Economic Development: Theory and Policy Applications

By Fidelis Ezeala-Harrison | Go to book overview

6
The Structuralist Theories of Economic Development

The essence of structuralism is that the LDCs should focus their development efforts within themselves by mobilizing their internal potentials and resources. The structuralist school of thought in economic development is premised on the ideas put forward through a United Nations agency established in 1947: the Economic Commission for Latin America (ECLA). 1 The thinking was that prevailing orthodox and neoclassical theories of development had little or nothing to contribute to the understanding of the peculiar development problems of peripheral countries. In fact, structuralism tended to blame the increasing income disparities between the DCs (the center) and the LDCs (the periphery) on the legitimacy accorded to the existing pattern of world economic order by neoclassical models and tenets. Thus, some Latin American economists and sociologists worked together for a set of alternative constructs, using the institutional forum and infrastructure provided by the ECLA.

The leading tenets of structuralist ideas were propounded by Raul Prebisch. 2 These ideas gave the problem of economic development a greater regional perspective. The center-periphery propositions gave greater and direct attention not only to Latin America but also to the entire underdeveloped world as a whole. The originality lies in the proposition that the process of economic development and underdevelopment is a single process involving the center and the periphery, two layers of the world developmental sphere that are very closely interrelated and that form part of one global economy. It is proposed that the disparities between the center and periphery are reproduced and sustained through the ongoing mechanism of international trade.

Structuralist economic thinking is driven by notions of the peculiarities of particular economic systems and their structural circumstances. It is based on the notion that development must be fashioned in accord with the economy's particular situation: level of development at the time, historical circumstances, geographical conditions, political setting, and the prevailing and overall global economic environment. Structuralist theories are based on the belief that

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