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There are three key literatures on the political economy of development that all emphasize the importance of institutions, but in different and somewhat contradictory ways. These literatures focus on developmental states, good governance, and political economic pathways. The developmental states literature is based largely on case studies of East Asian countries that have, since about 1950, largely “caught up” to the already developed nations in Europe, North America, and the Antipodes. The central conclusion of this literature has been that successful late development requires a competent, committed state bureaucracy, independent enough to be capable of imposing its will on domestic businesspeople, but also sufficiently connected to them so as to make good decisions about what will to impose. The literature focusing on good governance, based largely in economics, also sees state actions and characteristics as keys to positive development outcomes. But while the developmental states literature argues that states need to play an interventionist role in “governing” markets (including not infrequently restricting them), the good governance literature usually looks more favorably on free markets. Finally, research in the political economic pathways literature tends to examine much longer periods of time than the other two literatures, and typically emphasizes economic and political developmental outcomes as joint products of differences in the historical trajectories followed by different countries. The key explanatory variables for this literature are a country’s circumstances in the colonial period, and levels and types of social inequality.


Steven W. Hook and Franklin Barr Lebo

International development has remained a key part of global economic relations since the field emerged more than half a century ago. From its initial focus on colonization and state building, the field has evolved to encompass a wide range of issues, theoretical problems, and disciplinary traditions. The year 1945 is widely considered as a turning point in the study of international development. Three factors account for this: the end of World War II that left the US an economic hegemon, the ideological rivalry that defined the Cold War, and the period of decolonization that peaked around 1960 that forced development issues, including foreign aid, state building, and multilateral engagement, onto the global agenda. Since then, development paradigms have continuously evolved, adapted, and been reinvented to address the persistent and arguably widening gap between the prosperous economies of the “developed North” and the developing and frequently troubled economies of the “global South.” Today, a loosely knit holistic paradigm has emerged that recognizes the deficiencies of its predecessors, yet builds on their strengths. A holistic conception of international development embraces methodological pluralism in the scholarly study of development, while recognizing the multiple ways policy practitioners may productively apply academic theories and research findings in unique settings.