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Rachel Flanagan INTD 200 260794047 Development Theory Essay Early Development Theories and Tunnel Vision: How Overemphasis on Economics Led to the Inevitable Failure of Early Development Theories
Historically, development theory has largely been hyperfocused on economics rather than adopting a broad, holistic approach. Despite development groups’ best intentions, this perspective has been to the detriment of the people and places it purports to help. Beginning with the origins of development theory after the second World War, Modernization Theory failed to address the complexities and nuanced local dynamics that play significant roles in development. One of its main contributors was Walt W. Rostow, an economist who posited a theory on The Stages of Economic Growth. These stages included, “the traditional society, the preconditions for take-off, the take-off, the drive to maturity, and the age of high mass consumption,” (Rostow, 1959). According to Modernization Theory, all developing countries must go through these stages in pursuit of development. Dependency Theory responded to Modernization Theory with a similarly, purely economic viewpoint. To Dependency Theorists, the central root cause of underdevelopment is the perpetual, structural trade inequality that arose from the international division of labor and the core-periphery power relations between developed and underdeveloped nations post-colonization (Takamura, 2021). Despite their opposing arguments, both these early theories emphasized the role of economics in their explanations of development and neglected other variables. As author Wil Hout noted, the two theories, “share the conviction that development is essentially a process that is able to bring about progress,” and the approaches, “clearly focus on ‘macro-structures’ in their explanation of, and the barriers to, development,” (Hout, 2016). Following Modernization and Dependency theories, Neoliberalism further narrowed the field of development by centering solely on economics without regard for other important factors. Neoliberalism quickly became the dominant ideology in the development sphere and the implementation of the policies it inspired created lasting negative impacts which persist to this day. Early international development theories have overemphasized the role of economics as both the means and end of development and have failed to consider other aspects and circumstances leading to their inevitable failure to generate their intended results.

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