Technology, Globalization and Poverty
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Technology, Globalization and Poverty

Jeffrey James

This significant book presents an original examination of the theoretical and empirical interactions between globalization, technology and poverty. Jeffrey James studies the effect of information technology on patterns of globalization and explores how such patterns can be altered to reduce the growing global divide between rich and poor nations.
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Chapter 7: Trait-Making for Labour-Intensive Technology in Sub-Saharan Africa

Jeffrey James


INTRODUCTION Empirical evidence indicates that the use of labour-intensive techniques in African industry would create not only more employment but also more valueadded, relative to competing capital-intensive alternatives. The evidence also indicates however that it is the latter rather than the former techniques which tend to dominate much of the industrial sector in Sub-Sahara. We argue here that this apparently paradoxical situation can be understood once one takes into account the amount of institutional change (or institutional trait-making) that would need to accompany the introduction of labourintensive techniques on a large scale. Using a number of concepts advanced by Hirschman and drawing mainly on cases from the road construction industry in Africa, we describe exactly which traits need to be made and how this can best be accomplished. On the basis of data collected for nine manufacturing industries and using prices that are thought to be typical of most Sub-Saharan countries, Pack (1982) has shown that relatively labour-intensive techniques generate not only substantially more employment than capital-intensive alternatives, but more value-added as well. There is also evidence, however, from case studies of the region, that governments exhibit a strong preference for the latter over the former techniques in those same sectors.1 When they are combined, these findings are often taken to imply that substantial gains in output, employment and equality can readily accrue to governments prepared to make the implicitly costless switch from existing to labour-intensive methods of production. As we see it, however, this conclusion rests on an (implicit)...

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