Print Edition - 2014-08-15  |  Oped

Breaking the circle

  • Nepal can learn from the growth of East and Southeast Asia which sought to remedy social exclusion
- Sagun S Lawoti
Breaking the circle

Aug 14, 2014-Asia, based on economic opulence and progress, can be roughly divided into two: East and Southeast Asia, and South and West Asia. Such a distinction arguably brings into focus how countries in East and Southeast Asia—in contrast to those in South and West Asia—were able to transform the lives of their people and society in general through non-exclusionary development practices.

As Amartya Sen sums up in Social Exclusion: Concept, Application and Scrutiny, East and Southeast Asian countries categorically employed a three-pronged strategy to achieve greater economic transformations through massive industrialisation and remarkable growth in per capita incomes than their South and West Asian counterparts.

Three components

First, they emphasised basic education as a prime mover of change. Second, the approach involved a wide dissemination of basic economic entitlements (through education and training, land reform, and availability of credit), which removed (or substantially reduced) social exclusion from the general opportunities of participating in the market economy.

Third, the chosen design of development included a deliberate combination of state action and the use of the market economy in a way that the more laissez-faire oriented western modeling of economic development did not adequately seize. Indeed, these successes were based on a basic understanding—which was often implicit rather than explicit—that we live in a multi-institutional environment, and that our ability to help ourselves and to help others depends on a variety of freedoms that we respectively may enjoy.

Not that the economies in East and Southeast Asia do not face social exclusion problems of their own, or that they are free of economic crises and vulnerabilities. But they achieved what they did through the means categorically laid out in these three crucial components. So despite the experiences of social exclusion, it is interesting to note what heralded this success for eastern economies. Sen points out, it was partly the ability of East and Southeast Asian countries “to avoid, to a great extent, a specific type of social exclusion—particularly from basic education and elementary social opportunities—that plagues the economies of South and West Asia”.

The extent of basic sharing of social opportunities vis-à-vis the combined components in interplay arguably fuelled progress for the countries in the east. In general, changes in the east were nothing but radical counters to social exclusion by means of relevant freedoms, which include social opportunities, market arrangements and development of individual capabilities as well as enhancement of social facilities.

The collective action was thereby instrumental in overcoming what Charles Tilly construes as the ‘entrapment of poverty’. For, socially organised patterns of exclusion set formidable barriers to mobility in the way of most poor individuals and households. Moreover, most of the world’s very poor people, in all likelihood, lack favourable categorical memberships and helpful connections to make an exit from poverty. According to Tilly, if such exits do happen at all, they would result from either the acquisition of new categorical memberships and connections; or political and economic changes that subvert the usual effects of categories and connections.

Social exclusion

As far as Sen’s view goes, social exclusion is not a brand new concept. So the basic idea has to be assessed in terms of the particular focus it helps generate and the manner in which it contributes to the understanding of relational aspects of deprivation through the adoption of somewhat more specialised perspectives.

Like any instance of knowledge growth and accumulation, the perspective of social exclusion, rather than competing, reinforces the understanding of poverty as capability deprivation. But the ground that the framework can cover depends on the concept of poverty that pre-exists. In any way, the concept of social exclusion is multi-dimensional and calls for focus on the relations and processes that cause deprivation.

As Tilly offers, an unequal interaction between persons or sets of persons generates greater advantages for one than for the other. Unequal exchanges, thus, can occur amongst individuals, households or firms, while they can also impact interactions at wider societal levels, given categories such as gender, class, race, religion, or ethnicity.

Political incentives

Exclusion is multidimensional, context-dependent and hard to measure. It is usually contrasted with poverty, and in some respects, exclusion marries both the material and non-material, economic and social dimensions of disadvantage. For that matter, exclusion encompasses and transcends poverty.

Maybe, for such conditions, many economic technocrats continue the use of economic incentives provided by market system while they choose to ignore political incentives, which democratic systems could guarantee. Economic incentives, despite their importance, cannot but substitute political measures. However, if such analysis were to be deliberated upon, the core value behind the idea of social exclusion should be to emphasise the role of relational features in the deprivation of capability, and thereby, in the experience of poverty.

As Tilly asserts, exits from poverty require political programmes that address political interests and eliminate or bypass effects of social exclusion. As seen in the case of East and Southeast Asia, they simply utilised the vital framework comprising of basic education, basic economic entitlements and welfare, coupled with market opportunities. Such a radical counter to social exclusion apparently raised economic opulence and progress in those societies. In any case, Nepal could as well gain if political interests pushed through political programmes with such vigour so as to counter causal and constitutive assessment of poverty and deprivation, by placing non-exclusionary human bonding at the centre.

Lawoti is as an independent consultant

Published: 15-08-2014 09:29

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