Friday, October 15, 2010

Technology, governance, and development

Useful article over at Foreign Policy by William Easterly on the importance of path dependence and of grass-roots initiatives in economic development: Reinventing the Wheel.

On path dependence, Easterly notes "that there was a remarkably strong association between countries with the most advanced technology in 1500 and countries with the highest per capita income today." This sounds pretty similar to Jared Diamond's argument in Guns, Germs, and Steel, and indeed some of the key technologies on Easterly's list are firearms, artillery, and steel.

The article is useful not so much for this claim, then, as for the implication Easterly derives from it: "the blank-slate theory is a myth." In other words, it makes little sense to try to impose grand models and theories of development on countries in a top-down fashion, without taking into account their own specific background and context.

This argument, too, is hardly new. Many people have made it over the years, (a comparatively recent example is Stiglitz in Globalization and Its Discontents). Still, the article is an interesting attempt to tie these two very broad arguments (path dependence and bottom-up development), each with their own enormous literatures, together into a single framework.

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