Developing nations: time is on your side

…historical examples counsel administrative patience. India, once seen as passing through its “most dangerous decades” or hobbled by a “Hindu” rate of growth, is now seen as a thriving knowledge economy.

Africa, six years ago, was designated the ‘hopeless continent’. But enhancing capacities and instilling the sense of aspiration takes time.

That is historian C.A. Bayly writing a comparative history of African and Indian development, making a point I didn’t think many made but me: that time is the mystery ingredient we forget in our rush to discover the roots of development. An entrepreneurial class, a coherent state, a schooling system–these cannot be manufactured out of nothing in a generation.

It reminds me, there is a line you will hear in introductory development classes or texts, that in the year nineteen such and such Mali and South Korea had the same per capita income, but today South Korea is rich and Mali is not.

To which you should in future respond: THAT IS ABSURD.

Ancient Mali had a state, scholars, entrepreneurs, and global trade. But despite being one the the most developed states south of the Sahara, history, geography and the slave trade conspired to make its systems far less developed than the Koreans’. So if the two places looked very similar in 1950, it is because we are measuring the wrong things.

I digress.

The Bayly piece comes from an edited volume, History, Historians and Development. I will admit, this is not the most compelling of titles. And “edited volume” is seldom a good sign. But this one works.

Other highlights include Lant Pritchett invoking Foucault to explain why government-produced schooling is the ideological coup of the century. Sublime, and impossible to communicate in a blog post.

I recommend the whole book.