A dominant assumption in conventional development theory is that only economic development is of consequence, since other forms of development will automatically lead to the satisfactory development of all other aspects of society. Evidence has however accumulated over recent decades that such development results in little more than development for the rich and does little or nothing for the increasing proportion of the population in greatest need.
The approach to social issues that stems from the "economistic" approach to development tends to be ad hoc and crisis-management-oriented. The economistic approach means that the ultimate costs of development are shouldered by those segments of society least able to bear them. In the pursuit of short-term economic gains, the long-term consequences of a style of economic development that neglects social issues are ignored.
In the four decades preceding the 1990s, the development strategies adopted by most developing countries have been based on a unisectoral approach, which emphasized economic growth as the main instrument to eradicate poverty. In the Asia-Pacific region a significant proportion have achieved striking growth rates. Paradoxically, the number of people living in absolute poverty has actually increased, with 90% of the world's absolute poor living in that region.
Global priorities have not included allocating funds for the common welfare. Existing economic plans encourage immediate expenditure of income, while allowing functions such as transportation, personal safety, cleanliness, adequate education, health care and effective government to deteriorate.