1963-2018 - 55 years of Research for Social Change

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

Some Issues in Development Economics (Draft)

I suspect that it may not be productive to try to resurrect the "grand theorizing" of the early "greats" (Lewis, Nurkse, Rosenstein-Rodan, Hirschman, etc.) in development economics or to try to build upon the "new growth" literature. This material is far too general to have much policy influence. In my postgraduate development economics reading list I used to incorporate it all under a heading of "What every student of development economics should know but is most unlikely ever to use"! My instinct is to try to build greater respect for and competence in applied economics - in a variety of fields (public finance, money, trade, open-economy-macro, health, etc.) - with particular reference to developing economies, in all their institutional, cultural, political and historical variety. Good "development economics", in practice, is good applied economics in a variety of different specialisations and contexts. And recognition of and allowance for the variety of contexts is what distinguishes the good development economist from the weak one.

It seems to me that one needs to attack the current problem at its root - which is the traditional mainstream postgraduate economics programmes, which train the teachers and practitioners of most development economics today. I believe we must try to reduce the relative importance assigned in current mainstream postgraduate economics programmes to purely abstract reasoning; rebalance the core economic theory courses so as to place the traditional neoclassical assumptions into their appropriate context; restore economic history and history of economic thought to the core curriculum; and insist upon greater relative emphasis upon empirical and policy analysis in these programmes.

No less important, there must be conscious effort to win back the socially motivated students who are at present completely "turned off" by current postgraduate programmes. Current screening mechanisms for postgraduate studies in economics discourage many of those that the profession now most requires and attracts instead those with a predilection for abstract reasoning, mathematics, and avoidance of political or "value" judgments. Obviously, one cannot attract the "right kind" of student with the "wrong kind" of programme. This effort is therefore inextricably bound with the previous one.

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