All of postwar development economics in one exchange?

Check out the book Economic Development for Latin America, edited by Howard S. Ellis and Henry C. Wallich, circa 1961 and read Paul Rosenstein-Rodan’s classic essay “Notes on the Theory of the “Big Push””.

In ten pages you get the essence of increasing returns arguments, though do see Paul Krugman’s cautionary notes about this era and its lack of formal modeling.

After those ten pages, there is then Celso Furtado, that underrated and perhaps someday forgotten Brazilian economist, who in five pages tries to take PRR apart.  The big push didn’t work in Bolivia, and in conclusion

“The point is not, therefore, to show that there are indivisibilities in the production function.  The main interest lies in demonstrating how processes can be modified so as to elude the effects of those indivisibilities.”

The reader is then treated to three and a half pages of Ragnar Nurske, who shores up PRR.

There is then transcribed discussion, including remarks from Theodore Schulz (he rejects big push as an analytical tool), Albert Hirschman, Howard Ellis, Henry Wallich, more from Nurske, and Haberler, who wrote:

“…the lumpy factor could often be stretched to accommodate a varying amount of the co-operating factors.   The big push was no substitute for normal piecemeal progress.”

That was a popular point in those days.  Hirschman also…

“doubted that as a general rule overhead facilities would create a demand for their services.  This depended on the kind of entrepreneurship available.  Certainly there was no fixed short-run relation between investment in overhead and other investment, since overhead could be stretched.”

Nurske then fought back.  Whew!

Reading those twenty pages exhausted me, and transported me to another and earlier era.  It was like watching one of those taped 1980s NBA games, as they show them in Taiwan and some other countries, without the timeouts and breaks and besides they weren’t playing much defense anyway.

Overall it raised my estimation of those economists.


Comments for this post are closed