Unequal Development & Underdevelopment

Continuing the "Thought Provokers" series from essential development studies reading, this post covers Samir Amin's 1976 "Unequal Development: An Essay on the Social Formations of Peripheral Capitalism." This work represents some of the earlier writing on ideas of unequal development, inequality and underdevelopment. Plenty of food for thought and discussion:

  • "External equilibrium – international order – is possible only because the structures of the periphery are shaped so as to meet the needs of accumulation at the center, that is, provided that the development of the center engenders and maintains the underdevelopment of the periphery." (p. 104)
  • "If exports from the periphery amount to about $35 billion, their value, if the rewards of labor were equivalent to what they are at the center, with the same productivity, would be about $57 billion. The hidden transfers of value from the periphery to the center, due to the mechanism of unequal exchange, are of the order of $22 billion, that is to say, twice the amount of the "aid" and the private capital that the periphery receives. One is certainly justified in talking about the plundering of the Third World." (p. 144)
  • "State aid to the underdeveloped countries, which made its appearance after the Second World War, fulfills a variety of functions. Apart from its political significance, this aid enables the contradiction between the inflow of private investments and outflow of profits to be overcome – in other words, it serves the vital function of maintaining the status quo, which imposes an unequal form of international specialization upon the periphery." (p. 182)
  • "Underdevelopment is manifested not in level of production per head, but in certain characteristic structural features that oblige us not to confuse the underdeveloped countries with the now advanced countries as they were at an earlier stage of their development. These features are: (1) the extreme unevenness that is typical of the distribution of productivities in the periphery, and in the system of prices transmitted to it from the center, which results from the distinctive nature of the peripheral formations and largely dictates the structure of the distribution of income in these formations; (2) the disarticulation due to the adjustment of the orientation of production in the periphery to the needs of the center, which prevents the transmission of benefits to economic progress from the poles of development to the economy as a whole; and (3) economic domination by the center, which is expressed in the form of international specialization (the structures of world trade in which the center shapes the periphery in accordance with its own needs) and in dependence of the structures whereby growth in the periphery is financed (the dynamic of the accumulation of foreign capital)." (p. 201-202)
  • "The periphery cannot just overtake the capitalist model; it is obliged to surpass it. In fact, it must radically revise the capitalist model of resource allocation and reject the rules of profitability. For choices made on the basis of profitability within the structure of relative prices prescribed by integration into the world system foster and reproduce the model of increasingly unequal distribution of income (and hence marginalization), restricting the country to the peripheral model of resource allocation. The action of righting the resource allocation process must largely be undertaken independently of the rules of the market…" (p. 383).
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