Technological Change and Opportunities for Development as a Moving Target

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CEPAL

R C E P E W R E V •I E W C E M B E R
EVIAL 75
DE 75

109

2001

Technological change
and opportunities for
development as a
moving target
Carlota Pérez
Honorary Research Fellow,
SPRU, the University of Sussex.
Adjunct Senior Research Fellow,
INTECH, United Nations
University
The Netherlands
carperez@reacciun.ve

This article puts forward an interpretation of development
as a process of accumulation of technological and social
capabilities dependent upon taking advantage of successive
and different windows of opportunity. These windows are
determined from the core countries, through the
technological revolutions which occur every half-century
and the four phases of their deployment. The possibilities
of progressing at each opportunity depend on the
achievements made in the previous phase, on identifying
the nature of the next one, understanding the technoeconomic paradigm of the revolution in question, and being able to design and negotiate, in each case, a positive-sum
strategy, taking account of the interests of the most powerful firms. On the basis of this interpretation, a summary review is made of the successive development strategies applied
since the 1950s. The author then outlines the likely nature
of the next phase and, applying the principles of the current techno-economic paradigm, explores some aspects of the
institutional changes to be carried out.

T E C H N O L O G I C A L C H A N G E A N D O P P O R T U N I T I E S E C E MD E V E 2 0 0 1M E N T A S A M OV I N G TA R G E T D FOR BER LOP



C A R L OTA P É R E Z

110

CEPAL

REVIEW

75



DECEMBER

2001

I
Technological change and development
Technology is usually seen as a specialized field of
development policy, with separate institutions. In this
study, however, we maintain that, rather than being
merely an element of development strategies,
technology is a condition for their viability. The
opportunities for development are a moving target. Any
serious observer of the progress made in terms of
development from the late 1950s to the late 1970s must
acknowledge that the import substitution strategies
applied by various countries resulted in gradual but
significant advances. In the mid-1970s, when the
combination of the industrial redeployment from the
North with export promotion from the South showed
and promised new and broader advances, there was
hope that progress would be constant. With the failure
and subsequent deterioration of the model based on
protection and subsidies in most of the countries which
tried to keep on applying it, the pendulum has swung
to the other extreme, so that all the achievements
previously made with that model are now denied. This
has provided fertile ground for advocating the free
market as the only way of achieving satisfactory results
in terms of development, even though the efficacy of
that policy has not yet been proven.
This article maintains that development
opportunities arise and undergo changes as the
successive technological revolutions are deployed in

the advanced countries. Technology and production
equipment are only transferred voluntarily when they
hold out the promise of mutual benefits. The import
substitution strategies were successful because they
represented a positive-sum game for the mature
industries of the developed world, which were coming
up against technological exhaustion and market
saturation. With the eruption of the information
revolution, however, these conditions radically changed
and other viable options opened up.
Based on this interpretation, this article examines
development strategies from a different angle, which
can be especially useful as regards the challenges of
the globalization process and the information era.
Firstly, it analyses the evolution of technologies, in
order to understand in what conditions development
opportunities are created and to determine their
nature....
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