Author: Ranjani K. Murthy, August 10 2015 - Justice is about fairness and equity. It is also about equitable distribution of power, resources, and outcomes in society. It requires expanding rights of the marginalized and ceilings on the privileged.


Does the World Bank’s World Development Report [WDR] measure up to justice? The title of this Report, Mind, Society, and Behavior, captures the essence of the report. It says development actors need to pay attention to how humans think (the processes of mind), how history and context shape thinking (the influence of society), and how design and implementation of development policies and interventions should target human choice and action (behavior). It distinguishes between three ways of thinking: automatic thinking, social thinking (shaped by norms which people collectively uphold), and thinking with mental models. On the positive side, the WDR 2015 places issue of individual and social thinking, cognitive maps, and behavior at the center of development debates. The report flags racism and casteism as negative social ways of racist thinking. It shows how to intervene with the marginalized using this "Mind, Society, and Behavior" lens in sectors of poverty, health, education, climate change, etc.


However, the message of WDR 2015 falls short of using a justice lens.


Are the economically poor deep thinkers or not capable of analysis?

The WDR 2015 seems to argue that the marginalized engage more in automatic thinking than deliberative thinking (after analysis) when compared to the better off. It says:


"Individuals who must exert a great deal of mental energy every day just to ensure access to necessities such as food and clean water are left with less energy for careful deliberation than those who, simply by virtue of living in an area with good infrastructure and good institutions, can instead focus on investing in a business or going to school committee meetings. Poor people may thus be forced to rely even more heavily on automatic decision making than those who are not poor." (World Bank, 2015: 13).


The reality is that the poor think ahead and, given their meager power and resources, deliberate how best their household can survive, as well as how their land and common property resources can be sustained for the future - including in the context of climate change.


Redistribution vs. conditional cooperation

When referring to social thinking, the WDR 2015 observes that people are conditional cooperators - that is, individuals who prefer to cooperate as long as others are cooperating. It argues that institutions and interventions should support such cooperative behavior. However, society is constituted of various institutions: household, local government, traditional council, religious organisations, local markets, bureaucracy, etc. In these institutions, some people have more resources and power than others. Conditional cooperation often couches cooperative conflicts that Sen (1990) referred to - with some getting more of the intervention resources than others. To give an example, a seed growers' society in Tamil Nadu, India, entered into an agreement with a private seed company. The leaders were from privileged groups, and the others followed them. However, payment was delayed, and, finally, the intervention had to be shut down. The people most affected were mainly women - landless labourers, who had worked and for whom wages meant a difference between survival and death. Wages were a high proportion of total expenses.


Benefits vs. rights & ceilings

The WDR 2015 refers to various interventions which have been tested and could be used with respect to poverty, health, education, climate change, etc. For example, the WDR, 2015 cites that:


"Small nonfinancial incentives and prizes - like lentils and metal dinner plates - were combined with a reliable immunization provider within the community in India.... Among children aged 1-3, rates of full immunization were 39% with the lentils incentives compared to 18% in the group with only the reliable immunization provision." (World Bank, 2015: 13).


However, in rural India, nutrition is closely linked to the right to cultivable land. Land distribution is skewed, other than in few states where land reform was implemented. Dalits-untouchables constitute a significant proportion of the landless. Less than 12.5% of agricultural land is owned by women, according to a study carried out by UN Women in select states in India (Sircar, A. and D. Fletschner, 2014). That is, interventions should strengthen means of production/livelihood in addition to addressing symptoms. Further, international migration to developed countries with vast tracks of land need to be eased for a more equitable distribution of global resources.


Just corporateship or corporate social responsibility

The WDR 2015 mentions the concept of 'red teaming' or inviting outside groups to give an outsiders view about plans, procedures, systems, etc. This idea is taken from the private sector and military. If outside groups include the corporate sector or the military, it could be detrimental to the interests of marginalized groups. To give an example, the Indian government is, in some areas, acquiring common property resources (e.g., those with water bodies, medicinal plants) and giving them to multinational companies.  In some cases, this has happened without the approval of local government.  The resulting employment generated for local youth is small (Thervoy Youth, Women and People's Struggle Committee, 2011). Rather than involving them, it is important to regulate the private sector, so that ILO [International Labour Organization] standards are adopted. Engaging groups working on human rights and justice is most welcome.


It is time the World Bank moved from an ‘'incremental' to a ‘justice based’ development approach. Otherwise, there is a danger that the poor may reduce in number, simply by not being able to survive!



Sen, Amartya. 1990. “Gender and Cooperative Conflicts,” in Irene Tinker (ed.) Persistent Inequalities: Women and World Development, pp. 123–149. New York: Oxford University Press.


Sircar, A and D Fletschner, 2014, The Right to Inherit Isn’t Working for Indian Women, Says U.N. Study, The Wall Street Journal, March 2, 2014.


Thervoy Youth, Women and People's Struggle Committee, 2011, Tale Of A Village's Struggle For Survival, Countercurrents, 14, July, 2011.


The World Bank, 2015, World Development Report: 2015-Mind, Society and Behaviour, The World Bank, Washington.