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MODULE 9

By Harry Morris,2014-05-07 21:23
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MODULE 9

MODULE 10:

    GEOGRAPHIES OF UNEVEN DEVELOPMENT

    Context

    The concept of „development‟ is, like many others that we have discussed in this course, one that

    we take for granted. But we shouldn‟t. It has an historic status. It is one that comes into being

    over a certain period of time, slowly acquiring the meanings that we associate with it today. The

    idea would have been alien to pre-modern peoples. Although it is true that once they acquired the

    skills of reading and writing, a record of their history could be compiled so that their

    „development‟ could, if necessary, be assessed, there was no compelling desire to read their

    histories in that particular way. They lacked the sort of future-orientation characteristic of

    modern societies, whose members are always planning something bigger and better, movement

    from what is judged to be a less desirable state to a more desirable one.

Even so, under modernity the idea of „development‟ does not spring forward immediately in its

    current associations of economic improvement. The earlier idea is „progress‟. This has a number

    of manifestations, including the idea of „civilization‟ as progress and therefore as something that

    indigenous peoples, subordinated by the European powers, should be grateful for. The

    contemporary meaning is actually quite recent. The ideas of „development banks‟, the

    distinction between „developed‟ and „developing countries‟, the writing of books on the process

    of „development‟, the creation of government Departments and Ministries of Development, are a

    post-World War II phenomenon. Quite why this is so is complex. It is associated with

    decolonization as the European powers granted independence to many new countries around the

    world. Within the „developed‟ world it is registered by a new interest in „economic growth‟. The

    latter is almost certainly associated with the emergence of the welfare state and the need to hold

    popular aspirations in check by counterposing the need for economic growth if living standards

    were to improve. In the case of the „developing‟, newly decolonized countries it is more complex.

    In part it is a new language through which the more developed countries sought to maintain their

    power in those countries through a rhetoric of helping in their „development‟ and to counter the

    view that their objectives were indeed of a self-interested sort. In part, however, it also reflects

    events and pressures within the decolonized countries. Given their formally democratic character

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there was an attempt to appeal to the improvement of the well-being of the mass of the

    population, for instance.

    But what exactly is meant by the idea of „development‟? For most people it signifies enhanced real incomes allowing increasing consumption and diversification of what is consumed. This in

    turn depends on the development of productivity in an economy and the ability, in virtue of

    market conditions, to turn those advantages into increased revenue streams for corporations and,

    ultimately, their workers and their governments. In this sense „development‟ has the potential to

    be materially emancipating and, in fact, to some degree is. It has lightened the burden of labor in

    that it has allowed an increase in leisure time: shorter workday, shorter workweek, and increased

    vacations. We should note that labor has not been lightened to the degree that it might have been

    since the shopping basket of goods has increased and this means that there has to be labor to

    produce the additions.

Geographies of Unevenness

    1.A History of Unevenness

    Although the indications are that as late as 1700 the wealth of China and India was on a par with

    that of Western Europe, during the nineteenth century the latter, joined by North America, drew

    rapidly ahead laying the foundations for the sharp inequalities observable today: inequalities

    signified by such categories as First and Third Worlds, „developed‟ and „developing countries‟ or

    „more developed‟ and „less developed countries‟ – categories which are, of course, the common

    argot of the media, not to say more academic discussions.

What made the difference was the industrial revolution, itself a result of an earlier capitalist

    revolution in the social relations of production; and also in the power that that industrial

    revolution gave respective governments to impose themselves on other peoples around the world,

    particularly in the form of military power. It is, moreover, remarkable that most of the countries

    that were „more developed‟ in the second half of the nineteenth century and those that were „less

    developed‟ remain so one hundred and fifty years later, with the exception of Japan. This suggests that an early start down the path to industrialization was extremely important and that

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earliness could provide advantages in preventing later contenders from achieving the same

    advantages in terms of productivity and therefore wealth.

This is an extremely important observation. There is a stream of thought in the social sciences

    which suggests that all countries go through the same stages of economic development. The most

    well-known expression of this was W W Rostow‟s book, The Stages of Economic Growth. But

    there is an alternate view that suggests a continuing relationship between developed and less

    developed countries that impedes the latter from going down the same developmental path and

    which consigns them to inferior positions in the international division of labor. The idea that an

    early start matters immensely for preserving relative advantages of wealth and therefore of

    military power over other countries is consistent with the latter view and not with the former.

