note: I originally wrote this for the Dani Rodrik seminar. As it grew, though, it became apparent that it didn’t really have much to do with “One Economics, Many Recipes” and that it was thus a bit unfair to ask Dani to comment on it. On the other hand, I liked it too much to kill it altogether – dd
“One Economics, Many Recipes” makes a lot of useful and constructive suggestions about how to attack the central problems of economic development. However I don’t think it gives enough emphasis (fundamentally because I don’t think it’s possible to give enough emphasis) to international debt as a constraint on development. Nearly all of the success stories in the book relate to countries which started their periods of development without a large debt burden, and the presence or absence of large net external debt is certainly one characteristic which matches up well to the motivating stylised fact in the book – the distinction between those countries like Argentina which followed all the standard policy recommendations but didn’t develop and those like China which ignored them and did. In this essay, I’ll try and flesh out a few provocative views on the financial aspects of development policy, which in my view are just as important real-world constraints as the institutional real-economy factors that are the main subject matter of the book.
Actually, just as I don’t think it’s sensible to carry out international comparisons of crime rates without taking demographics and urbanisation into account, I don’t think that any kind of comparative analysis of developing economies can be carried out at all without conditioning on the debt burden. It’s that important. When you have a situation in which a country’s capital account is dominated by contractual flows payable in foreign exchange, that is far and away the most important fact about that country’s economy. This is because as long as the debt service constraint is binding (and I discuss what happens when it isn’t, below), then unless the country is receiving massive net transfers from abroad, the entire economic development program is going to end up being twisted toward a capital account constraint which almost certainly has nothing to do with a sensible locally-based development plan of the kind that Dani advocates.
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