Understanding Economic Development
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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.
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Chapter 5: Resources as a Stimulant or Constraint: The Role of Geography

Colin White


Resources do not guarantee their own development. It is not enough to be sitting on top of coal; one has to develop the technology and business practices to exploit it. It is not enough to haul back resources or engage in trade with distant regions; one has to ensure the resources are not squandered in the way that Spain and Portugal did in failing to utilize American treasure. One has to go on doing these productively and cumulatively. (Jones 2006: 115–16) Judging by recent interest, there is little argument about the role of geography as a significant causative factor in economic development, but on careful consideration it is an example of how complex all relationships are in explaining economic development. It is extremely difficult to generalise. At one extreme are scholars who attribute the rise of Europe to mere accidents of geography (Blaut 1993 and 2000, Diamond 1997 and Abu-Lughod 1989, Pomeranz 2000, O’Brien 2006). At the other extreme, there are those who give no importance to geography, seeing it as simply the neutral venue of economic activity. It is true that there is every possible permutation of a relationship between the natural resource position of a country and its experience of economic development – countries with abundant resources displaying early and rapid modern economic development, such as the USA; countries with such resources remaining undeveloped, such as Saudi Arabia or some Latin American countries; countries with poor resources failing to initiate modern economic development, such as landlocked states in...

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