Theory of Development: Economic, Social, and Human  


Table of Contents


Can the World Bank be Fixed? Not really. If the goal of development assistance is to foster autonomous development, then most aid and "help" is actually unhelpful in the sense of either overriding or undercutting the autonomy of those being "helped."  The two principal forms of unhelpful "help" are social engineering and charitable relief.  The World Bank is the primary example over the last half century of the failures of social engineering to "engineer" development.  Frustration over these failures, particularly in Africa, is now leading the Bank and many other development agencies towards the other form of unhelpful help, namely, long-term charitable relief.  The paper outlines some of the reasons for the failure of socially engineered economic, legal, and social reforms both in the developing world and in the post-socialist transition countries.  Finally, the argument [given at book length in Ellerman 2005] is summarized in five structural reasons why the World Bank cannot be "fixed." This is a reprint from the Post-Autistic Economics Review (Sept. 2005) which can be accessed directly and free of charge at:

How Do We Grow? Jane Jacobs on Diversification and Specialization. This recent paper from Challenge (May-June 2005) gives an expanded treatment of Jane Jacobs' economic thought focusing on her theory of development and growth (or the lack thereof).  In particular, it explains her remarkably insightful and unorthodox treatment of the issues of specialization and comparative advantage.

Labour Migration: A Developmental Path or A Low-level Trap? Migration issues are much discussed today.  Our topic is the debate about the developmental impact of migration on the sending countries.  Throughout the post-WWII period, temporary labor migration (e.g., South-east Europe to West Europe or Mexico to the United States) has been promoted as a path to development.  Remittances have grown to rival or surpass official development assistance and have increased the living standards in the sending countries.  However, the evidence over the decades is that the remittances do not lead to development or even to higher incomes sustainable without further migration.  Some determinedly temporary labor migration schemes offer promise.  But where the pattern of migration and remittances locks into a semi-permanent arrangement (the standard line is ?here? nothing more permanent than temporary migration?, then this may be a developmental trap for the South.  This takes the form of a semi-permanent "3 D's Deal"; the South will forego self-development in favor of being a long-range bedroom community to supply the labor for the dirty, dangerous, and difficult jobs in the North. This is a reprint from Development in Practice (August 2005).

Helping Self-Help: The Fundamental Conundrum of Development Assistance. For more than half a century, there have been government programs and international organizations devoted to socially engineering development.  As evidenced by the recent United Nation's Millennium Project report, surprisingly little has been learned as to why that mode of development assistance is ineffective. This paper takes an interdisciplinary approach to explaining the old idea that the best form of assistance is to help people help themselves but that this cannot be "engineered" as is amply evidenced by over a half-century of failures.  There is a conundrum: how can the helpers supply help that furthers rather than overrides or undercuts the goal of the doers helping themselves?  Otherwise, it is actually “unhelpful help.” The overriding and undercutting forms of unhelpful help are analyzed and strategies for autonomy-respecting help are presented. Reprint from Journal of Socio-Economics (August 2007). Slides for talk1 and talk2 given on this topic in the School for Development in Antwerp.

Good Intentions: The Dilemma of Outside-in Help for Inside-out Change. A paper in the Non-Profit Quarterly on the helping dilemmas faced by foundations and NGOs.

Should Development Agencies Have Official Views? The major development agencies have ex cathedra "Official Views" (with varying degrees of explicitness) on the complex and controversial questions of development.  At the same time, knowledge is now more than ever recognized as key to development—in the idea of a "knowledge bank" or knowledge-based development assistance.  I argue that these two practices are in direct conflict—much as making Lysenko's views as "Official Soviet Science" was in conflict with the progress of the science of genetics in the Soviet Union.  When an agency attaches its "brand name" to certain Official Views, then it is very difficult for the agency to also be a learning organization or to foster genuine learning in the clients.  In contrast to the "church" or "Party" model, a model of a development agency as an open learning organization is outlined.  That, in turn, allows the agency to take a more autonomy-compatible approach to development assistance with the country "in the driver's seat" of a learning process—rather than as the passive recipient of aid-sweetened policies from the agency. Reprint from Development in Practice (August 2002).

Helping People Help Themselves: Towards a Theory of Autonomy-Compatible Help.  This is a pr?is of my book Helping People Help Themselves: From the World Bank to an Alternative Philosophy of Development Assistance. (U. of Michigan Press, 2005)  I explore several principles or themes of a theory of autonomy-compatible assistance and show how these themes arise in the work of various authors in rather different fields such as: 

The fact that such diverse thinkers in different fields arrive at very similar conclusions increases our confidence in the common principles.  The points of commonality might be summarized as follows using the common framework of "helpers" trying to provide autonomy-compatible assistance to a certain set of "doers":

Jane Jacobs on the Nature of Development. Jane Jacobs is best known as a writer about cities and as a vigorous critic of urban planning.  The purpose of this paper is to suggest that she should be read as a writer on economic development who focuses on cities as the principal sites of development.  The recently upsurge of interest in migration policies and development is taken as the entry point into her work, e.g., to explain why "poverty reduction" through remittances will tend to be nondevelopmental.  Her ecologically-inspired "tangled bank" conception of development as growth through differentiation is used to elucidate a number of developmental issues.  It also shows how the "spin-off conundrum" of multiproduct diversification is important to industrial development policies.  Several examples are outlined of how that problem has been approached.

