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  • Writer's pictureSofia Greaves

Development and utopia

I remember being taught in geography that Gross Domestic Product could reveal which nations were 'developed'. UK and USA were at the top and other countries were behind. The Divide explains why this is wrong, showing the ways in which Development is a myth, which invents a 'golden goal'.

Non linear world

In the 'Development' myth the world has a linear trajectory, measured by GDP, which takes money to equal progress; more money means growth. But really, it is by questioning whether GDP offers an index for growth, that we can bring about a better society. "We tend to take the GDP measure for granted as though it has always existed. Most people don't realise that it was invented only recently". (1937).

It is so lazy to dismiss literature querying Capitalism as impossibly Red Brigade, or to argue that Capitalism is inevitable because humans are naturally competitive. We live in this society, so why is it uncomfortable to question how it functions? GDP is problematic, because whilst it provides an index of economic progress it does so only in the sense that resources have been 'turned into' money. The index does not measure the loss of those resources, (eg. forests) or progress you can't 'buy' (growing your own vegetables). When GDP growth is made equal to success, this requires continual economic growth and resource conversion. This will not work forever.

If GDP growth 'no longer translates into a better society', then it's not a problem to consume less - 'degrowth' is not failure, as Hickel argues. We can change the myth of 'development' and should aim at creating a better society in other ways, with ecological equity and by downsizing aggregate consumption. Population growth, mostly concentrated in the Global South, is only a problem if each person has a carbon footprint equivalent to a Westerner's today.

In this respect, imagining a world beyond Capitalism is utopian. The book belongs to a literary genre which rejects the present and imagines something else is possible. It opens up a space for discussing these possibilities - not 'as an abstract ideal, but as a society in full operation'. Capitalism is not 'a natural and inevitable process'.


- "We tend to assume that the emergence of capitalism was a natural and inevitable process - as though its basic logic has always existed in human society".

- "Anthropologists tell us that when the structure of a core myth begins to change everything else about society changes around it and fresh new possibilities open up that weren't even thinkable before" Hickel, The Divide, 13.

- Population growth is only a problem if that population has a carbon footprint equivalent to a Westerner's.

- Utopia: 'Description of the best society not as an abstract ideal but as a society in full operation' Kumar, Krishan. Utopia & Anti-Utopia in Modern Times. Oxford, Basil Blackwell, 1987. 25.

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