Top Down Development

Top-down development derives from traditional colonial exploitation, when European powers laid claims to lands in South America, Africa, and Asia, and "civilized" the native populations. Modern colonialism relies more on exchange of material goods than force to convince undeveloped countries to trade away their natural resources and third-world politicians are often accomplices in this exploitation. However, in both cases, decisions on development plans have been carried out in council chambers, offices or boardrooms located far away from the locale of the resources, but within very close contact of the monetary agencies that finance the development.

In the years following World War II, developed countries initiated aid projects where the stated objective was not so much to obtain the resources of the tropical countries, but rather to improve the "standard of living" of the peoples in the tropical countries. However, the mode of development was still based upon top-down management approaches of economic exploitation with little or no participation from people of the region that was to be developed. Although participatory methods, where the affected people are involved in all aspects of project design, management, and evaluation, were known in the early 20th century for improving labor conditions in developed countries, they were not considered appropriate for aiding undeveloped countries (Cas-tellanet and Jordan 2002). It was reasoned that the resources necessary to be effective in helping lesser developed countries develop economically could only be mustered through agencies that had access to international financing. Further, local communities lacked the expertise to carry out development projects that could integrate their community into the world economy. The complexity of development problems is so great that no single specialist can pretend to know and understand all relevant aspects of the problem. In the top-down or authoritarian approach to development, political or economic authorities decide on a project based on recommendations by outside consultants. The assumption has been that the local residents have neither the knowledge nor the vision to propel themselves into the modern economy and that guidance must be left to the "experts".

However, there are a number of problems with the top-down approach, some of which are illustrated in the case study, "Development and deforestation in the Philippines" (Chap. 4). Perhaps the major problem is that business people who are positioned to take advantage of the infrastructure provided by the development aid benefit while the local people do not. Such business people can be the local elite, national firms operating out of the nation's capital or other large cities, or international corporations. Other beneficiaries are often people from other regions or countries who take advantage of employment or agricultural opportunities in the area being developed. The 1962 (pre-development) FAO report mentioned in the Philippine case study led to the belief that logging the Philippine forests would improve the standard of living of local residents. However, the logging projects, as with many other projects designed and orchestrated by individuals far removed from the practical consequences of the development, failed to consider the impact on the people who lived in or around the areas deforested. Top-down development aid is too often based on global and national economic considerations that have little relation to local social, cultural, and economic realities.

A common complaint against internationally based development programs is that they benefit businesses in the donor countries more than they do in the country being developed. For example, the "second green revolution", which aims to introduce genetically modified crops to developing countries has the potential to bring great profits to the agro-businesses in the USA and Europe, not only through the sale of the genetically modified seed, but also through the chemicals that are necessary to support super-plants (Jordan 2002). However, resistance to introduction of genetically modified crops in many countries illustrates that, although the ultimate goals of authoritarian development efforts may be driven primarily by economic theory, the process through which successful development is achieved at the national or local level is overwhelmingly social and political (Bailey 1996).

Another weakness of the top-down approach is that the expert consultants for many projects are paid by the development agencies or banks and thus the evaluations may be compromised. This is especially true when the consultants have ties to industries that stand to gain from business generated by the development activity. Development loans are particularly good instruments for opening up markets for businesses in the lending country because much of the aid is officially tied to purchasing goods from donor countries (Goldsmith 1996 a).

Because of past problems with top-down development, attitudes in international agencies that traditionally operated in this manner have changed in recent years. As the disastrous consequences of unbridled logging became apparent to the world, financial backing for projects such as deforestation in the Philippines has diminished. Nevertheless, top-down, centralized planning often still occurs at the international and national level.

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