The Process of Economic Development

By James M. Cypher; James L. Dietz | Go to book overview

Preface to the first edition

The newspapers in the advanced nations regularly recount frightful events somewhere in Africa, Asia, or Latin America-famine in Africa, cholera in Latin America, or child labor in Asia-tragic stories that seem to have no beginning, no context, no history, and no end. This portrayal of events is not false, per se, but it is a distorted perception of life in the less-developed poor nations where the bulk of the world's population lives. Most of the daily life of the masses of people-their routines, hopes, struggles, accommodations, and work-fails to be reported. It is well to remember, however, that the people of these regions struggle to maintain their dignity, their humanity, and their grace.

This is a book about much that is important in determining the material well-being of vast numbers of individuals who live in the less-developed nations. Economic development demands enormous changes in the ways in which people organize their lives, and it requires transformations in the distribution of income, the sources of wealth, and in political, social, and economic power. In every poor country, there are people who benefit from economic underdevelopment, and they may be relative or even absolute losers if their society and economy are transformed. These elites have a compelling interest in preserving the status quo. But change in the less-developed world, however halting and however misguided at times, is occurring.

Economic development is concerned with both learning and doing. It is necessary to learn to master the relevant ideas which have been offered to interpret and analyze issues of development. It is also necessary to critically examine and contest inappropriate and erroneous ideas that have too often been presented as incontrovertible truths regarding development. But that is not enough. Economic development does not happen on its own, and never has. Good public policy is at the core of the process of economic development. Such policy, however, operates along a "knife edge," working within the limits and constraints of the conditions of the present, ever mindful of the mistakes of the past which have shaped the economy and society and its initial endowments. Even having put good policies into place is not enough; it is also important for policy-makers to know when and how to leave them behind for even better strategies.

This is a book about a vast and complex subject which involves investigating issues and problems from the perspective of economics, with insights from political science, history, sociology, environmental studies, and geography. We have concentrated primarily, on matters which have as their primary focus economic phenomena. Our approach to this area is much broader than examining prices, quantities, and markets. We are concerned with the forces behind these elements of economic

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