The Age of Sustainable Development – A Brief History of Economic Development

For thousands of years humanity lived in ‘civilised’ communities practicing agriculture. With the exception of some leaders, everybody was poor. Grand structures have been build and some civilizations were powerful and seemingly prosperous, but economic and technological advancement were nil  Place a ancient Greek farmer on a medieval farm and he would start to work quite comfortably.

This changed in the midst of the 18th century. England, the right balance of geniuses, infrastructure of canals and roads, coal in proximity to cities and more allowed the industrial revolution to kick off. Then there was growth. Growth that diffused to western Europe quickly and the United States. For the selected few front-runners there was what is called endogenous growth. Based on innovation, where one advancement leads to the next. Waves of economic growth had key aspects; (i) The steam engine (1780-1830, (ii) railway and steel (1830), (iii) electricity (1880-1930), (iv) automobiles, petrochemicals and aviation (early 20th century) and (v) transistors and integrated circuits giving rise to many things like the computer.

Development was very unequal. Part of the world occupied a greater rest of the world, only benefiting their already advanced state and keeping the others under poverty and pressure. After the second world war more countries got independent and the world split into groups. The western world that recovered from the wars pretty quickly and continued endogenous growth  Lead by the US whose home territory was least affected by the war. The economic growth of Soviet Communism came to a halt in the 70’s. China was the first to step out and opened a market economy in 1978. The rest of the world has many stories. Countries who struggled for and successfully found their independence chose their own paths. The Asian Tigers quickly tried to catch up with the progress the western world had booked the 200 years before. Other countries were stuck in deep poverty still.

In order for all the countries to catch up with the front-runners there must be faster growth in the less developed countries. This is not easy as factors that influence development are not by choice. Technologies spread from coast to the inland, proximity to other prosperous markets is major bonus, as are domestic energy sources. Other aspects beneficial to economic development can be influenced; Good agriculture allows vibrant cities, a physical environment good to health and good governance  We must focus these and other things that can be done to create a flourishing world for all.

Jiddu Alexander

Twitter: #susdev and @JeffDSachs

Jiddu Alexander’s The Age of Sustainable Development Series
Brief History of Economic Development
Why give aid? Or not (Uganda gay laws example)

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