Saturday, October 4, 2008

Easterly's lesson on development economics

As always, Easterly gibes at the development aid community (depression mindset of the development community) obsessed with for forever focusing big reforms from big governments in the developing countries. He is unhappy with the leftist leaders in Latin America for making stinging comments against capitalism. And, he offers a brief lesson on development economics; this time going after Arthur Lewis!

Development economics -- the study of how poor countries can become rich -- was forever cursed by the timing of its birth after the Great Depression. That gave development economics a bias toward relying on governments, rather than markets, to create growth. The early development economists ignored a century and a half of European and North American development through individual enterprise, remembering only that their governments forcefully intervened to stimulate output during the 1930s.

...the U.N.'s Depression mindset prompted them to ask an expert commission led by Sir Arthur Lewis in 1950 to prepare a report on unemployment in underdeveloped countries. Its report concluded that "economic progress depends to a large extent upon the adoption by governments of appropriate . . . action," and that political leaders must have a strategy for such growth, reflecting "the facts of each particular case."

Few at the time disagreed. Oxford economics professor S. Herbert Frankel wrote a rare protest in 1952. He believed poor, ordinary people had "peculiar aptitudes for solving the problems of their own time and place," a confidence later vindicated by homegrown success in Botswana, the East Asian tigers, India, Chile, Turkey and China.

Lewis later received a Nobel Prize in Economics. Poor Frankel was basically forgotten.

Development economics still bears the scars of the Depression.