Development and Underdevelopment in the History of Economic Thought

An Evolutionary Theory of Development and Sustainability

Assa Jacob, UNDP

Two of the leading critiques of mainstream economics are the human development paradigm – with its focus on human capabilities and freedoms – and the environmental sustainability approach. Both are reaction to decades of excessive focus on economic growth, at the expense of both people and planet. However, neither approach has managed to change the course of events, as rising inequalities and accelerating climate change demonstrate. This paper explains why, by taking a long-term evolutionary approach. Humans have been able to dominate other species and the planet due to their ability to think of and communicate abstract ideas. These in turn allowed us to develop organizational (political) powers, and productive (economic) powers. While these two powers have historically been in balance with each other, the industrial revolution strengthened the economic over the political, leading to a power disequilibrium. This is the underlying cause of the two symptoms we see today – inequality between people, and between humanity and the planet. The paper concludes with ways to return to balance between the two spheres, while avoiding the pitfalls of totalitarian regimes. It highlights community-run energy systems and local non-profit banks as two ways to rebalance our world.


Keywords: Evolution, history of economic thought, institutions, sustainability, development

Paper file