Development and Underdevelopment in the History of Economic Thought

Hans Singer: The Influence of Schumpeter and Keynes on a Pioneer of Development Economics

Harald Hagemann, University of Hohenheim

Hans Wolfgang Singer (1910-2006) was an outstanding pioneer of development economics best known for his study on the long-run relative decline of prices for primary products compared to prices of manufacturing goods thus discriminating against developing countries, which gave way to the Prebisch-Singer hypothesis.Time and again Singer emphasized the intellectual stimulus he had received by Schumpeter and Keynes in his formative years. Singer had started his doctoral thesis on Kondratieff cycles at Bonn with Schumpeter as his supervisor in 1931 just after the latter had become fascinated with long waves and entered into the conceptualization of a scheme of long-run capitalist development superposing various cycles. Due to Schumpeter's recommendation Hans Singer received the first research scholarship for a young graduate, whose career had been cut short by the Nazis, in Cambridge where he was under the strong influence by Keynes, Richard Kahn and Colin Clark (thesis supervisor). During the Cambridge period the unemployment problems of the depression years and Keynes’s attack on classical economics engraved on the young Singer. As Hirschman (1981) has emphasized Keynes had a strong indirect influence on development economics in its formative period by overcoming orthodox mono-economics and by his analysis of unemployment which provided the basis for Joan Robinson’s conceptualization of “disguised unemployment”. Emphasis on the mass phenomenon of hidden unemployment as a crucial characteristic of underdevelopment was a common theme in the pioneering contributions to the new subdiscipline by Rosenstein-Rodan, Mandelbaum and Nurkse up to the most elaborated version in Arthur Lewis(1954).The overcoming of neoclassical mono-economics paved the way for the incorporation of historical and institutional aspects or elements of Schumpeter's 'economic sociology'. Thus Singer emphasized that there can be no blueprint for development that is suitable for all backward economies.

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Keywords: development economics, Prebisch-Singer hypothesis, Keynes, Schumpeter, hidden unemployment