    This is because the idea that countries go through the same stages of development assumes,

    implicitly at least, that countries don‟t interact with one another, that their respective

    corporations don‟t compete with one another and attempt to impose competitive disadvantages on each other: a fond thought indeed!

This does not mean to say that the less developed countries have not had their development

    programs. Typically these have focused on industrial development. Given the association

    between industry and higher incomes something we will comment on later this does not seem

    to be an unreasonable approach. A common approach in the immediate post-WWII years was

    programs of import substitution. The aim was to produce domestically products that were

    imported in exchange for exports of raw-materials (i.e., the Old International Division of Labor

    to which reference was made in an earlier Module). The device for doing this was the imposition

    of trade restrictions on imports so as to protect domestic producers. Continuing exports of raw-

    materials would then be used to fund not imports of consumer goods, but imports of the machinery, perhaps some of the raw-materials, needed to manufacture those goods domestically.

These programs achieved some degree of success, particularly in the production of consumer

    goods which did not require highly skilled workers or industrial experience: things like soap,

    razor blades, some cosmetics, packaged foodstuffs. But more recently there has been a shift

    away from import substitution programs to what can best be called export substitution programs:

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development policies, that is, designed to shift the composition of exports away from minerals,

    lumber, foodstuffs and other primary products, to exports of manufactures. To the extent that

    they are successful in these policies, then these countries assume new positions in the

    international division of labor. Not only that, the international division of labor itself changes in that instead of concentrating on exports of primary products we find a number of less developed

    countries, including Mexico, Thailand, South Africa, India and certainly China, of course,

    exporting manufactured goods or services.

Emphatically, however, this success in developing some industry does not signify convergence

    on the more developed countries and on the levels of wealth with which they are associated.

    Some have argued that this means increasing competition for the products of the more developed

    world, for example. As a result, in order to compete with low wage costs for industry in the

    developing countries, wages in Western Europe, North America, the antipodes, must decline

    resulting in a so-called „race to the bottom‟. It is at this point, however, that several cautionary

    remarks must be entered.

The idea of convergence, the „race to the bottom‟, is based on several assumptions about our

    (recent) globalizing world. The first are transportation improvements so that products,

    components can be moved around increasingly cheaply and in some instances speedily: one

    thinks here of such innovations as the container and the increasing cheapness of air cargo. The

    second is the de-skilling of labor processes. To the extent that manufacturing processes are de-

    skilled, to the extent, that is, that the labor process is redesigned so as to require minimum skills and on the job training, then those processes can be relocated to developing countries which have

    the cheap labor but not the skills that would have otherwise been required.

These assumptions about the changing conditions of industrial location, however, are highly

    oversimplified and this at least must cast considerable doubt on the future of the developing

    countries. Note, in particular, the following:

    i. The de-skilling of labor processes is highly uneven. Some have indeed been simplified so

    that they can be engaged in by the relatively unskilled labor of developing societies: the

    manufacture of iron and steel, shipbuilding, some assembly work. But there remain many,

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many labor processes which continue to be highly skill- and knowledge-intensive; the

    manufacture of airplanes, computers, computer software, electric turbines, medical

    equipment, machine tools, to mention just a very few.

    ii. Similarly uneven is access to cheap, timely transportation. This has always been the case.

    The less developed parts of the globe have never enjoyed the same sorts of advantages in

    this regard as the more developed. They have always had lower railroad densities

    meaning that their access to cheap, speedy bulk transportation has been very limited. Not

    surprisingly the big success stories in the developing world are coastal areas like those of

    China which enjoy easy access to ocean transportation, or major cities like Bangkok,

    Jakarta, Hong Kong, Singapore and Kuala Lumpur with their enhanced airline

    connections as well as superior internal transport systems.

    iii. The markets for many industrial products remain in the developed countries and the

    closeness of their producers, despite the increasing cheapness and speediness of long

    distance transportation, remains an issue. Plants in developed countries take deliveries

    from ones elsewhere, for example, but lengthy delivery lines can add to the expense of

    defective parts. The longer the delivery line the less frequent, the larger, deliveries are

    likely to be. That means that when defects are discovered by the firm using the parts,

    there will be large numbers still in transit, even though the problem at the producing end

