Characteristics of Developing Countries

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The theme of this essay is: the importance of a study of other semi-developed countries as they struggle for economic growth, the elimination of mass poverty and, at the political level, for democratisation and the reduction of reliance on coercion. New countries are finding their voices in all sorts of ways and are managing to interest an international audience. South Africa is not least among them; contemporary international consciousness of the travail of our particular path towards modernity testifies at least to a considerable national talent for dramatic communication and (for those who care to look more deeply) a far from extinct tradition of moral conscientiousness. One aspect of this flowering is a rapidly growing crop of social scientific studies of semi-developed countries of which this university is fortunate to have a substantial collection, contained mainly in the library of Jan Smuts House. From this literature, one can extract five themes of particular interest. The first is the problem of uneven development and effective national unification, especially in deeply divided societies. Capitalist development has impinged on semi-developed countries from outside rather than transforming slowly from within, incorporating different groups in different ways. Particular problems arise when differential incorporation coincides in substantial measure with boundaries between ethnic groups. If Donald Horowitz's remarkable study of ethnic groups in conflict is right, more energy goes into attempting to maximise differences in the welfare of in groups and out groups than into maximising their joint welfare, with adverse consequences for the possibilities of building the national political and economic institutions required for development. Gordon Tullock has argued that this is an additional reason for preferring market-based rather than state-led economic growth in deeply divided societies. In itself it is, but the secondary effects of different paths on distribution have to be taken into account. In so far as they lead to worsening differentials between groups, the possibility of heightened conflict is created. The only long-term hope is to make ethnic boundaries less salient; the happiest outcome would seem to be when ethnicity becomes decorative in a high income economic environment. This is likely to be the work of decades, perhaps of centuries; even so, appalling retrogressions always seem to remain possible. The consequence of deep divisions is that there is likely to exist an unusually large number of prisoner's dilemma situations. (The prisoner's dilemma arises when partners in crime are apprehended and held separately. The prisoners will be jointly better off if they do not inform on each other, but each prisoner will be better off if he informs on the other, while the other does not inform on him. Attempts at individual maximisation may lead to both prisoners informing on each other which leads to the worst joint outcome. The dilemma arises because of the absence of the opportunity for co-operation.) Under such conditions, negotiation skills are at a premium. There are also advantages in the acceptance of a deontological liberal philosophy which (in the shorthand of political philosophers) places the right over the good. This involves seeking to regulate social relations by just procedures while leaving individuals as free as possible to pursue their own, diverse conceptions of the good life. Such an enterprise has a better chance of success if its conception of justice implies that attention should be paid simultaneously to the reduction of poverty. The analytical Marxist, Adam Przeworski has analysed analogous problems which arise in the case of severe class conflict. In his view, social democratic compromises are held together by virtue of the propensity of capitalists to reinvest part of their profits with the effect of increasing worker incomes in the future. Class compromise is made possible by two...
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