Whither Industrial Development?

To the PhDs out there, searching for dissertation inspiration: industrial development — no one knows how to do it, but it’s the most important thing in the world.”

That’s from Chris Blattman in a post last week.

I completely agree with Chris’ view that industrial development is of utmost importance to developing countries. This is what initially sparked my interest in contract farming and agricultural value chains back in grad school, when I had to choose a topic for the third essay in my dissertation. I presume that this is what led Chris to the idea of “randomizing Marx,” which is surely one of the most interesting ideas I have heard over the last few years.

My reasoning back then was based on the impression that many economists with an interest in agricultural development only seemed interested in marginal changes. That is, in how to improve the welfare of rural individuals and households, without any question as to how to get them out of agriculture and into an industrial manufacturing sector, which usually offers a steady paycheck.

As Paul Collier noted in a 2008 Foreign Affairs article, when offered the chance to get out of agriculture, most developing-country peasants take it. It is an upper-middle-class, industrialized-country fiction to romanticize life on a small farm. Economic development and food security lie in industrialized agriculture, and this is why I continue being interested in agricultural value chains. My thinking on this has also been reinforced by my recent reading of Jane Jacobs’ The Economy of Cities, in which she posits that agricultural development came as a consequence of urbanization, and not the other way around.

Chris also wonders what it is exactly that the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) does. From my own experience, I remember UNCTAD organizing the Third United Nations Conference on the Least Developed Countries (LDC III) in May 2001 in Brussels.

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