Gambling on Development

In a new review for JCA, Scott MacWilliam of the Department of Pacific Affairs, ANU College of Asia & the Pacific, at the Australian National University, looks at Gambling on Development: Why Some Countries Win and Others Lose by Stefan Dercon, published by Hurst and Company.

MacWilliam is critical of Gambling on Development for its framing of economic development “prescriptions” and “recipes,” and as outcomes of elite bargaining. It is, he says, an “approach popularised by the World Bank in the World Development Report 2017. In using this approach, Dercon “says the quiet part out loud, espousing the politics which underpins neo-liberalism.”

Dercon’s treatment of history is said to be shallow. MacWilliam adds:

Dercon’s argument is worth consideration if only because it shows the extent to which neo-liberalism substitutes for liberalism in disarray: lots of enthusiasm for the development framed by elites and markets, even some states, none for representative democracy, personal freedoms, and equality.

MacWilliam sees poverty and the poor receiving “simplistic treatment” in this book. He adds that:

The discussion of China is especially egregious given that there may be more very wealthy in that totalitarian country than in any other. Simultaneously in China the urbanisation and industrialisation since 1979 which has produced the wealthy resulted in millions of the elderly and young living in rural poverty while parents have travelled for work in cities. Yet China remains a success story for Dercon and for many other development economists.

If nothing else, the reviewer credits Dercon with making it obvious that political authoritarianism “is prevalent on the policy right…”.

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