Back to development
Jaime Ornelas Delgado*

reality is undermining the out-dated schema of the international division of labour, which achieved great importance in the nineteenth century and, as a theoretical concept, continued to exert considerable influence until very recently.

Under that schema, the specific task that fell to Latin America, as part of the periphery of the world economic system, was that of producing food and raw materials for the great industrial centers. There was no place within it for the industrialization of new countries. It is nevertheless being forced upon them by events” (Prebisch, 1949: 2)

So while technical progress is based in central countries, the advantages of development in productivity never reach periphery countries. This is proved by the vast differences in life styles between central and periphery countries, and the discrepancies in the relative strength of their capitalization, “since the margin of savings depends primarily on an increase in productivity.” As Prebisch concludes, “The idea of capitalism expanding the world over, bringing spontaneously with it the development of the periphery, is myth” (Prebisch, 1980: VII).

Finally, what enabled Prebisch and ECLAC to develop their theory of unequal exchange between the center and the periphery, as they called the industrialized West and the Third World exporter of primary materials, was breaking away from neoclassical ideas and proposing, for example, regularization and social intervention in economic activity. Additionally, the State should drive imports or recognize underdevelopment as a condition determined by economic structure and not as a stage of development. With this, the theory of development acquired new horizons and opened up paths beyond those originally set out by the metropolitan economists.


Aware as we are that historical time is not linear and that it is impossible for our nations to follow a path mapped out by countries who, according to their own measures, have the highest levels of development, it is left to Latin Americans to construct their own theory, one in which the people promote change and are the sole beneficial owners of their performance.

Some of the essential elements in the debate on a new theory of development are likely to be: the kind of State and democracy required for development, such as how much and where the State should intervene; and agriculture, which was given little mention in urban theories of development. This should occupy a more important place in future theories of development, as Ugo Pipitone cautions: “There is no case on a global scale of industrial development being sustained in the long term and it would became a factor of national productive integration, without the backing of agricultural structure, both efficient and with a wide social base (Pipitone, 1997: 18). Without doubt, further work on development should include agriculture as a source of added value and an employment opportunity. As capitalist production methods have caused damage to the environment and depleted natural resources, further work on development should view daily life in harmony with nature. Another factor that is particularly important on the development agenda is a move towards a process of regional integration capable of enhancing effective development in the Latin American nations. Integration without submission is not only necessary but possible.

In conclusion, a new theory of development should focus primarily on the theoretical ideas developed in Latin America, without ignoring other experiences. Her struggles and desires should be put to one side, opening up a legitimate path for the pursuit of an egalitarian society, one that is inclusive, fraternal, democratic and founded upon solidarity.

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