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The Globalization and Development Reader: Perspectives on Development and Global Change, 2nd Edition by Nitsan Chorev, Amy Bellone Hite, J. Timmons Roberts

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4 Economic Backwardness in Historical Perspective (1962)

Alexander Gerschenkron

[…]

The Elements of Backwardness

A good deal of our thinking about industrialization of backward countries is dominated – consciously or unconsciously – by the grand Marxian generalization according to which it is the history of advanced or established industrial countries which traces out the road to development for the more backward countries. “The industrially more developed country presents to the less developed country a picture of the latter’s future.”1 There is little doubt that in some broad sense this generalization has validity. It is meaningful to say that Germany, between the middle and the end of the last century, followed the road which England began to tread at an earlier time. But one should beware of accepting such a generalization too whole-heartedly. For the half-truth that it contains is likely to conceal the existence of the other half – that is to say, in several very important respects the development of a backward country may, by the very virtue of its backwardness, tend to differ fundamentally from that of an advanced country.

It is the main proposition of this essay that in a number of important historical instances industrialization processes, when launched at length in a backward country, showed considerable differences, as compared with more advanced countries, not only with regard to the speed of the development (the rate of industrial growth) but also with regard ...

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