Academic journal article Atlantic Economic Journal

African Economic Development

Academic journal article Atlantic Economic Journal

African Economic Development

Article excerpt

African Economic Development

Emmanuel Nnadozie(ed): Academic Press, 2003, 662 pp.

To one who believes the usefulness of economics should extend beyond disciplining undergraduates in the consistent application of deductive reasoning, the publication of this title will be welcome. To whoever may believe that economics, in its essence, remains a moral science, the fact that a commercial press has chosen to publish the text is also encouraging. The current predicament of African development certainly remains an intellectual challenge for social scientists. Reflecting the magnitude of this challenge, Africa is described as a "morass," with the world's greatest concentrations of poverty, disease, illiteracy, and malnourishment, as well as the home of most of the nations where GDP has declined over the past 40 years [Norberg, 2003]. It is seen as beset by the mutually reinforcing problems of conflict, corruption, and a lack of competitors [African Development Bank, 2003]. The presence of a series of "failed states" in the continent leads to calls for its rebuilding [Ellis, 2005]. African performance looks particularly distressing when compared to that of East and Southeast Asia over the same period.

Presented with African's performance, this text, and it is a text, can help address the challenge in two ways: 1) by providing students (advanced undergraduate and first year graduate) with a comprehensive view of various aspects of the problems facing Africa's economies and offering those same students a core group of concepts and intellectual tools to address those issues; and 2) by exposing practitioners of the social sciences, especially economics and political science, to insights from sister disciplines which are relevant to African conditions.

This last point is significant. While the intellectual division of labor which gives rise to separate disciplines is no doubt productive, it also carries a cost. Complex social problems transcend the domain of any single discipline, which is why some scholars, including Myrdal, believes that the problem being addressed should decide the knowledge which is brought to bear more than the training of the analyst [Myrdal, 1968]. Building an effective interdisciplinary team is difficult given the differences in methodology, assumptions, and jargon within the academy. Nnadozie has, thus, performed a service in providing economists with accessible, relevant insights from other disciplines, especially political science. Beyond the value of the ideas presented, this exposure leaves the reader wishing for additional opportunities for cross-disciplinary conversations.

One of the weaknesses of the book is that it is a collection of chapters by different authors. This has the obvious advantage of drawing in a broader base of expertise, but it has the disadvantage in that the stand-alone chapters make it more difficult for the reader to discern common themes or complementarities in the literature. This becomes even more important if the book is to be used as a text, although it should also be possible for the instructor to respond to the challenge by developing some kind of framework for integrating the analysis in the classroom.

Such a framework, consistent with the material presented, could be described by a two by two matrix describing alternative explanations of the causes of Africa's lack of sustained development. The columns would divide causes between "internal" and "external" causes and the rows distinguish between "economic" and "political" factors. Thus, the dependency theorists of the 1970s would occupy the "external/economic" box in placing the blame on global capitalism [Baran, 1996; Frank, 1966]. Advocates of the 1980s version of Neoliberalism would be placed in the "internal/political" box based on the perceived failure of development policies [Ramos, 1986]. While the editor does not offer such a matrix, the contributions selected are such that each alternative within such a framework receives a sympathetic hearing within the text. …

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