Michelle Groenewald reports from the frontline at APORDE.
Allow me to quote a fellow classmate from the African Programme on Rethinking Development Economics (APORDE) that I recently attended: “I never would have believed that in a single day you can have your whole world turned upside down”. This program reels you in with the promise of broadening your perspectives on Development Economics and a couple of months later, there lying in your inbox, is an all too innocent email congratulating you on your successful application. What follows is a 2 week course on not broadening, but blowing wide open, all that you had held to be ‘true’. You will be taught to stab and gut, jab and cut away at the Market you had been told was your greatest ally, only to leave it panting and exhausted in a misshapen form, more foe than friend. Here you will learn that ‘free trade’ as the battle tune to which all must march if they are to develop, could rather beat to perhaps the protectionist cadence of a more often untold success story. Few would have considered that perhaps ‘getting prices wrong’ is the way to actually get them right, when the world has undeniably told you otherwise. Could it be that to utter industrial policy, with the state as a key player, is not as blasphemous as had been drilled into the economic cavalry?
Make no mistake, it is not for the faint of heart to take what you will learn in this program and have it shape the work you do. And while it is unlikely that as economists we will ever have the hordes of adoring fans that the tabloid celebrities endure, this programme really does really bring together some of the economic rock stars of our time. Allowing what you learn here to permeate into your everyday grind is made easier by those that lead from the front. These are women and men who dare to question whether the mainstream lullaby should be what reassures us when we start to interrogate why our world looks the way it does. Indeed, it is the work of these economists that asks not only what is, but calls for what should be and indeed for what can be.
For academics, policymakers, advisors and unionists – there will be different elements to take away from this program. You will have to understand that the battlefield has been demarcated along neo-classical lines and that how we attempt to redraw those boundaries is a tricky task requiring much creativity and even more resolve. This is not to say that the answer is to simply fight against all that the mainstream stands for, as there is always something that can be learnt. This programme does however equip you with a healthy dose of skepticism. Then and only then can you begin to question, what are the many ways in which we can approach the problems our economies face? You will discover here, that you cannot copy and paste the ‘solutions’ of one nation with the simple click of your own country’s mouse. You need to grapple with the reality that data is sometimes messy, that historical context is important and that political settlement is complex.
Whether you are standing in front of a class, sitting behind a boardroom table or lying awake over a policy – I would urge you to enter into the fray. Most of us have stumbled upon this economic world unbeknown to the impact we could have. Ultimately though, it is the small difference, the step-by-step decisions, that conglomerate to allow us to navigate beyond the boundaries of what is.