Development and Underdevelopment in the History of Economic Thought

ECLAC's economists on development and planning: from theory to policy advise.

Calcagno Adriana, Université Paris 1

The aim of this paper is to analyse the connexions and gaps between the theoretical elaborations on economic development and the policies proposed by the Economic Commission for Latin America (ECLA). This paper studies the writings of three emblematic ECLA economists – Furtado, Pinto and Prebisch – on development and planning, and assesses to what extent their thoughts were reflected on the official policy recommendations and technical assistance of ECLA. This research sheds light on the conditions of theoretical elaboration within an institution with diplomatic restrictions and pragmatic objectives. The three economists had similar conceptions, analysis and theories of economic development in Latin America. They viewed economic development in the region not as resulting from a progressive maturing of existing conditions, but as a conscious political decision to be taken by governments through development planning. They also considered that industrialisation would bring about economic development, as opposed to export-led growth based on primary commodities. They theorised the problems of investment, savings and capital accumulation linked to economic development. They explored the links and complementarity between the primary sector and the industrial sector, as well as the obstacles to structural change. Furtado proposed specific methods for economic planning, and ECLA's official studies advocated for the necessity of developing tools for economic planning and for the measurement of development. These tools, however, where not necessarily specific to their conception of economic development, but were necessary tools for implementing economic policies. Finally, the technical assistance to governments had to take diplomacy into account, as evidenced by the rejection of Furtado's 1956 critical report for the Mexican government. This event spurred controversy within ECLA about the degree of freedom on expert advice and partly led to Furtado's departure from ECLA.


Keywords: ECLAC, development, planning, policy