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.


Colin White

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


PART I 1. The term ‘modern economic growth’, first used systematically by Kuznets (1965), implies a distinction between economic growth in general and modern economic growth. There are characteristics which are specific to the latter, notably its sustained and systematic nature. The term also implies that at some moment in history the modern era commenced and modern economic growth began; conventionally that moment occurs in Britain at the end of the eighteenth and the beginning of the nineteenth century. Despite the frequent critiques of both positions there is good reason to use them as a starting point. The book considers the sense in which both are valid interpretations of the modern economic experience. The book deliberately avoids getting bogged down in discussions of what constitutes modernity. CHAPTER 1 1. It is highly desirable to aim for an elegant economy of explanation; this is described as the principle of Ockham’s razor. It is desirable to avoid redundancy in explanations, the inclusion of variables which contribute nothing to the explanation. Simplicity and elegance in themselves are not a guarantee that an explanation is adequate. This is true even in science, where it is not difficult to find examples where the simplest explanation proved to be markedly inferior to explanations which were much more complex. In the relevant literature, there is often a distinction made between economic development and economic growth. Cameron (1997: 9) defines the former as ‘. . . economic growth accompanied by a substantial structural or organizational change in the economy, such as...

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