The History and Evolution of the Development Doctrine, 1950–2017

  • Erik ThorbeckeEmail author


The chapter examines the history and evolution of development doctrine. It suggests that the selection and adoption of a development strategy depend upon three building blocks: (1) the prevailing development objectives which, in turn, are derived from the prevailing view and definition of the development process; (2) the conceptual state of the art regarding the existing body of development theories, hypotheses, models, techniques, and empirical applications; and (3) the underlying data system available to diagnose the existing situation, measure performance, and test hypotheses. Development doctrine is then defined as the body of principles and knowledge resulting from the interrelated complex of these four elements that is accepted by the Development Community at that time. This analytical framework is applied to describe the state of the art that prevailed in each of the five decades (from the 1950s to the 1990s) and in the most recent period 2000 to 2017 to highlight in a systematic fashion the changing conception of the development process. Over the last 67 years the definition of development and strategies to achieve it, progressed and broadened from the maximization of GDP in the 1950s, to employment creation and the satisfaction of basic needs in the 1970s, to structural adjustment and stabilization in the 1980s and early 1990s, to poverty reduction, followed by sustainable and shared growth that dominated the scene until recently. The evolution in the conception of development culminated with the present broad-based concept of inclusive and sustainable growth. A parallel and similar progression occurred in development theory and in the coverage, comprehensiveness and quality of data and information. While development economics has followed a time path towards more experimental, multidisciplinary and more rigorous and scientific methodology, the present emphasis on microeconomic phenomena and randomized and controlled trials may have detracted researchers from exploring fundamental “big picture” macroeconomic phenomena.


History of development economics Evolution of development doctrine Shifting development objectives History of development theories 


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© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Cornell UniversityIthacaUSA

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