The 1970s are remembered in the Global North as a time of stagflation, malaise, and political drift. But from the point of view of much of the Global South, this same epoch was a time of unprecedented economic prosperity and political ambition. Particularly for primary producers in the wake of the OPEC oil price hikes, the 1970s were a time of unparalleled hopes for a rebalancing of global power relations and institutional authority. One manifestation of the new global mood was a profound shift in the understanding of global responsibilities for achieving development in the South.
Drawing on anticolonial thought and dependency theory, the UN General Assembly in 1974 proposed the creation of a “New International Economic Order” that offered a new interpretation of both the moral imperatives and global mechanisms of development. While Robert McNamara’s World Bank spent the 1970s moving away from funding big infrastructure projects toward programs designed to meet the “Basic Needs” of the global poor, the NIEO constituted a more aggressive set of proposals for the global redistribution of wealth and technology transfers from North to South, with the objective of building a kind of welfare state at the scale of humanity itself. Although many in the North, and particularly in the United States, dismissed this agenda, there were others who gave it a sympathetic hearing, notably former West German Chancellor Willy Brandt, who chaired an international commission that in 1980 would endorse much of the global redistributionist agenda.
The Brandt Report arrived, however, at the very moment when the ideological and political mood in the North had begun to shift decisively against such ideas, replaced instead by a neoliberal agenda spearheaded politically by Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. The Third World debt crisis that erupted over the next two years would provide the impetus to move the developmental agenda away from global redistribution and the provisioning of Basic Needs, and toward the “structural adjustment” of national economies. Imposed as conditions in exchange for financial bailouts, these programs involved the downsizing of the state-provided social protections and the diminishment of state control over national economies. Across the South, financial austerity and global economic integration would emerge as the developmental leitmotifs of the rest of the twentieth century. While the themes of the NIEO would get refigured in terms of a “right to development,” the idea that states in the North somehow bore a moral and perhaps even legal responsibility to enable and fund the development of the South largely withdrew into the realms of non-binding UN resolutions and the utopian discourses of politically marginalized nongovernmental organizations.
The journal Humanity is issuing a call for papers to explore this episode in the history of development. We welcome papers that explore the philosophical, legal, economic, political, and institutional contexts in which calls for global redistribution were articulated, as well as ones that assess how those calls were eventually marginalized. Successful proposals will lead to papers presented at a fully funded conference in fall 2013 and published in a subsequent dossier of the journal. Send a proposal of no more than 400 words to [email protected] by October 20, 2012.