The 1980s: A Lost Decade — Development in Reverse?
The description of the 1980s as a decade ‘lost’ for development could be described as ‘a sad story not wholly true’. It is not wholly true most obviously in the geographical sense: the decade may be ‘lost’ for Latin America, Africa and also the oil exporters (at least compared with their position achieved in the 1970s) but it is not true of Asia. Given the demographic and economic importance of Asia, it is not clear which is the exception and which is the rule! But for the other three categories mentioned, to speak of a ‘lost’ decade may be an understatement; for Sub-Saharan Africa, in particular, the 1980s became a disastrous decade and this subcontinent rapidly acquired the character of a marginalised Fourth World, increasingly recognised as requiring special action and special criteria. The other true part of this sad story is that the decade was ‘lost’ to development in the sense that attention shifted to debt settlement, stabilisation, adjustment, structural change, liberalisation, etc. — often at the expense of everything that had previously been understood as development, whether growth, employment, redistribution, basic needs or reduction of poverty. This shift was associated with the ascent of neo-liberal ideologies, a shift in decision-making on development strategy to creditors, donors and international financial institutions, and within the Bretton Woods system from the World Bank which had traditionally stood for development to the IMF which had traditionally come to stand for ‘stabilisation’.
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