From Stephen Marglin – Towards the Decolonization of the Mind

3 February, 2018 - Thesis

“However, under both criteria well-being may be said to improve if people opt for the new alternative. Either way, a sufficient condition for welfare improvement is that people vote with their feet or their pocketbooks or their ballots for the modern over the traditional. Under the intrinsic criterion, the choice of new alternatives is evidence that the array [of choices] has indeed expanded, and, under the instrumental criterion, choice of the modern reveals that people rank the modern more highly than the traditional.// In both cases, however, it must be assumed that growth actually does expand choice in all relevant dimensions. For, on the one (intrinsic) hand, the possibility of the modern is not necessarily an enlargement of the domain of choice if the possibility of the traditional is removed at the same time. On the other (instrumental) hand, ‘revealed preference’ [having more than one choice, the choice of one over the other[s]] arguments fail if the new choice set does not include the old state. Now in the view that emerges from this book, a major problem is precisely that historically growth has expanded choice on in some dimensions while constricting choice in others. And if growth subtracts choices as well as adds them, we are in a position to argue that growth expands possibilities only if we are able to assume that an individual could reverse the process at will, and in effect could choose between two choice sets, the modern and the traditional. We could then defend growth-as-the-expansion-of-possibilities by arguing that the individual can choose between these two sets, which become the elements of a single meta choice set.// The problem with this characterization is that the development process is irreversible. Whether it proceeds in small steps or in one fell swoop, the result is generally the same: you can’t go home again. Irreversibility is not logically fatal to the argument; it would not matter that the process is irreversible if individuals were endowed with perfect foresight. However, the inability to foresee all the consequences of the first steps down a path makes irreversibility crucial. Not only can’t you go home again, but you can’t figure out whether or not you want to until it’s too late to change your mind.” 

Stephen A. Marglin, “Towards the Decolonization of the Mind”, in Dominating Knowledge: Development, Culture, and Resistance, eds. Frederique Apffel Marglin & Stephen A. Marglin (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1990), 4-5.

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