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Conference News: The Need to Rethink Development Economics

30 Jan 2004



How can economics serve to empower the South? And how can development economics be revived—not as a deviant branch of mainstream economics, but as a discipline whose role is to address the vital problems that developing countries typically face?

Some 29 social scientists, mainly economists and activists, from developing and industrialized countries met on 7 and 8 September 2001, in Cape Town, South Africa, to debate these essential questions. During the conference, a joint undertaking of UNRISD and the Ford Foundation, they exchanged ideas on an alternative to the neoliberal approach to development issues.

This latest issue of Conference News reports on this conference, which comprised five themes: (i) The Decline of Development Economics; (ii) Current Intellectual Trends; (iii) New Challenges; (iv) Regional Perspectives; and (v) Strategies and Future Activities.

Under the theme on the Decline of Development Economics, participants analysed the reasons for the demise of the subject during the late 1970s and the 1980s. This provided the background for their subsequent discussions on why its revival is currently being urged or contemplated.

Under the second theme on Current Intellectual Trends, participants debated the question of Why the New Interest in Development Economics? They identified and discussed several reasons for the resurgence of interest in development economics highlighted, for example, by the publication of a number of new textbooks on the subject.

Under the third theme on New Challenges for Development Economics, participants examined the new circumstances in which the revival of the subject—should there be one—will now take place. This was deemed essential if new policy frameworks are to be built on stable foundations.

Under the fourth theme, issues that may have particular significance in different regions were examined. Discussions focused on the Brazilian economy; the question of decentralization in Kerala, Canada and Africa; the transition economies of East-Central Europe, and the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Under the last theme on Strategies and Future Activities, participants discussed the question of Toward a New Paradigm: The Intellectual Challenge. It felt, among other things, that the current orthodoxy, put in place by the international financial institutions, should be fought with strong theoretical counterarguments and evidence of the negative impacts of their policies.

The report is based on both oral presentations and written contributions to the conference.