In the broadest sense, development refers to the processes by which human needs are satisfied and a society gets what it needs to flourish. In the social science context, development is regarded as the conscious creation of conditions that allow the development of individual beings and their environments. The process of development therefore is often called the process of economic development. It also includes the processes by which human beings create culture, acquire knowledge, build physical infrastructure, develop their management skills and become qualified to compete with other individuals and communities in the open market. All these processes of development interact synergistically to enhance the likelihood of realizing a realistic social vision and purpose. Ultimately, when all these processes of development are understood, it becomes possible to see that development is not a one-time process, but rather involves a continual process of improvement upon development.
So, what is development? In the broadest sense, economic development refers to the process by which a nation, community, state, or an individual’s economy improves as a result of efforts geared at improving the quality of life, the nation as a whole, and the world as a whole through a comprehensive strategy. In more specific economic development terms, sustainable development seeks to ensure that people have enough food, shelter, health care, education and leisure time so that development can be sustainable. In addition, sustainable development aims at eliminating poverty, promoting access to quality basic amenities and helping people return to work.
One way of framing the question of what is development is by defining it as the gradual improvement of societies and economies. By extension, we could say that human development is a process of becoming better or more capable in various aspects so that the society as a whole can prosper or improve in ways that are beneficial to that society. Now, we would certainly agree that economies would improve when people have access to affordable and reliable education, healthy and nutritious food, clean water and energy, good health and safety conditions, and the means to participate effectively and fairly in the political system. The more favorable conditions for economic growth, the more likely individuals will take risks and invest in productive assets. And, if given the opportunity to make money, individuals will have the wherewithal to engage in economic growth through innovation, technology transfer or creation, investment, and consumption.
This would clearly imply that both individual and groups are important in the pursuit of economic growth. However, some worry that when economies become too developed, humans may not have the natural resources to sustain their level of development. Some argue that in the current scenario, natural resources are already in short supply because of population growth, diminishing fish stocks, and the diminishing importance of natural tourism for economic growth. They further argue that sustainable development, as understood in the context of international cooperation, is impossible without the liberalization and privatization of markets.
Others would also point out that human development index scores do not accurately measure development because they do not take into account aspects such as health, education, poverty, access to natural resources, work ethics, personal safety, social capital, government support, and life expectancy. Thus, human development index scores cannot be said to measure well-being, despite the claim by proponents that they do. Instead, well-being is a subjective concept that depends on the extent and quality of the measures that are used to define it. One example is the work-related productivity of an employee in a given country.
In summary, it seems that the debate between protectionism versus sustainable development can only be settled once all the options are analyzed and considered. Protectionism may not seem to be the right choice for some, but the benefits of protectionism for the future generations of a country may actually outweigh its negative effects on the future economy and the well-being of its people. For some, a better choice may be to embrace international cooperation, intergovernmental associations, and sustainable development at the national level to ensure the promotion of economic growth at all levels, especially for the future generations. Others may be concerned about the effects that protectionism will have on the countries involved. However, the best way to ensure sustainable development is through transparent and participatory processes at the national level that take into consideration all essential aspects for healthy and sustainable development.