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Being a consultant "expert" in a developing country: the legacy and lessons of Albert Hirschman

P. G. Ardeni

Working Papers from Dipartimento Scienze Economiche, Universita' di Bologna

Abstract: After more than half a century, the reflections of Albert O. Hirschman on development assistance, the role of consultant 'experts' in providing policy advice and the 'visiting economist's syndrome' are still very current. In as much as Hirschman argued against all-encompassing policy frameworks, overall development plans and universal models, 'one-size-fits-all' models abstracting from the local, historical, geographic and institutional conditions have remained the prevailing modus operandi of international development agencies and governments in development assistance. In spite of Paul Krugman's criticism of Hirschman's lack of a mathematically-consistent approach in favor of an ad hoc pragmatism, Hirschman's avoidance of assuming a toy model to deal with practical issues and the specificities of development problems in different countries – while still using rigorous and detailed analysis– appears to be a promising attitude of enormous relevance even today. If the rejection of large-scale models of the hey days of development theory was due to the neoliberal policy wave that led to the 'Washington consensus' – more market and less State –, development assistance has remained firmly entrenched in the principles of balanced growth, all-encompassing liberalizing policy reforms and diffused marketization with an increasingly limited role for the State. Development assistance approaches have maintained a standard list of prescriptions, policy-reform recipes for all sectors, social, institutional and even political objectives, under the justification that 'everything depends on everything'. In this paper, I briefly review the evidence regarding the active pursuit of a paradigm that, sidelining Hirschman's unorthodox approach, has confirmed that we have 'forgotten nothing and learned nothing', as Hirschman once said. While Hirschmanian concepts like 'linkages' and 'leading sectors' and some of his famous parables – like the 'tunnel effect' on inequality – have left an enduring mark on economists' perspectives, his 'unbalanced-growth' has been dismissed on ineffectual grounds, while his 'empirical lantern' has been derided and abandoned. The lessons of Hirschman's consultant experience in the tropics have left a legacy that goes beyond his prescriptions: it is a philosophy, a conception of the world, a guiding sets of principles that survives time. From that wilderness where Hirschman led his followers, it is only by re-igniting that lantern that we can wisely contribute to the 'development' of others as savvy and informed 'experts'.

JEL-codes: B2 B3 O2 (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2014-09
New Economics Papers: this item is included in nep-ger, nep-his, nep-hme, nep-hpe and nep-pke
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