Economic Development: The History of an Idea
Economic development has been for many years the dominant national policy objective of the countries in the Third World, but there has been little consensus on the goals and definitions of development. Focusing on the era since World War II, H. W. Arndt traces the history of thought about economic development to show readers, in nontechnical terms, what the development objective has meant to political and economic theorists, policymakers, and politicians from Adam Smith to Ayatollah Khomeini.
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In the preface and introduction to his book, Economic Development, H.W.Arndt informs the readers that whatever has been talked about development in the last three decades could be easily found in the writings of Adam Smith, JS Mill, Karl Marx, Gandhi and others but the uniqueness of his writings is the rediscovery, relevancy to present time and familiarity with the concept of economic development.
Chapter two of Arndt’s book traces the history of economic development as a policy objective and emergence of the idea in the years just before and during World War II. I find the title of the chapter somewhat misleading. Arndt has named the chapter as the ‘The Prehistory (to 1945)’ and has counted pre history as not earlier than 10th century. History has surely not kept hidden from us the information about the economic and incidental activities of various nations, kingdoms and civilisations of the world, which existed prior to the modern world. It would have been better if Arndt had mentioned some time period and avoided saying it ‘Prehistory’. The said chapter has explored the Western Origin of such development and relied on the proposition of W.W.Rostow that economic development certainly began in Western Europe, though just where and when is not sure. If Arndt has ear-marked the beginning of Modern Age as the point in history from where the economic development has become an objective of State Policy then it is not a well placed argument for studying about the history of an idea.
Arndt has related economic development of nation with other terms like ‘modernization’, ‘westernization’ and ‘industrialisation’ and says. “…economic development had long been in the minds of some… though under different labels…” I believe that Arndt, though speaking about state policies of economic development in the global context, has a very narrow outlook of the state. He has limited his observations only to the nation-states and has not taken into consideration other forms of governments.
Writing about the third world economic developments, Arndt gives reference to Japan, China and India and labels economic development as a policy objective largely as of ‘reactive nationalism. He has identified ‘reactive nationalism’ over other motives which have fuelled the passion of nations to modernize the economies. In context to Japan it is said that behind modernization of Japan, the purpose was national survival by means of establishment of a strong central government and the acquisition of modern military technology. Japan's idea of economic development was to develop a powerful nation than a prosperous people. Similarly in the case of China the only difference in regards to the policy of economic development was that it came from below, unlike Japan which was from above. The case of India and the state policy of economic development make an interesting read as it is distinct from Japan and China. We are told the Japan and China move towards modernization because of other factors like modern military technology besides ‘reactive nationalism’, it was India where all the stakeholders agreed on the objective of freedom from colonial rule and only few considered modernization as a means to that end or a necessary part of a wider program for national regeneration. Here also I feel that Arndt has not done justice to his scholarship by limiting Asia to only Japan, China and India. Besides, Arndt fails to appreciate the fact that the focus of the colonies on military technology was not a choice but a compulsion to get rid of the yoke of colonial slavery.
Arndt has rightfully pointed out that the mainstream economists have paid negligible attention to policies of economic development in the third world and whatever records are found are “generally drawn up by weak and wondering travellers; frequently by stupid and lying missionaries.” He also brings to our notice that whatever information we have about third world nations, especially India is, ‘little more than the encyclopaedic stock-in-trade of