Policy Research on Migration and Development   This is a survey and analysis?ith commentary?f migration issues and the related development policies for the sending countries.  "Migration and development" is considered an "unsettled" and "unresolved" area for good reason.  The policy issues are surprisingly deep and run to basic issues such as the nature of development as opposed to simple poverty reduction.  North-north migration (between developed countries), south-south migration (between or within developing countries), and north-south migration (from developing to developed countries) are all covered although most attention is on the north-south variety.  Attention is paid to the question of the dynamic mechanism underlying migration being one of convergence or divergence.  Very often the policy issues push one outside what would be narrowly considered as "migration studies."  For example, policies to reduce the brain drain go directly to the issues of educational reform in developing countries while policies to increase the developmental impact of remittances quickly carry one into the nature of business development itself.  Ronald Dore's ideas on educational reform are outlined as a policy approach to the brain drain problem.  Jane Jacobs ideas on development are outlined in greater length as they are little known in development economics and yet directly address the policy issues raised by migration and development. This paper is also available as World Bank Policy Research Paper #3117.

Parallel Experimentation and Evolutionary AnalogiesMy topic is the process of parallel experimentation which I take to be a process of multiple experiments running concurrently with some form of common goal, with benchmarking comparisons made between the experiments, and with the "migration" of discoveries between experiments wherever possible to ratchet up the performance of the group.  Within evolutionary biology, this type of parallel experimentation scheme was developed in Sewall Wright's "shifting balance theory" of evolution.  It addressed the rather neglected topic of how a population on a low fitness peak might eventually be able to go "downhill" against selective pressures, traverse a valley of low fitness, and then ascend a higher fitness peak.  The thesis is that parallel experimentation is a fundamental scheme to enhance and accelerate variation, innovation, and learning in contexts of genuine uncertainty.

Review of Thomas Dichter's "Despite Good Intentions: Why Development Assistance to the Third World has Failed" Development in Practice. August 2003.

Rethinking Development Assistance: An Approach Based on Autonomy-Respecting Assistance. Today, development agencies are actively rethinking the effectiveness of development assistance.  There have been many small or local successes but the goal of sustainable scaling-up has been more illusive.  What are the linkages that can be changed by policy-makers that will help scale up micro-successes to have an impact at the macro level?  This paper argues that autonomy-respecting assistance both in the cognitive and volitional dimensions is the sort of macro-micro development linkage that will best support not only genuine reforms but the scaling up of those reforms. (Click on title to open memo or paper.)

The Indirect ApproachAid and conditionalities are the "carrots and sticks" of the conventional direct approach to fostering economic development.  The economic theory of agency is the most sophisticated theoretical treatment of the direct carrots and sticks approach to influencing human behavior.  In view of the outcomes of the conventional approach, it might be worthwhile to explore alternative indirect approaches that focus on enabling clients to act more autonomously rather than overriding or undercutting the clients' actions (or "agents' behavior") with improved "carrots and sticks."  Are there inherent limitations on the direct approach that will not be solved with better crafted "agency contracts" or closer monitoring of the agents?  This paper traces the intellectual history of indirect approaches from Socrates to modern thinkers such as Wittgenstein, Gandhi, and McGregor.  One of themes is that constructivist and active learning pedagogies constitute an indirect approach wherein the teacher does not directly transmit knowledge to the learner through training and instruction.  These pedagogies translated into social and economic development viewed as learning-writ-large form the basis for an alternative indirect approach to fostering development.  The one-sentence epigraph for the indirect approach was given by John Dewey: "The best kind of help to others, whenever possible, is indirect, and consists in such modifications of the conditions of life, of the general level of subsistence, as enables them independently to help themselves."  This paper is also available as a World Bank Policy Research Working Paper. (Click on title to open memo or paper.)

Knowledge-Based Development Assistance. This paper explores the problems of development assistance that focuses on knowledge instead of capital.  The vision of the World Bank as a "Knowledge Bank" is a case in point. (Click on title to open memo or paper.)

Hirschmanian Themes of Social Learning and Change.  There are a number of themes that converge to suggest "Hirschmanian" alternatives to centralized top-down social engineering models of reform, social change, and development.  Hirschman responded to the balanced growth, big push, and development planning models with an alternative framework of "unbalanced growth."  The limited powers of cognition and implementation of central authorities in the face of the complexity of organizational, institutional, and social realities do not give much hope for social engineering approaches.  Learning, experimentation, and a one-size-does-not-fit-all pragmatism are basic to any alternative to the planning, command, and control models of development.  A number of related theories developed in recent decades will also be surveyed:

Finally some half-baked ideas will be broached for designing decentralized programs for the World Bank or other development agencies.  This paper is also available as a World Bank Policy Research Working Paper. (Click on title to open memo or paper.)