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Developmentalism is an economic theory which states that the best way for less developed economies to develop is through fostering a strong and varied internal market and imposing high tariffs on imported goods.

Developmentalism is a cross-disciplinary school of thought[1] that gave way to an ideology of development as the key strategy towards economic prosperity. The school of thought was, in part, a reaction to the United States’ efforts to oppose national independence movements throughout Asia and Africa, which it framed as communist.[1] Developmentalism in the international economic context can be understood as consisting of a set of ideas which converge to place economic development at the center of political endeavors and institutions and also as a means through which to establish legitimacy in the political sphere. Adherents to the theory of developmentalism hold that the sustained economic progress grants legitimate leadership to political figures, especially in developing nations (in Latin America and East Asia) who would otherwise not have the benefit of a unanimous social consensus for their leadership or their international policy with regards to industrialized countries. Developmentalists believe that national autonomy for 'Third World' countries can be achieved and maintained through the utilization of external resources by those countries in a capitalist system. To those professed ends, developmentalism was the paradigm used in an attempt to reverse the negative impact that the international economy was having on developing countries in the 1950s–60s, at the time during which Latin American countries had begun to implement import substitution strategies. Using this theory, economic development was framed by modern-day Western criteria: economic success is gauged in terms of capitalistic notions of what it means for a country to become developed, autonomous, and legitimate.[2]

The theory is based on the assumption that not only are there similar stages to development for all countries but also that there is a linear movement from one stage to another that goes from traditional or primitive to modern or industrialized.[3]

Though initially the preserve of emerging economies in the Asia Pacific area, Latin America and Africa, the notion of developmentalism has resurfaced more recently in the developed world - notably in the economic planks of 'unorthodox' policy makers such as Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders in the United States.[4]

These policies shifted focus from reconstruction to development to poverty reduction, created a demand for global development intervention and shift from exploitation to development U.S. aid programme, and created norms and statistics for international donors.

Criticism

The implementation of developmentalist ideologies has been critiqued in multiple lights, both by the right and by the left.

Developmentalism is often accused by the left (though not only by the left) of having an ideology of neocolonialism at its root. Developmentalist strategies use a Eurocentric viewpoint of development, a viewpoint that often goes hand in hand with the implication that non-European societies are underdeveloped. As such, it gives way for the perpetuation of Western dominance over such underdeveloped nations, in a neocolonialist fashion.[15] Developed nations such as the United States have been accused of seizing opportunities of disaster for their own benefit in what is known as "disaster capitalism.” Disaster capitalism, a term used by neocolonialism at its root. Developmentalist strategies use a Eurocentric viewpoint of development, a viewpoint that often goes hand in hand with th

Developmentalism is often accused by the left (though not only by the left) of having an ideology of neocolonialism at its root. Developmentalist strategies use a Eurocentric viewpoint of development, a viewpoint that often goes hand in hand with the implication that non-European societies are underdeveloped. As such, it gives way for the perpetuation of Western dominance over such underdeveloped nations, in a neocolonialist fashion.[15] Developed nations such as the United States have been accused of seizing opportunities of disaster for their own benefit in what is known as "disaster capitalism.” Disaster capitalism, a term used by Naomi Klein, describes the process in which situations of financial crisis are used in order to force an emergency opening of the free market in order to regain economic stability. This happened in the examples of Argentina, Chile, Bolivia, and post-Katrina New Orleans, among others.[8] Developmentalist ideas also portray the Western ideal of development and democracy as an evolutionary course of history. In Eric Wolf’s book, Europe and the People without History, Wolf shows, through a long history of examples, that the Western world is only one of many visions of the world, and to view it as the pinnacle of a linear world evolutionary chain would be inaccurate.[16] Developmentalist strategies often implicate that history is on a unilateral path of evolution towards development, and that cultural derivations have little implication in the final product.

From the right, critics say that developmentalist strategies deny the free market its autonomy. By creating a state controlled market economy, it takes away the organic nature in which a market is meant to be created. They argue that developmentalist strategies have not generally worked in the past, leaving many countries, in fact, worse off than they were before they began state-controlled development. This is due to a lack of freedom in the free market and its constrictive nature. In turn, it is argued, reactive totalitarian forces take hold of the government in response to Western intervention, such as Chávez's Venezuela and Ortega’s Nicaragua, creating even more complex problems for the Western vision of development.[17]

Socio-anthropologists criticize the developmentalism as a form of social change implemented by an exogenous party. This creates what is called the developmentalist configuration.[18]

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