At the 1994 Assembly of the World Academy of Art and Science in Minneapolis, we released for the first time a report prepared by the International Commission on Peace and Food entitled Uncommon Opportunities: An Agenda for Peace and Equitable Development. On that occasion I expressed to the Assembly my view that the report is the best of the genre of international commission reports. Among the many interesting recommendations contained in the report was the need for an international collaborative effort to formulate a comprehensive theory of social development. The Human Choice paper is a product of a collaboration between myself and four colleagues at the International Center for Peace and Development, the successor organization to the Commission, in California, and The Mother’s Service Society, a social science research institute in India, to sketch the framework of such a theory.

There are many reasons why I feel an effort of this type is both necessary and possible. Presently we are in the midst of a major global financial crisis that pointedly expresses the limitations in our present understanding of development. The application of current economic theories in Eastern Europe has produced very disappointing results. Despite the remarkable developmental achievements of the past five decades, more than half the world’s people remain in poverty by one definition or another. The accelerating pace of technological progress means that, if we are unable to improve our development strategies, the inequalities between rich and poor and the resultant social tensions will only increase. Finally, it is evident to me from my experience working in the field on development issues in North America, Asia and Europe that a fragmented approach to development viewed from the narrow perspective of one social science discipline or one aspect of one discipline dangerously oversimplifies the complex phenomenon that development is. More integrative ways of thinking about ‘development’ interconnecting every discipline are very much needed.

Social development is the product of the application of the powers of mind to organize the physical materials, social activities and mental ideas of humanity to achieve greater material, social, mental and spiritual experience. The approach outlined in this paper gives central importance to the role of organization in development, organization as defined in the widest sense as the orderly arrangement of human activities to achieve greater productivity, efficiency, innovation and creativity.

The paper identifies five major spheres in which organization promotes social development: The physical organization of human communities around productive centers, beginning 10,000 years ago with the invention of agriculture and the establishment of sedentary communities, towns and cities, which became concentrated centers of economic activity; the organization of technological know-how and inventions into a cumulative body of knowledge regarding the handling and processing of materials to produce goods and services; economically, the organization of social activities and institutions to increase the efficiency, coordination, productivity, quality, reliability, regularity and speed of human actions related to production and distribution of goods and services; the organization of information into understandable, useful and easily accessible forms and systems; and science and education that organize society’s accumulated knowledge and provide delivery systems by which it is recorded, validated, preserved, codified and communicated to future generations.

Chapter 1 of this document consists of the paper presented at the 1998 Assembly of the World Academy of Art and Science. Chapter 2 is a summary of discussion of the paper at the Assembly on November 4. Chapter 3 is an essay applying the concepts to the themes discussed during three workshops on economics and development conducted as part of the Assembly. Chapter 4 is material presented at the Assembly on the distinguishing features of the theory. Comments by a number of participants in the Vancouver Assembly are noted in chapters 2 and 3. A listing of all named contributors will be found at the end of the volume

Harlan Cleveland
World Academy of Art and Science