Undermining democracy and development
in Reclaiming economics for future generations
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This chapter considers how academic economics undermines democracy and development. It begins by exploring the history of the subdiscipline of development economics, highlighting its birth in efforts to help the ‘Third World’ free itself from ‘backwardness’ and then its evolution, often mirroring broader shifts in economics and politics up to the present. The chapter argues that academic economics has become focused on internal explanations for the poor economic performance of low-income countries, such as corruption. As a result, it tends to suggest interventions that focus on the symptoms and not root causes, which would require an analysis that incorporates how history and power have reproduced structural inequalities. Randomised control trials are currently the method in vogue in development economics and its application is presented as exemplifying the above. Here the book suggests that the whole framework of development and underdevelopment is rooted in a colonial world view. This has been a mechanism through which ideas and values from the US and Europe have been imposed on other parts of the world through the internationalisation of neoclassical economics traced in Chapter 2. Rather than a single pathway predetermined by economists and powerful countries, economic development must have principles of democracy and self-determination at its core, and be led by the people who are doing it so that it reflects their needs, priorities, values, and culture.

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