    1 can be quickly solved. This is one reason firms prefer local rather than more distant

    iv. Even if there was a relatively uniform access to the means of transportation and suppliers, at least with products where defects are likely to be a problem.

    communication across the face of the earth that would not imply convergence in degrees

    of industrialization across different places. One of the effects of increasing convergence

    in degrees of accessibility to other places is to heighten the importance of other

    differences between places as locations for economic activity. So along with time-space

    convergence, the cheapening of transportation there are also tendencies to increasing

    differentiation between places. The differentiation between the more developed countries

    as sites for more skill- and knowledge-intensive activities and the developing countries as

    sites for the less skill- and knowledge intensive is indicative of this. So too is the

    increasing variety of places as tourist destinations, as discussed by Allen and Hamnett:

    1 This would not be an issue, in other words, with bulk products like metals or foodstuffs.

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    places of mass tourism, places that are more up-market, eco-tourist destinations, safari

    holidays, archaeological holidays and so on without improved transportation that sort of

    differentiation would simply be impossible.

We should not be surprised, therefore, that the industrialization of developing countries quickly

    meets its limits. Much of the investment that results in industrial employment is on behalf of

    foreign companies but most of this is within the more developed world. Large areas of the world

    are ignored. As Allen and Hamnett state: “… the vast majority of the world is off the map of multinational investment in so far as technology and jobs are concerned.”

Not only that, most of the investment in industry in the developing world is in lower skill labor

    processes or parts of the labor process, as one might expect given the importance of de-skilling

    to such investment. In many cases industrial plants in developing countries are part of the spatial

    divisions of labor of firms which have their headquarters, their more skill- and knowledge-

    intensive production in more developed parts of the world. Their plants in developing countries,

    or the firms to whom they subcontract, then provide those components which can be fabricated

    using workers will little or no skill or industrial experience: but cheaper workers. This is not to

    say that the multinational corporation has been the only means for industrialization in developing

    countries. In some cases domestically owned industry has proven effective in carving out niches

    in wider, international markets. South Korea, Taiwan and Brazil are excellent cases in point. In

    those particular instances, moreover, there has been some tendency to graduate to industries

    requiring more skill and knowledge and this has sometimes been a matter of national policy, as

    in South Korea.

2. Geographically Uneven Development and the Geographic Division of Labor

    Geographically uneven development is closely associated with the geographic division of labor.

    The wealthier, more „developed‟ countries tend to be those which produce those products and

    services requiring higher levels of skill, sophistication and experience. The very poor countries

    are still consigned largely to producing raw-materials: minerals and foodstuffs, perhaps, as in the

    case of Zambia (copper), Bolivia (tin), Ecuador (bananas and some oil) and Ghana (cocoa).

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    Nevertheless, there is an important qualification to this picture. While less developed countries do indeed concentrate on primary products for export and more developed countries are the source of manufactured goods, especially those requiring higher levels of skill in their production, the more developed countries have always had exports of primary products. Recall that in the

    nineteenth century Britain was a major exporter of coal. Today the US exports coal along with wheat, corn and cotton. Canada, in addition to its exports of manufactured goods, exports grain, timber and non-ferrous metals. Norway is a manufacturer of high precision machinery but also exports timber, fish and oil. And so it goes. This means that the Old International Division of Labor between manufacturing countries and those producing minerals, timber and foodstuffs was always a gross oversimplification. It wasn‟t that there was no such specialization. It was just that the more developed countries also contributed to exports of primary products and still do.

    So more developed and less developed countries share some sectors. The US produces copper as do Chile and Zambia. Canada, Norway and the United Kingdom produce oil but so do far less wealthy countries, including Iran, Iraq, Malaysia and Venezuela. Similarly while less developed countries are now engaging in the production of manufactures for exports, their manufactures still overlap to some degree with those of more developed countries: China and Brazil are major producers of shoes, but so is Italy. China has also become important in garment manufacture but the France, Germany, Italy and the US have not totally retreated from the market.

    To some degree this overlap in manufacturing can be explained by the fact that the markets they are oriented to are different. Brazil and China produce shoes more for the low end of the market and Italy for the higher end, for example. But this apart, when the overlaps are examined, whether they be in primary products or in manufacturing, typically the more developed countries produce at higher levels of productivity. The US coal miner produces more coal than his South African counterpart. The productivity of those in the cotton textiles industry of South Carolina exceeds that of their Chinese counterparts. Productivity in the Western European iron and steel industry still exceeds that achieved in South Korea.

