Volume 43, Number 171,
October-December 2012
Theories of Capitalist Development.
A Comparative Evaluation
Ignacio Trucco
The Response to Underdevelopment:
From Industrialization to the Dialectic of Dependence ( ...continuation )

We refer to the Prebisch-Singer thesis on the deterioration of the terms of trade. The Singer thesis of secular deterioration of the terms of trade finds its reasons in unequal distribution of the benefits resulting from increases in productivity in various sectors. The author expresses it in this way: The technical progress of the manufacturing industries was reflected in an increase in income, while the technical process in food production and raw materials for underdeveloped countries was reflected in a decrease in prices” (Singer, 1981b: 74).

This idea is supported by a set of justifications (it will be made clear why this word is used) that suppose a determined dynamic of supply and demand of primary and manufactured products in such a way that different social groups that participate in the production of merchandise in different countries reach a determined distribution of surplus. Singer concludes that this distribution is secularly unfavorable to countries that produce primary goods, and as such, they can never overcome the characteristics of underdevelopment. Singer writes: “The industrialized countries have had the best of both worlds, both as consumers of primary commodities and as producers of manufactured articles, whereas the underdeveloped countries had the worst of both worlds, as consumers of manufactures and as producers of raw materials” (Singer, 1975: 51)

Rolando Astarita proposes a critique of this approach that goes along with what this work is developing. Astarita makes clear the unexplained elements of the theory, which are also fundamental to this interpretation. In this sense, Astarita writes the following regarding the problems with the hypothesis of deterioration in the terms of trade:

Firstly, and perhaps most importantly, Prebisch (and maybe Singer too) ends up going back to an explanation based on the power relationships between unions and capital in his first argument, and in the market power relationships between capital of advanced countries and capital of underdeveloped countries. Prebisch maintains that cost mark-ups are different in advanced and lagging countries. But what is the level of this mark-up? How is it established? There is no theory regarding this, except to say that the level of the mark-up depends on the level of power to establish the mark-up [...] That is why this type of justification , lacking a general perspective, leads to a study of specific cases (Astarita, 2010: 139). —Italics are ours-.

The fact that these results culminate in the study of specific cases may be interpreted as its incapacity to provide general principles that would maintain a unified theory and also allow for deeper understanding of the spatial-temporal deployment of capitalism. These approaches are thus incapable of putting the constitutive elements of the scene in the center of the social system and the historical formation of the city is not, in and of itself, a scientific problem. This ontological difficulty is the point of departure for Rolando Astarita’s critique from the Hegelian and Marxist traditions.

Astarita talks about this topic and entitles a chapter of his work cited as “Dependence, Methodological Questions in Light of the Hegelian and Marxist Traditions” (2010: 65-85). In this chapter he develops Palma’s (1987) and Blomström and Hettne’s (1990) readings on the mistakes that led to the “current of dependency” (cd) and the type of exit that they proposed based on “dialectic interaction.” In general, Astarita agrees with these authors regarding their analysis of the cd. However, he shows the limits of “dialectic interaction” that they develop. He writes the following:

This perspective surpasses the mechanical and rigid approach of the abstract opposition and, as Hegel says, puts us on the verge of the dialectic concept, but does not guarantee a greater treatment of the antinomies and, for this very reason, as much as it tries to stay on this plane, it becomes sterile. In other words, it does not provide an exit because it is never provides specifics for how the touted interaction works . For this reason, the “third approach” of dependency, in spite of the fact that it points in the right direction, could not advance much farther than proposing the need to keep in mind the interaction between “the general” and “the specific” (or the “singulars”) (Astarita, 2010: 74).

Later on, Astarita shows how these limits are present in Cardoso and Faletto’s (2007) sociological interpretation of underdevelopment, which Palma (1987) understood as a “superior” theory.

In this sense, Astarita warns of the scope of static social theory regarding the problem of the historical deployment of the “modern bourgeoisie society” (according to the famous expression that Marx coins in the Manifesto ).

Various authors of dependency theory have approximated the interpretation of underdevelopment in the context of a more general theory of the history of the modern bourgeoisie society. Not only Cardoso and Faletto can be cited on this topic. Celso Furtado has also reflected on the historical evolution of capitalist accumulation, highlighting the traditions illustrated for modernist social progress.

Published in Mexico, 2012-2017 © D.R. Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM).
PROBLEMAS DEL DESARROLLO. REVISTA LATINOAMERICANA DE ECONOMÍA, Volume 49, Number 192, January-March is a quarterly publication by the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Ciudad Universitaria, Coyoacán, CP 04510, México, D.F. by Instituto de Investigaciones Económicas, Circuito Mario de la Cueva, Ciudad Universitaria, Coyoacán,
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