Economic Development, Social Order, and World Politics: With Special Emphasis on War, Freedom, the Rise and Decline of the West, and the Future of East Asia

By Erich Weede | Go to book overview

5

WHY PEOPLE
STAY POOR ELSEWHERE

1. Is Dependency the Answer?

For a long time dependency theorists have suggested that the persistence of Third World poverty is not accidental, that somebody makes or keeps poor people poor, and that Northern affluence and Southern poverty are just two sides of a single coin. While dependency theorists disagree among themselves on exactly which mechanisms maintain Third World poverty, they tend to shift responsibility for poverty from the poor to the privileged. Since the general idea that the privileged make or keep poor people poor is so plausible, criticism of dependency theories—all of which (like dependency theory) comes from more or less privileged persons—sounds implausible, self-serving, and even immoral. That is why I cannot imagine that dependency theories will lose their grip on the minds of people because of anomalies, falsification, or destructive criticism. Pointing to evidence that is incompatible with dependency theories is important because it forces dependency theorists to withdraw on this or on that intellectual front, but it does not suffice to overcome the paradigm. Only a competing paradigm can do so. The theory of the rent-seeking society offers such a competing paradigm, which will be discussed in detail in Sections 2 and 3 of this chapter.

Adherents of rent-seeking and dependency theories do agree on the general notion that the privileged make or keep poor people poor. Therefore, the rent-seeking approach looks as plausible as the dependency paradigm. Of course, dependency theories and the rent-seeking approach do differ in many important respects. At best, dependency theorists demonstrate "benign neglect" for microeconomic theory and the rational choice approach adopted in this book—despite the fact that economists find it easier to agree on microeconomic theory than on macroeconomic theory (see Bell and Kristol, 1981) and despite the widespread feeling that economics is the "queen of the social sciences." By contrast, the rent-seeking approach is not only compatible with microeconomic theory but should be conceived of as a broadening and deepening of the theory.

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