The Association for Social Economics' Patrick J. Welch Award, given to the best paper published in the Forum for Social Economics in 2015, goes to Franklin Obeng-Odoom's "Africa: On the Rise, But to Where?" As associate editor Cecilia Winters writes about the paper,
It not only addresses a part of the world that has long been neglected by economists buying in as they have to the “dark continent” image of Africa, but it is positively prescient with regard to the flurry of attention the development of Africa has gotten this past year. It is perhaps the amazing relevance has attracted the interest of our Forum readers. In July 2015 US president Obama conducted the third visit of his tenure to Africa, bringing attention to the Africa is open for business narrative. In December 2015, China pledged US$60 billion for Africa’s development over three years. Both events have fanned the flames of the neoliberal “Africa on the rise” sensation. The message is that Africa is now ready for take-off regarding its economic development and investment opportunities. The author of this notable article, however, succeeds in offering a critical perspective of the tension between the dominant neoliberal ideology and the ethical matters of jobs, poverty eradication, ecological sustainability, income inequality, well being and social justice.
During his electrifying November 2015 tour of several African countries, Pope Francis managed to echo some of the author’s analysis by decrying Western-style consumption as an indication of happiness and prosperity and condemning the historical exploitation of the continent’s mineral wealth. Our featured article and best paper not only reflects an excellent and timely explication of the tension between the objectives of neoclassical and social economists, but envisages the divergence in policy perception. Surely these public differences in interpretation of Africa’s ascendance are mirrored in the either officious or insightful impressions of visiting dignitaries; certainly they are exacerbated by China’s “offer” of development assistance. This article demystifies these public perceptions, commentaries and overtures toward Africa.
The problems with both mainstream economic analysis and the data employed suggests misleading conclusions about the “wonders” of economic growth. Attention is directed to the drawbacks of relying upon classical measures of growth to evaluate the benefits of the economic activity and changing milieu within countries on the continent. The neglect of other variables such as income share, market power, well being and happiness is a major limitation of neoclassical development analysis. To this end, the author compiles some data that show us in the case of some countries (Mauritius, Botswana) growth has been accompanied by declining unemployment and poverty with social interventions aggressively pursued in both places (237). However, other countries that have experienced growth (South Africa, Nigeria and Zambia) have experienced worsening inequality and increased poverty (ibid.). Reliance upon the standard mainstream measures of growth does not give a complete or accurate picture of development within Africa.
The author profoundly considers the preceding facets and more. He deconstructs the neoliberal perspective of extolling the virtues of capital accumulation while at the same time neglecting the all-important ethical considerations of sustainability, well-being and social justice that reach “beyond the mainstream advocacy of bigger and more integrated markets in the name of globalisation” for the “limits to growth are real and dire” (241). The conclusive insight: the impossibility to sustain ever increasing growth remains at odds with the political impossibility to stop it. He therefore suggests moving beyond the concept of economic growth by placing less emphasis on capital accumulation and recognizing its physical and ecological limits.
You can read the paper for a limited time free of charge courtesy of Taylor and Francis.