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Economic Growth’s Many Recipes

Strategies for economic development have always been dominated by comprehensive visions about transforming poor societies. But the key lesson of the last half-century is that policymakers must focus on their societies' immediate, binding constraints and seek sequential, cumulative change rather than a single, all-inclusive breakthrough.

CAMBRIDGE, MA. -- Development “big think” has always been dominated by comprehensive visions about transforming poor societies. From the so-called “Big Push” to “Balanced Growth,” from the “Washington Consensus” to “Second Generation Reforms,” the emphasis has been on wholesale change.

Today’s fashion in development is no different. The prevailing obsession with the “governance” agenda entails a broad-based effort to remold institutions in developing societies as a prerequisite for economic growth. The United Nations Millennium Project involves a large-scale, coordinated big push of investment in human capital, public infrastructure, and agricultural technologies.

But there have also been iconoclastic dissenters from such comprehensive approaches, among whom Albert Hirschman was without doubt the most distinguished. Indeed, Hirschman’s seminal contributions have now been recognized by the United States Social Science Research Council, which this year established a prize in his honor.

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