CONTRIBUTIONS OF THE SOCIAL SCIENCES
Infrastructure of Knowledge
Over the past 25 years social scientists have been able to test basic theory and the search for policy applications against reliable economic and social data. In the 1960s, for example, per capita GNP figures were rarely available for developing countries. With their recent availability, however, much of the guesswork has been eliminated about events in remote parts of the world, and even inexperienced governments can now appraise their present conditions and their progress in standard, quantitative terms.
Unobtrusive ways to generate fairly accurate estimates of population sizes, locations, and trends are also now available. With continued support from USAID, the World Fertility Survey has been completed. It provides information about demography, health, fertility, family planning, and many other features of life in 40 developing countries (see box).
The details of income distribution, which were the subject only of speculation a generation ago, can be estimated using the data banks created in most developing countries. With such data, social scientists can identify the long-term consequences of policy alternatives in terms of their distributive effects.
As scientists have learned more about the determinants of fertility, they have also increased their understanding of demographic transition. Montgomery noted that former expectations that technology alone, especially improvements in contraception, would reduce family size, have yielded to new notions about the importance of the costs and benefits of additional children as a basis for making predictions. The economic, social, and cultural factors that produce large or small families do not follow a standard mathematical process.
An increased understanding of population movements, particularly rural-to-urban migration, has helped explain why slum dwellers reject public housing and why bulldozers fail to remove shanty towns. Armed with such knowledge, social scientists are even learning what policies to pursue in dealing with these problems.
A final example of the value of the social science information infrastructure is the emerging knowledge about the relationships of employment among the agricultural, manufacturing, and service sectors. Through projections of occupational trends, scientists can estimate future needs and potential problems and seek a redress of the sector imbalance caused by premature concentration on protected industrialization.
Montgomery then summarized these developments by saying, '´I am not claiming that the infrastructure of knowledge now in place is sufficient in itself to produce coherent theories.... What I am claiming... is that it is now possible to use an extensive empirical base in generating and testing theories about development.”
World Fertility Survey
The World Fertility Survey (WFS) was established in 1972 to help countries acquire the scientific information needed to describe and interpret the fertility of their populations. It was also designed to increase the capability of each participating country, especially developing countries, to undertake fertility and other demographic research and to collect and analyze internationally comparable data on fertility. According to the U.S. Agency for International Development, one of its supporters, the World Fertility Survey is the largest social science endeavor ever undertaken.
The International Statistical Institute (the Netherlands), with the collaboration of the United Nations and in cooperation with the International Union for the Scientific Study of Population, undertook the survey. Major funding was contributed by the United Nations Fund for Population Activities and USAID. Additional funding was received from, among others, the governments of the United Kingdom, France, Japan, and the Netherlands.
By the time this study was concluded in 1984, fertility surveys had been carried out in 42 developing and 20 developed countries with the participation of hundreds of scholars and experts. Its major contribution - along with the high-quality data produced which has already been widely discussed, assessed, and interpreted by social scientists, policymakers, and others - is the wealth of new and innovative survey methodologies and techniques for data analysis that were developed and tested in the course of the survey.
The results of this survey indicated that the increased availability of family planning supplies and services in turn increases their use. The data gathered also revealed that fertility rates are falling in much of the world and demonstrated the importance of birth spacing and the substantial role that breast-feeding plays in birth spacing and subsequent child survival.
It was once convenient to think that economic growth occurred in stages and that prescriptions existed for application of the appropriate doctrines to each period in the march toward modernization. Unfortunately said Montgomery, the decline of this approach has led some skeptics to doubt that a field of "development economics" exists at all. The area specialists have, however, reminded social scientists that applications of standard economic remedies do little to help the development needs of either the newly industrialized countries or the African states. Thus, there is still a role for development economists.
After throwing out many of the favorite terms from the early days of development theory - "big push," "low-level equilibrium trap," and "two-gap model," for example - and rejecting the notion that capital accumulation will automatically produce self-sustaining growth, economists have come to realize how complicated growth is, and they are learning how social factors affect technological choices. They long ago discarded the idea that "easy fixes" of technology alone will produce development. But, Montgomery explained, they may have gone too far in repudiating the historic contributions of technology transfer, especially if one includes the massive industrial and agricultural changes that have occurred without official assistance.
In searching for new technologies, natural and social scientists learned to combine their efforts. For example, in the health field, discoveries such as oral rehydration therapy became useful only after anthropologists and other social scientists working with public health scientists discovered how to develop community-based efforts aimed at the dissemination of information and behavioral change.
