UAA Book Club Reviews

Why the West Rules — for Now: The Patterns of History and What They Reveal About the Future – By Ian Morris

Morris defines social development as “societies’ abilities to get things done – to shape their physical, economic, social and intellectual environments to their own ends.”  Asking why the West rules, Morris argues, involves finding answers to two questions: (1) Why the West is more developed, i.e. more able to get things done that any other region of the world.  And (2) Why Western development rose so high in the last two hundred years that for the first time in history a few countries could dominate the entire planet?

Most Western observers in the 19th and 20th century, according to Morris, took it for granted that social development is a good.  This is a position that many of us in the development community have also taken for granted. But today, as Morris also points out, “many people feel that environmental degradation, wars, inequality, and disillusionment that social development brings in its train far outweighs any benefits it generates.”

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Mellor, John W., Agricultural Development and Economic Transformation:  Promoting Growth with Poverty Reduction

An underlying premise of John Mellor’s new book is that poverty and lack of food security is due to lack of income, and not lack of food supply.  He again notes that traditional agriculture cannot achieve high growth rates without technological modernization. But in traditional agriculture, his new book distinguishes between small commercial farmers and rural non-farm households, with poverty concentrated in the latter.  Research has identified the main engine of economic growth and poverty reduction, where it has successfully occurred, as the dynamic process between increasing the productivity and income of small commercial farmers and their propensity to spend half their incremental income on locally available goods and services produced by rural non-farm households.  But for small commercial farmers to achieve sufficient technological modernization, substantial support from the government is required—for rural infrastructure like roads, education, electrification, agricultural research and extension.  The quantity and quality of foreign aid, and local government expenditures, in this area have declined since the 1980s, as has the rate of poverty reduction. 

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