A Flawed Blueprint: The Covert Politicization of Development Economics. (Development and Modernization)

By Przeworski, Adam | Harvard International Review, Spring 2003 | Go to article overview
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A Flawed Blueprint: The Covert Politicization of Development Economics. (Development and Modernization)


Przeworski, Adam, Harvard International Review


At one time, dictatorships were believed to promote economic development, while development was believed to generate democracy. Combined, these views fostered a faulty prescription for international development and US foreign policy. Both of these beliefs have now been proven false, but they are being replaced by new blueprints for development policies whose foundations are equally lacking in fact. As the wave of independence movements swept

Africa after 1957, concern about the future of the so-called "new nations" gripped the attention of US scholars and policymakers. With the Cold War at its zenith, the Soviet Union welcomed the birth of prospective members of the socialist commonwealth, while Western observers feared the spread of communism around the world.

The Soviet Union offered an attractive blueprint for these new countries. With forced savings that reached as much as 40 percent of gross domestic product (GDP), coercive extraction of food from peasants, and giant projects for exploiting mineral resources, communist countries grew at impressive rates. Their leaders confidently predicted that in the near future, the Soviet Union's per capita income would surpass Great Britain's. Eastern European countries, for example, industrialized rapidly after World War II, making Romania the successful economic "tiger" of the 1950s--at least if one were to believe the government's own statistics--with other Eastern European countries not far behind.

Communism appealed to the poor masses around the world by presenting itself as the shortcut to modernity. Communism's claim to legitimacy was its unique capability to mobilize resources in order to break the chains of poverty. Communists plastered walls and minds with images depicting the growth of homes, schools, steel mills, and armies. These Communists believed they would eradicate poverty, generate affluence, enable countries to assume their rightful place among the powers of the world, and, by the example of their success, convert others to their ways.

The economic successes of communist dictatorships sowed doubts even in the minds of committed democrats. Perhaps development did in fact require order and discipline, and maybe democrats were wrong to trust their methods to lift the poor masses from their plight. Many scholars concluded that the economic effectiveness of dictatorships was simply a fact of life that should be confronted courageously, admitting democracy was a luxury affordable only after the hard task of development had been accomplished. To cite just a few typical voices of the time, Walter Galenson claimed in 1959 that "the more democratic a government," the "greater the diversion of resources from investment to consumption." Karl de Schweinitz similarly argued that if the less-developed countries "are to grow economically, they must limit democratic participation in political affairs." Joseph La Palombara thought, "If economic development is the all-embracing goal, the logic of experience dictates that not too much attention can be paid to the trappings of democracy." The conclusion was obvious. As Samuel Huntington and Joan Nelson put it, "Political participation must be held down, at least temporarily, to promote economic development." As 1975, impressed by the growth of communist countries, Huntington and Jorge Dominguez observed that "the interest of the voters generally [leads] parties to give the expansion of personal consumption a higher priority vis-a-vis investment than it would receive in a non-democratic system," citing the Soviet Union's experience of lowering the percentage of GDP devoted to consumption from 65 percent in 1928 to 52 percent in 1937. "It is most unlikely that a competitive party system would have sustained a revolution from above like this," concluded Huntington and Dominguez.

Yet the future was not bleak for democracy. Whereas dictatorships were needed to generate development, they would self-destruct as a result of their own success.

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