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Business & Economics Economic Development

The Power of Greed

Collective Action in International Development

by (author) Michael Rosberg

The University of Alberta Press
Initial publish date
Aug 2005
Economic Development
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Aug 2005
    List Price

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Out of print

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Why do so many international development projects fail? Is it because poor regions are inherently corrupt, or is it because developers and donors do not properly take into account how local survival mechanisms work? In a lively and provocative analysis of community development, Michael Rosberg challenges the received wisdom of international development agencies, suggesting that in order for development to be successful it must speak directly to the self-interest of individuals in emerging nations. In an accessible and personal work, The Power of Greed deftly navigates the thickets of morality, theory, and ideology to arrive at pragmatic strategies that demonstrate that when an individual's self-interest is creatively and appropriately engaged in cooperative enterprise, the greater good of the community can be well served.

About the author

Michael Rosberg was born and raised in Niagara Falls, Canada. He was educated at Cornell University, the University of Toronto, the State University of New York at Buffalo, and the University of Wisconsin, with a Ph.D. in Development Studies from the Land Tenure Centre. Currently, he is a Lecturer at the University of Belize in Central America and a socio-economic consultant for multi-lateral organizations and Belizean NGOs.

Michael Rosberg's profile page

Editorial Reviews

"Many dedicated people have tried unsuccessfully, at great expense, to improve conditions in less-developed countries. Rosberg not only states frankly that the biggest impediment to progress is corruption and bad governance in these states, but baldly asks the question, "Is something wrong with Third World people?" Developers' traditional response has been to focus on social injustice, to blame the rich, and to convince the target population to abandon their selfish behaviours in favour of co-operative collective action. According to the author, the greedy behaviour of target communities dooms this moralistic and idealistic approach to failure, but these negative behaviours can be harnessed productively if development projects are redesigned. He has no illusions about the nobility of the poor.This is not a quick how-to book for a field operative; it is a fairly dense discussion of modernization theory. The 20-page introduction by anthropology professor S.M. Greenfield is a paper in itself. Those looking for a few concrete examples of development strategies should skip to the last few chapters..Though the book's scholarly approach will limit its appeal, it is still commendable for daring to declare the futility of half a century of a moralistic development approach. It will be of some assistance to those designing development projects in poor communities." Jane M. Wilson, Canadian Book Review Annual 2007

"Using greed as a backdrop, Rosberg provided intriguing insights on the system of patronage most politicians practice, development approaches and the general dependency which puts many residents at the mercy of the masters." Ann Marie Williams, The Reporter (Belize), November 3, 2005

"Instead of condemning necessary greed, the book suggests we find ways of making use of it. Sometimes one person's greed actually increases her neighbour's opportunities. We can make deliberate use of such examples. Instead of trying to change behaviour, we can focus on changing the opportunities so that greedy actions have positive social consequences." The Galen Newsletter, Fall 2005.

"Based on his extensive experience in the field of development, Michael Rosberg recommends a shift away from the moralistic approach so common to international development. The book argues that once the relevant context is understood, the often desperate and greedy interactions of the poor and their oppressors actually make sense. The idealistic interventions we promote frequently do not. Self-interested behaviour, therefore, is not necessarily the enemy of development initiatives, but a powerful ally." Glebe Report, August 2005

"Rosberg.writes that any serious effort at development has to build local communities where cooperation, social trust and entrepreneurship combine to create opportunity and growth, allowing local people to take greater charge of their lives. The way to do this is to capitalize on the greed or self-interest of local communities and align this with opportunity, he argues." David Crane, Literary Review of Canada, Vol. 13, No. 5, June 2005