The Political Economy of Development


A slender but challenging monograph exploring the role of violence in economies and societies.

Bates (Government/Harvard Univ.) fuses economic and political theory to analyze the transformation of societies from rural to urban and from agricultural to industrial. He argues that as this transition occurs, sometimes people employ violence—and the threat of violence—to strengthen rather than disrupt the system of production. He uses the example of coffee-growing in Kenya to illustrate one of his principal theses about development: “It involves the taming of violence and the delegation of authority to those who will use power productively.” People practice violence in agrarian societies, Bates argues, for one of two reasons: to increase wealth or to defend possessions. He presents the Nuer of southern Sudan, who avoided violence by establishing a nascent form of the weapons policy later implemented by the superpowers: mutually assured destruction. Because everyone knew their neighbors were able and willing to fight to defend their property, the Nuer experienced only rare instances of theft. By contrast, Bates shows clearly that countries like Uganda, where instability and violence are endemic, fail to develop because there is no incentive for investment in a future that is so fragile; people live for the moment, taking what they want by force. Bates then examines the growth of states and the consequences of the Cold War’s end. When the USSR collapsed, he notes, the United States lost interest—and reduced investments—in former clients like Somalia, whose strategic value had vanished overnight. The author also presents convincing evidence that developing nations sowed the seeds of their own destruction during the international debt crisis of the 1980s when they adopted protectionist policies for their industrial products. They simply could not produce and export enough goods to earn the money to repay their enormous loans.

Bates’s comprehensive scholarship and his field experience in developing nations give this dense, closely argued text a force that will strike even general readers. (3 maps, not seen)

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 2001
ISBN: 0-393-05038-6
Page count: 128pp
Publisher: Norton
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1st, 2000


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