Dani Rodrik on premature deindustrialization

Consider Brazil and India, two emerging economies that have done comparatively well in the last decade or so. In Brazil, manufacturing’s share of employment barely budged from 1950 to 1980, rising from 12% to 15%. Since the late 1980’s, Brazil has begun to deindustrialize, a process which recent growth has done little to stop or reverse. India presents an even more striking case: Manufacturing employment there peaked at a meager 13% in 2002, and has since trended down.

It is not clear why developing countries are deindustrializing so early in their growth trajectories. One obvious culprit may be globalization and economic openness, which have made it difficult for countries like Brazil and India to compete with East Asia’s manufacturing superstars. But global competition cannot be the main story. Indeed, what is striking is that even East Asian countries are subject to early-onset deindustrialization.

China is a very large country, of course, with much of its workforce still in rural areas. But most migrant workers now find jobs in services rather than in factories. Similarly, it is extremely unlikely that the new crop of manufacturing exporters, such as Vietnam and Cambodia, will ever reach the levels of industrialization attained by the early industrializers, such as Britain and Germany.

An immediate consequence is that developing countries are turning into service economies at substantially lower levels of income. When the US, Britain, Germany, and Sweden began to deindustrialize, their per capita incomes had reached $9,000-11,000 (at 1990 prices). In developing countries, by contrast, manufacturing has begun to shrink while per capita incomes have been a fraction of that level: Brazil’s deindustrialization began at $5,000, China’s at $3,000, and India’s at $2,000.

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