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Questo articolo è stato pubblicato il 14 giugno 2012 alle ore 14:03.


The East Asian and other economies that achieved dynamic growth and became industrialized did not follow import-substitution strategies; instead, they pursued export-oriented growth. Likewise, countries like Mauritius, China, and Vietnam did not implement rapid liberalization (so-called shock therapy), which the Washington Consensus advocated; instead, they followed a dual-track gradual approach (and often continued to perform poorly on various governance indicators).

Both groups of countries achieved great advances in education, health, poverty reduction, and other human development indicators. None of them used randomized control experiments to design their social or economic programs.

Today, a Development Economics 3.0 is needed. In my view, the shift from understanding the determinants of a country’s economic structure and facilitating its change is tantamount to throwing the baby out with the bath water. Remember that Adam Smith called his great work An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations. In a similar spirit, development economics should be built on inquiries into the nature and causes of modern economic growth – that is, on structural change in the process of economic development.

Development thinking so far has focused on what developing countries do not have (developed countries’ capital-intensive industries); on areas in which developed countries perform better (Washington Consensus policies and governance); or on areas that are important from a humanitarian point of view but do not directly contribute to structural change (health and education).

In my book New Structural Economics, I propose shifting the focus to areas where developing countries can do well (their comparative advantages) based on what they have (their endowments). With dynamic structural change starting from there, success will breed success.

In our globalized world, a country’s optimal industrial structure – in which all industries are consistent with the country’s comparative advantages and are competitive in domestic and international markets – is determined by its endowment structure. A well-functioning market is required to provide incentives to domestic firms to align their investment choices with the country’s comparative advantages.

If a country’s firms can do that, the economy will be competitive, capital will accumulate quickly, the endowment structure will change, areas of comparative advantages will shift, and the economy will need to upgrade its industrial structure to a relatively higher level of capital intensity. So successful industrial upgrading and economic diversification requires first-movers, and improvements in skills, logistics, transportation, access to finance, and various other changes, many of which are beyond the first-movers’ capacity. Governments need to provide adequate incentives to encourage first-movers, and should play an active role in providing the required improvements or coordinating private firms’ investments in those areas.

Structural change is, by definition, innovative. Developing countries may benefit from the advantage of backwardness by replicating the structural change that has already occurred in higher-income countries. Based on the experiences of successful countries, every developing country has the potential to sustain 8% annual growth (or higher) for several decades, and to become a middle- or even a high-income country in one or two generations. The key is to have the right policy framework in place to facilitate private-sector alignment with the country’s comparative advantages, and to benefit from latecomer advantages in the process of structural change.

Justin Yifu Lin, former Chief Economist of the World Bank, is Professor of Economics, China Center for Economic Research, National School for Development, Peking University. His most recent book is New Structural Economics.

Copyright: Project Syndicate,


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