Neo-Liberalism or Democracy? by Arthur MacEwan

“One can easily extend the mutual causation link between education and democracy to include equality, making a more thorough ‘circle’ of causation. Education offers a particularly good entry point, but this circle of causation can start at any point: greater equality provides a foundation for democratic power which in turn leads to the expansion of education; greater democratic power which in turn leads to the expansion of education which in turn generates greater equality; the expansion of education generates greater equality which in turn provides a foundation for democratic power.” (page 187)

Neo-Liberalism or Democracy? by Arthur MacEwan was published in 1999. It’s divided into two sections 1) Neo-liberal myths and the meaning of Markets and 2) A Strategy for Democratic Economic Development. My reading has mostly been focused on MacEwan’s (2nd section) recommendations and strategies for democratic reform.

“The concept of economic development I am using here, democratic economic development, includes widespread political participation in social and political affairs as one of its defining features – not simply as a goal but as an aspect of the process itself. In addition, my definition includes economic growth and rising productivity, the widespread provision of basic needs and relative income equality, environmental sustainability, and the preservation (and creation) of community.” (pg 153)

“My meaning of policy will include the actions of governments, but will also include the actions of other organized groups, such as labour unions, social movements and community organizations. One reason for this definition of policy is to escape, at least partially, the slide into statism that can plague anti-neo-liberal arguments. There are certain realms of policy where action must be undertaken by the state and implemented by government, but there are other effective steps towards economic development that can be taken outside the state apparatus by organized groups in civil society. The implementation of policy outside the sphere of the state serves to limit state authority directly and, by building the power of civil society, indirectly.” (pg 155-6)

Microeconomic foundation of a Democratic Strategy

“… the central issue in establishing the viability of a democratic strategy is its macroeconomic framework. The contention that ‘there is no alternative’ to neo-liberalism rests on the claim that efforts to push development in a more egalitarian direction would create macroeconomic instability through deficit financing (and regulatory disincentives to investment) and thereby undermine economic growth; the lack of growth, in addition to being a problem in itself, would then undermine and egalitarian programmes. This charge that democratic development would generate instability through deficit financing is a central macroeconomic issue in the development debate.” (pg 160)

Education and the multiple aspects of democratic development

Education and democratic participation The connection between education and democratic participation can also be viewed in terms of virtuous circles, and it is relatively easy to envision a two-way causation between the expansion of democratic participation and the expansion of education.” (pg 186)

Education and Community Similarly, the structure of education has important implications for the strengthening of community. … The schools in a public education system, as primary mechanisms of socialization, are widely viewed as developing citizenship and providing the values that are basic of social cohesion. The socialization that is provided by schools is a matter of both substance and form (or structure). For example, in the realm of substance, a community can be strengthened when the schools teach students their common history.
In the realm of form or structure, the impact of schools on community depends very much on how a school syatem is organized and the extent to which it is integrated with the community.” (pg 188)

“Another aspect of the school-community link is the extent to which members of the community (however defined) are directly involved in the governance of the schools. …such connections to the community create a sense among students that the school is theirs, and this sense of ‘ownership’ provides a strong motivating factor that enhances education. (There is at least a potential conflict between a close school-community link and equality. On the one hand local control of schools can be associated with local financing of schools, which in turn often generates substantial inequalities between localities. On the other hand, when equality is established by centralized funding, it can be accompanied by a centralized and bureaucratic educational system that tends to preclude local involvement.)
As this school-community link might be developed in ways that both improve the schools and strengthen the communities, it also has connections to other elements in a democratic development strategy. Most immediately, the direct participation that builds this link can also strengthen democracy itself, as people exercise power through this participation and also learn from experience how to exercise power. Similarly, issues of economic growth and equality can readily be connected to the school-community link. Again, we have a relationship that can be seen in terms of a virtuous circle, and, again, the particular virtuous circle can be seen to encompass a wide set of elements.” (pg 189)

Other Social Programmes and Democratic Development

“In the same way that education could serve as an effective policy entry point on virtuous circles of democratic economic development, health-care and other social programmes – from public transport and infrastructure to public housing, from environmental repair and preservation to social security – can play similar, if not so broad, roles in a democratic strategy. All social programmes have the common characteristic that they expand the social wage and therefore can be bulwark of equality and security.” (pg 189-90)

Programs to serve women’s health needs are an example of special importance. Women’s health presents severe problems in poor regions of the world because of maternal mortality, complications associated with pregnancy and discriminations against women. Also, women’s lack of control over family resources can aggravate women’s health problems. At the same time that women’s health-care problems are often severe, relatively rudimentary actions can lead to substantial improvements, and thus gains can be obtained for relatively little cost. …. Also, because women play important roles in creating and maintaining community stability, any programme that improves the condition of and mobilizes women could have amplified impacts through its impact on community security.” (pg 190-91)

“At the same time, the expansion of social programmes is an essential part of a democratic development strategy, and the challenge for such a strategy thus becomes one of finding ways to construct social programmes that avoid the debacles sometimes associated with government projects. One way to reduce the likelihood that social projects will be economically wasteful, a way especially appropriate within the context of a democratic development strategy, is to implement such projects in a democratic manner. Instead of designing and deciding upon projects through central ministries, locus of authority could be shifted downwards. Moreover, decision-making processes concerning social projects need not be confined to traditional political processes, but could include extensive opportunities for direct participation by the people who would be affected.”


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