Montgomery also observed that an improved knowledge of incentive and delivery factors is associated with technological advances. He recalled that social science joined with agricultural technology to make the "green revolution" work. The availability of better, cheaper, and more abundant crops did not automatically solve the food and farmer problem. Pricing systems, especially those that distinguished between "sales" and "purchases," enabled farmers to afford new technologies and the urban poor to buy their products.
Finally, Montgomery noted that "we have learned something about maximizing human contributions to development. Our knowledge has gone far beyond calculations about how many specialists might be needed to achieve what we once called 'manpower balance,' as we begin to relate individual talents to social needs." He offered as an example the changed perception of how farmers contribute to development. Anthropologists and rural sociologists have worked tenaciously to destroy the stereotype that peasants cannot be motivated by economic incentives. General realization that the profit motive is not confined to the industrialized societies after all brought economics and the behavioral sciences into new areas of collaboration.
Our understanding of economic growth teas moved beyond developing indicators of wealth to a recognition of subtle relationships among technology, management and growth, which, in turn, we have begun to measure and to influence as well.
The few things discovered over the past 25 years about the relationship between growth and equity, observed Montgomery, are enough to dispel some early theories that were unnecessarily tolerant of extreme trickle-down policies and pathologies. "Economic growth, we now know, does not explain or predict the emergence of pluralistic, equity-seeking democracies." And few would argue today that the savings of the rich are more productive of developmental investments than are expenditures of the poor.
Our greater knowledge of the role of equity in development: not only do we know that they go together, but we have extensive knowledge of institutional means of promoting that marriage.
One of the policy insights provided by these discoveries is that institutional devices can be installed to protect the interests of small farmers and even urban migrants, two groups whose capacity to produce wealth was often overlooked in the trickle down era. Once it was fashionable to argue that the "green revolution" did little for the poor farmers, but current research shows that direct benefits came to them as well as to the more prosperous farmers.
Politics of Development
According to Montgomery, people still seem surprised to hear that democracy is not necessarily served by development, and that its institutions are fragile even when they appear to be firmly in place. Social scientists have found, however, that although democracy is difficult to acquire, under the right conditions it can be more durable than a dictatorship. "Nowadays political scientists rarely justify support to authoritarian regimes on the ground that they are more stable or last longer.... We now know something about the political preconditions of development, even though we no longer think of 'political development' as a linear progression from traditional societies."
Montgomery then cited two preconditions for the survival of democracy: (1) institutions for resolving conflicts must be in place before mass participation is feasible, and (2) while certain levels of economic development may help democracy thrive, new governments need the support of elements that used to be ignored, such as armies and rural populations, just as they need that of merchants and urban dwellers.
In place of "political development," a "political economy of development" seems to be emerging. This change has led political scientists to focus on comparing internal variables, and in doing so they have discovered that national decision-making capacities must be studied in their own historical and cultural contexts as sources of change and development.
There is no political development, only political developments.
This new focus has in turn led many political scientists to be skeptical of external explanations for government shortcomings. Instead, they now look at important policy decisions made internally, and they have learned much about these decisions from the experience of the newly industrialized countries. Although most political scientists rejected the dependency theory long ago, they have also learned from it - but with greater emphasis on tariff and import policies than on internal structural conditions.
Some of the valuable things recently learned about the relationships between culture and development have produced policy insights that are beginning to reach policymakers. Montgomery cited the example of the U.S. government which, like the banks, is beginning to prepare "social-institutional profiles" of countries receiving grants and loans in an attempt to predict whether local organizations and national parties will thrive in a given context.
He also noted that when it comes to using institutions to change people, factories are not necessarily the best way to modernize. "Factories do not always flourish even when there is a local market for their products. Some countries do not want to abandon their cultural heritage in order to adopt modern technologies, but prefer to find ways - slower, perhaps - to preserve their cultures while gaining the advantages of modern technology."
In the same vein, social scientists have discovered that there are systemic limitations on any government's capacity to bring about social change. Because governments quite often have interests of their own that are quite distinct from those of their constituents, certain government functions must devolve to local participants to keep public functions public-serving.
In summing up the contributions of the social sciences to development, Montgomery emphasized that the most encouraging progress has been the growing partnership between natural and social scientists. "Few among us now doubt that understanding the relationship between technology and institutions requires the expertise of both groups."
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