    These productivity advantages exist for a number of reasons. One is simply the improved training of the workers: higher levels of literacy, ability to read instructions, operate

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computerized equipment, do calculations. This greater education allows the use of machinery

    that allows workers to be more productive, of course. It is also in part a matter of superior

    habituation to the norms of industrialism: a greater adherence to time discipline for example

    something that comes with length of exposure to factory work.

Yet despite these productivity advantages, nevertheless some manufacturing and primary

    production has been siphoned off to less developed countries. This has been especially the case

    in deskilled labor processes where the weak industrial skills of workers in developing countries

    are not an obstacle to production. What is attractive to producers is the level of wages. In the 2 In some cases it is possible to produce at a lower wage cost per unit in less

    more developed countries there is strong upward pressure on wages as new industries emerge as developed countries and that is the condition for so-called export substitution there: the growth

    potential employers.of manufactured exports to displace some of the emphasis hitherto on exports of primary

    products.

Wages in less developed countries will be lower for a variety of reasons. Not the least of these is

    their existing specialization in primary products. These are activities which it is relatively easy

    for other less developed countries to do as well, so markets are intensely competitive and

    improvements in productivity tend, in consequence, to be passed on to consumers, including

    industrial firms located in the more developed world and final consumers too. Overproduction of

    primary commodities, be they coffee, coal or copper or even oil, as Agnew and Knox point out

     is more the general rule than the exception with resultant depression of prices.

3. The Politics of Geographically Uneven Development

    No wonder that developing countries want to be developed! But this is something they find hard

    to do. Part of the reason is what was pointed out earlier: the advantages of an early start, which,

    of course, they don‟t have and, such is the nature of the case, never will. No matter what industry

    we are talking about cotton textiles, iron and steel, coal mining, the automobile industry, the

2 The more developed countries are those where new products the automobile, the TV,

    synthetic fabrics, the computer tend to emerge for the first time and be commercialized. This has in part to do with superior educational systems.

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machine tool industry, consumer electronics they were first established in the more developed

    countries of Western Europe and North America. Firms producing these things grew in size,

    managed to achieve economies of scale, acquired the financial resources for investing in new

    technologies that would allow their workers to become more productive and so on. As a result

    when firms in less developed countries turned to their production they were at a severe

    disadvantage. The only way they could produce and remain in business was behind the

    protection of tariff barriers. For without them their products would be uncompetitive with those

    produced in more developed countries with more productive labor.

As we have seen, there has been some change. Some industries have been decanted to a degree to

    the developing world: the cheaper varieties of shoes and garments along with some iron and steel

    production, for example. But this has depended in the first place on the deskilling of labor

    processes. In the second place it has depended on the willingness of the more developed

    countries to admit those products to their markets. This has happened slowly, though where it is

    multinationals based in those countries that have been the medium for this relocation, it has been

    easier since they have had some lobbying power with their governments. But for many

    developing countries it has not happened fast enough, which helps explain the program of „Third

    Worldism‟ described in Reading #11. Moreover, as we have seen in our discussions of the

    interventions of the IMF, industrial interests and their government backers in the developed

    countries are more than ready to seize on any opportunity through which they can destroy the

    nascent industries of developing countries which are becoming their competitors, or buy them up

    and then close them down or restructure their operations to their specifications rather than those

    of the national business class whose government has had to go cap in hand to the IMF.

All this would suggest that integration into a global economy is a major obstacle to

    industrialization in the developing world. It is in this context that we can make sense of the

    communist experiment (discussed in Reading # 11). The soviet idea was to plan the economy,

    allocating production quotas to different industries so that they produced (e.g.) exactly what was

    needed by other sectors or by final consumers, and no less and no more. Planning of this nature

    precluded all but miniscule amounts of foreign trade since it depended on tight control of

    producers. At earlier stages of industrialization it clearly proved an effective strategy, though

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when the demand for a more diverse and difficult to project shopping basket of goods became a

    consideration, a good deal of that effectiveness was lost: which helps to explain the collapse of

    the Soviet Union as a politico-economic project.

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