March, 2003

Is Discourse Relevant for Economic Development?

  • Scott Beaulier

    Academic Dean, College of Business at North Dakota State University
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Economists seem to be discovering the limits of their knowledge regarding the institutional and cultural preconditions necessary for economic growth and development. This should come as no surprise given the well-documented ineffectiveness of international lending and aid programs. Economists have a great deal of knowledge of what development policies have not been successful; it is quite a challenge to find stories of successful development promoted by western reformers. Even though we lack the knowledge of what development policies actually work, most development economists continue to unflinchingly operate with an impositionist pretense. When Stiglitz argues for a more "participatory process" in economic development, he has in mind a development approach in which members of developing countries have a greater say in the reform process. Stiglitz's demand for a greater level of participation might seem like a noble pursuit, but why should we expect discourse to translate into economic development? This working essay will take up this question.