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  1. Scott MacWilliam
    Scott MacWilliam September 23, 2016 at 7:21 pm

    Barbara and Keen ask a good question: `This post considers why the rapid growth of cities (in Melanesia) is failing to translate into greater political pressure for urban investment and more equitable representation.’ Unfortunately their answer, that it largely has to do with contemporary politics and the weakness of urban political expression, is to put the explanation the wrong way round. They should instead examine the continuing strength of reactionary ruralism in the region and particularly in the most populous country Papua New Guinea: it is this strength which blocks urban industrial development.
    In PNG the strongest oppositon to urbanisation and industrial manufacturing originated in the immediate post-War II years. Movement off the land into urban areas, and the fear of disorder and unemployment, produced a colonial administration determined to secure village life based upon expanded smallholder production and consumption. Checking urban migration was an extremely successful outcome of this development scheme. The Australian Minister for Territories from 1951 to 1963 Paul Hasluck, regarded the indigenous `wise boys and smart heads’ of Port Mortesby and Rabaul with the same disdain as he felt towards expatriate planters.
    Only in the mid – to late 1960s did this scheme start to unravel and migration to towns accelerate. Enter the academic and political opposition which attacked urbanisation and proposals for import subsituting manufacturing which might have boosted urban employment. (Citations available if required: economists opposed to and geographers in support of urban development will do.)
    It is not yet clear how deliberate for the over-all direction of opposition to urbanisation was the 1968 introduction of the full adult suffrage: research in the National Archives should show if colonial officials recognised that in a country where the majority of the voting population lived in the countryside, this electoral change would tie the emerging political elite, which was educated and becoming urbanised, to the countryside.
    Since independence this tie has been strengthened: the allocation of compensation and other forms of revenue from mining hasn’t only produced a rentier ruling class but smallholders who rely on whatever funds they can force out of mining companies and PNG governments. Instead of being the locus of agrarian development as occurred in the first two decades after World War II, rural areas have more and more tended to be sponges or soaks of unemployed and underemployed as Michael Todaro noted and aimed to change for Kenya.
    While economic growth in agriculture has largely stalled, the force of reactionary ruralism has grown under domestic and international advice and pressure. When from the early 1980s indigenous leaders opposed funds being spent on tertiary education, this soon conformed to international advice from the World Bank. Primary first became the first step for little education altogether as academic and other advice urged the importance of balancing the budget. Even the 2010 Garnaut-Namaliu Report on Tertiary education in PNG while advocating a cap on tertiary education expansion maintained the preference for rural development.
    Only a few years ago at a forum in the Crawford School a World Bank official followed the political policy line which has been most powerful for over forty years in PNG. He opposed all forms of import substituting industrialisation, citing the usual `level playing field’, anti-rent seeking arguments. Unfortunately for the official he then shot himself in the foot, stating that if a PNG rugby team could make it in the NRL, then PNG manufacturers should be able to export successfully too. Clearly this economist wasn’t aware that the NRL, AFL, NBL and other highly competitive competitions here and in the USA act on ìnfant industry principles, with drafts, salary caps, employment subsidies etc. to support new entrants into the market. (This weekend, only one of the semi-finalists in the AFL is not a major beneficiary of various continuing subsidies. Just ask Collingwood president Eddie McGuire.)
    So when Barbara and Keen correctly conclude: `The contribution of urban spaces to the nation’s economic vitality is significant, but largely based on small or foreign businesses that don’t lend themselves to organised labour’ they should also note why this is the case. The opposition to organised labour was a constant theme of international advice to developing countries since at least the 1980s. Non-developmental ruralism and opposition to industrial manufacturing has been for even longer a united policy focus with international, including Australian, as well as domestic drivers.
    It is doubtful if `middle class’ activism will over-turn this ascendancy: more likely to be important are the increasing demands from local manufacturers for support and changes in the ideas which drive development.

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