1963-2018 - 55 years of Research for Social Change

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Back | Programme Area: Special Events (2000 - 2009)

Some Thoughts on the Agenda for Development Economics (Draft)

The meeting seems to be about three things: high theory (what should academic development economists write and think about), pedagogy (what should be taught in graduate school) and policy (what should governments do or be advised to do). These are inter-related but separate subjects.

This note is written from the standpoint of an ex-academic economist, who for some years has been working in the ambiguous milieu of advisory work for governments, typically funded by donor agencies, playing a role, which may be more part of the problem than the solution. As such, I am not very aware of what now gets taught in graduate school and only occasionally am able to touch base with academic literature. On the other hand, working in both Africa and Asia, I do get to see the impact of economics at the national level in a number of Third World countries. The following reflections respond to that experience.

The influence of neo-liberal economics on policymaking during the past two decades has extended not only to current orthodoxies regarding foreign exchange, trade and macroeconomic policy regimes, but also to views regarding social policy and social service delivery, and the dismantling of State owned enterprises.

The extent of this influence is, of course, based on the decisive neo-liberal victory in the Anglo-Saxon world during the 1970’s and, perhaps even as important, the euthanasia of social democracy in the industrialised world, as it has more or less co-opted the neo-liberal agenda. In Africa, the victory of neo-liberal thinking (the Berg Report and its impact) came as a result of the coincidence of political events in the First World and the deep and pervasive economic crisis in the region – fundamental issues to be faced by African development economics continue to include analyses of the origins of that crisis and of plausible alternatives to the neo-liberal response.

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