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Development is Uneven, Get Over It

UPDATE: out of 188 recorded songs on all Beatles albums, how many are now hits on iTunes? See end of post.

This a 20 minute extemporaneous talk at UNICEF headquarters in New York on the topic of “Inclusive Growth”. After the talk, there is a question, comment, and response session with the audience.  The full video is an hour, if you are really a masochist. (Try this link if the video player above doesn’t work.)

To summarize the talk: success is intrinsically uneven, so development and growth is intrinsically uneven, not “inclusive”. (See the earlier post about the fractal stubborness of uneven geographic wealth.) In this talk, I also mention how remarkably uneven success shows up in just about every field of endeavor. One way this shows up is in a “power law”: there is such a strong negative relationship between the frequency of success and the scale of success that we have to use a logarithmic scale (i.e. a scale where every unit increase means multiplying by 10)  for both to be able to fit the extremes onto the graph, like the one below:

There is no evidence that large-scale redistribution programs can succeed without killing off growth, but targeting things like health and education to the poor has worked and could work even more. Lastly, the best thing of all you can do for “inclusive growth” is asserting the individual human rights of all, including women, gays, and religious, racial, and ethnic minorities. For more detail to fill out these ideas, please watch the video.

UPDATE: Answer to how many Beatles  hits out of 188 recorded songs on their 14 albums are hits today: 15. Even the most successful band in rock history could only produce a lasting hit about 8% of the time (please draw your own profound insights into the intrinsic unevenness of success and non-inclusive growth).

(Sorry about my really excessive Beatle-mania, it’s a Baby Boomer thing, you wouldn’t understand.)

PS highly imperfect methodology for measuring hits today: the popularity metre on iTunes gets maxed out for hits, all others (most showing zero popularity) are non-hits.

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  1. Johan wrote:

    Bolsa familia? You can disagree with the programme and even feel that it kills off growth but to suggest that there is no evidence whatsoever that it has succeeded and growth has not been killed is rather off.

    Posted December 7, 2010 at 2:00 am | Permalink
  2. Jim wrote:

    Not to mention land reform in Korea and Taiwan, and the continued prosperity of Scandinavia. But no doubt Bill will be along to tell us that wasn’t really what he meant.

    Posted December 7, 2010 at 4:44 am | Permalink
  3. I believe that the following NGO’s distribution programs are succeeding and not killing growth: Tropical seeds from ECHO, moringa seeds from Trees for lLife, better animals from Heifer, better grain seeds from Gates Foundation (PASS program), drip irrigation equipment from IDE, water well drilling equipment (World Vision), etc. Are these programs distribution programs or redistribution programs? Should better food storage equipment such as home canning equipment be distributed or will this kill growth? In general should capital goods needed by the BOP in order to make a living as well as improve food and water security be distributed or should they only be sold?

    Posted December 7, 2010 at 10:33 am | Permalink
  4. Chris wrote:

    Bill, you speak of development as being uneven, and it certainly is in terms of what types of firms and sectors succeed. But the cross-country evidence is that within countries over time, development is not uneven in terms of income. Growth in per capita income is pretty much uncorrelated with changes in inequality. Or do you prefer to think in terms of absolute inequality, rather than relative inequality (which most inequality indices measure)? If so, can you elaborate on why?

    Posted December 7, 2010 at 2:55 pm | Permalink
  5. terence wrote:

    What Jim said.

    Posted December 9, 2010 at 1:43 am | Permalink

One Trackback

  1. […] One last point before I end this. Eric mentions “the extent to which growth has (or hasn’t) been spread across the classes.” Bill Easterly recently posted a video of a talk of his in which he says that rapid growth — and more generally development — happens in an uneven way. As one person put it, inclusive and uneven are not antonyms. You can have uneven growth which is inclusive. I recommend his post (with the embedded video), “Development is uneven, get over it.” […]

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    The Aid Watch blog is a project of New York University's Development Research Institute (DRI). This blog is principally written by William Easterly, author of "The Elusive Quest for Growth: Economists' Adventures and Misadventures in the Tropics" and "The White Man's Burden: Why the West's Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good," and Professor of Economics at NYU. It is co-written by Laura Freschi and by occasional guest bloggers. Our work is based on the idea that more aid will reach the poor the more people are watching aid.

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