In the early 1960s, the agricultural economist Theodore W. Schultz issued a critical assessment of the prevailing tenets of development economics in Transforming Traditional Agriculture. Aimed at educated bureaucrats rather than academic economists, he proposed no new development theories. Instead, he drew inferences from statistics in case studies to argue that no special economic theory was required in the development space. He packaged these studies as statistical parables to provoke skepticism of development theory among those involved in direct technical assistance in developing countries. Drawing partly on their long experience with US and Soviet agricultural modernization, Schultz and members of his agricultural economics group at the University of Chicago used suggestive empirical evidence to stress the importance of investment in human capital in economic growth. By appealing to government administrators in both the United States and developing countries, Schultz helped shift development policies toward state-supported technical assistance, public education, and market-oriented policies for the agricultural sectors in the global South.
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Research Article| August 26 2021
Paul Burnett; Statistical Parables: Agricultural Economists, Development Discourse, and Paths to Modernization during the Cold War. History of Political Economy 2021; doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00182702-9414761
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