How Have ‘Developing’ Countries Actually Developed? Alternatives to Neoliberalism

June 2018

This paper reviews how several developing countries which can be considered successes (with qualifications) have progressed economically, briefly capturing what policies and institutions might explain their performance. The analysis considers Mauritius, South Korea, Ecuador, Cuba, and the Nordic model/Norway. It also briefly considers Chile – a country whose ‘success’ is sometimes explained by neoliberal policies – and Botswana – often held up as Africa’s most successful developer.

In recent decades, the British and US governments, in particular, have largely promoted neoliberalism in developing countries as a supposed strategy to reduce poverty and promote economic development. Perhaps better described as ‘market fundamentalism’, neoliberalism has tended to involve: privatising key areas of the economy; reductions in state spending and the general role of the state; de-regulation of the financial sector and of corporate activities (relying on voluntary ‘corporate social responsibility’); strong promotion of foreign investment with few barriers, often accompanied by cutting taxes, promoting tax incentives for foreign investors; and failing to address rising inequality. Some of these policies are beginning to change, given the obvious failures of this model, but its general thrust is often still in evidence in the economic policies and aid strategies (not to mention domestic policies) of Western states such as the UK and the US.

Countries which have successfully developed in the postwar world do not owe their progress to neoliberalism. It is more accurate to say that the kinds of policies promoted by relatively successful states have generally tended to involve the opposite: a strong, interventionist role for the state; privileging domestic over foreign investors; liberalising only once the domestic economy and local firms can compete in world markets; periods of trade protection; and explicitly pro-poor state spending.





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