Understanding Economic Development

Understanding Economic Development

A Global Transition from Poverty to Prosperity?

Colin White

This fascinating book considers one of the most important problems in economics: the inception of modern economic development. There is at present no satisfactory explanation of the inception of modern economic development; an excessive focus on either pure theory or on unique histories limits the explanatory power. This book realises the need to integrate the two approaches, moving beyond the proximate causes of economic theory to review the role in an analytic narrative of significant ultimate causes – geography, risk environments, human capital, and institutions.

Chapter 14: Causes and Complexity

Colin White

Subjects: development studies, development economics, economics and finance, development economics


‘There are such things as historical and theoretical temperaments. That is to say, there are types of minds that take delight in all the colours of historical processes and of individual cultural patterns. There are other types that prefer a neat theorem to everything else. We have use for both. But they were not made to appreciate one another. (Schumpeter 1954: 815, quoted in Broadberry 2007: 4) There are two implications of the argument put in this book. The first stresses the importance of the analytical narrative. The second emphasises the purpose of producing an analytic narrative. It seeks to find continuities while recognizing the influence of contingencies. Understanding the way in which modern economic development was initiated is a step towards identifying policies and institutional structures which both ignite and sustain that development. What historians do ‘. . . is to interpret the past for the purposes of the present with a view to managing the future, but to do so without suspending the capacity to assess the particular circumstances in which one might have to act, or the relevance of past acts to this . . .’ (Gaddis 2002: 10). The final chapter includes three sections. The first briefly highlights the two different approaches to explaining the inception of modern economic development. It indicates how the different players regard each other and the reasons for at best a persistent mutual neglect and at worst an overt antagonism between the two relevant groups. It emphasises the need for an operational reconciliation of the two...

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