Saturday, December 01, 2007


Forty years ago Simon Kuznets' pioneering studies of national income disclosed a significant relationship between income and inequality, such that:

a rise in income in low income countries tended to be consistant with greater inequality; a rise in income in high income countries tended to be consistant with less inequality.

From this empirical fact the "Kuznets curve" was theorised, illustrating a supposedly universal pattern of development whereby as an economy develops inequality first rises then falls.

This procedure involves an extra presupposition. Economies are considered as effective parallels of each other. Their interrelation and the way they function as part of a unified world economy is abstracted from.

This was never the cutting edge of neoliberal development theory, but the assumptions made here have to be considered in the context of practical measures in this sphere: the decades of IMF austerity measures etc. It goes some way toward furnishing these policies with a theoretical basis, or at least a post hoc explanation.

The consequent story about development also, deliberately or accidentally, has certain features in common with victorian moralising. And it wouldn't be too surprising to see a trickle down version of this theory in the pages of The Economist militating for the underdeveloped world to "take its medecine".

Are we obliged to consider this universalisation of the European and American experience, which provides a rationale for the programmes of their proxy, as an example of the sort of phenomenon Edward Saïd discusses in Orientalism? One important differance is that the presuppositions of something like the Kuznets curve typify mere disinterest rather than an aggressive objectification. The pathology differs.

No comments: