Is Increasing Dependency an Inevitable Result of the Development Process?

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Is Increasing Dependency an Inevitable Result of the Development Process?

In today’s society, many developing nations have become dependent on the economies of already developed nations. It is the view of some developmental theorists that this state of dependency is an inevitable result of the global capitalist system imposed upon the world by the developed, ‘first world’ nations such as Britain and the United States. This is known as dependency theory. Put simply, the central premises of dependency theory are that poor nations provide natural resources, cheap labour, a destination for redundant technology and a market for the wealthy nations, without which the wealthy nations could not have the standard of living they enjoy. However there are many critics of dependency theory who deem it to be an oversimplification of complex interactions of social, political, historical and economic factors and as such see it as inadequate as a theory to explain underdevelopment.

I will therefore look at the emergence of dependency theory and the policy implications of this. I will then describe some of the most important critiques of dependency theory and conclude by showing that dependency is not an inevitable result of the development process as is exemplified by developing nations in East Asia and the former socialist bloc.

Dependency theory was first developed in the late 1950’s by the Director of the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America, Raul Prebisch. Prebisch and his contemporaries were concerned by the fact that economic growth in advanced industrialized economies did not necessarily lead to growth in the poorer countries. In contrast their work suggested that “economic activity in the richer countries often led to serious economic problems in the poorer countries”. The popularity of dependency theory grew in the 1960’s and 70’s as a response to the widespread criticism of the failings of modernization theory. Modernisation theory had been criticised for stressing obstacles to development that were internal to countries and ignoring international relations. Dependency theory stressed the latter and has been criticised itself for neglecting the former. This is only one of the criticisms of dependency theory which have led to it falling out of favour in recent times. However it still holds relevance and it underpins many of the developmental campaigns today, such as ‘Make Poverty History’ and ‘Fair Trade’.

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 It is important to state that dependency theory is seen more as a school of thought rather than a single theory. Cristóbal Kay expresses the view that “many participants in the dependency debate have made the point that studies of dependency cannot yet be considered to constitute a theory as no coherent or generally accepted set of propositions has emerged from them”.

However, the majority of dependency theorists fall into two main camps, Marxist and reformist. Both view international capitalism as the driving force behind dependency relationships. Andre Gunder Frank, one of the earliest and widely recognised Marxist ...

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