The term development can mean different things depending on its context. The term in its simplest form means growth or progress. When the term is used to define the growth or progress of a country, the term can be interpreted in different ways. From a traditional economic perspective development refers to an annual growth rate in the country’s gross national product (GNP) or other economic measurements. There is also a modern economic perspective that sees development as economic growth based on the changes that have occurred in the country. Lastly, there is the Sen’s “capabilities” idea that development is progress made towards “enhancing the lives we lead and the freedoms we enjoy.” (1)
The traditional economic perspective of development is growth defined through the use of economic measurements, such as GNP. A country is often considered developing when its GNP is rising annually at a rate of 5% or more. (2) The problem with using this perspective of development is that it only looks at the nation as a whole and only based on its economy. It ignores the fact that growth in GNP does not allows mean that poverty is being dealt with. The strategy of looking at economic measurements does help determine what potential a country has to solve its problems or poverty, but it does not look at measurements that show progress towards ending poverty.
The modern economic perspective of development includes the use of measurements of progress towards “the eradication of poverty” (3) as well as economic measurements. According to this perspective a country is considered developing when it not only has an annually rising GNP, but is also working towards improving their citizens’ lives. Improvement in non-economic areas can be measured based on increased literacy rates and decreasing poverty rates. This perspective on development allows for a country to only be considered as progressing if the economy is growing and the government is making changes that allow for the quality of life for its citizens to increase.
Amaryta Sen’s capabilities definition of development is specific interpretation of the modern economic perspective of development. According to Sen, development is not only measured by economic growth, but also measured by “what a person is, or can be, and does.” (4) The capability of a person to function is partially determined by income, but it also is determined by what the person is able to do based on what is available to him. A country can be seen as developing through this perspective when the citizen’s lives are improved and they have more freedom to use the resources available to them.
The term development means different things depending on the perspective that it is looked at from. I believe that it income is an important measurement to determine if a country is developing or not, but it cannot be the only thing looked at, as is done in the traditional economic perspective. To be considered a developing country it is important that steps are being taken towards improving the people’s lives. It is also important that the improvements help deal with the gap between the rich and poor and help to close it.
1. Stephen C. Smith and Michael P. Todaro, Economic Development (United States: Addison Wesley, 2003) 17.
2. Ibid., 15.
3. Ibid., 17.