less poverty in the region. I also wonder how our aid and foreign policy might be different if tens of millions of people weren’t mobile in a good year, and many tens of millions more in a bad year.

The book cites studies indicating that it’s “necessary for governments to open markets, engage in trade reform, establish property rights and roll-back regulations,” dismantle “state-owned enterprises and marketing boards” and privatize state-owned agencies.

The book also cites good governance and the full participation of women as steps to more prosperity.

But the global economy poses risks, too. Globalization doesn’t just mean people, goods and services moving around. It also means “pandemics, cyber attacks, financial crises and climate change.”

Almost the moment somebody sneezes in China and gets on a plane for Toronto, hotels start laying off staff because of a rumour of avian flu. That’s because the avian flu rumour caused tourists and convention planners to avoid Toronto.

More worrisome is the fact that some venerable American companies are actually noting that the United States may be an unstable place to do business for a while. If President Donald Trump tweets or gets mad, jobs may be lost.

As Goldin knows, there are about 2,800 bilateral trade agreements among the most developed 35 countries in the world. So good luck with trade reform. These countries in the OECD have traditionally had almost half their gross domestic product (GDP) come from the public sector. Good luck with winding much of that down. Moreover, I’m not sure we need to privatize the police, fire and ambulance services, nor the water and sewer systems in our cities.

Economists have trouble accounting for government and social spending in the GDP, and so we have a few missing links in the popular prescriptions for economic success.

But the book is an asset for development officers and planners in our cities, which must help drive prosperity, education and innovation.

Dr. Allan Bonner has consulted on some of the major planning and public policy issues of our time on five continents over 25 years. He is the author of Safer Cities. 

The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.

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