Developing from the Inside Up

17 April 2015

Last week’s TWOG questioned the “level playing field” of economic development: that a country has to throw open its markets to foreign competition if its economy is to take off. In this global game, the New York Giants take on some high school team form Timbuktu. Guess who wins.

The Globalization Model

This is but one model of economic development, which we can call globalization; it works from the outside-in. Thankfully, there are two others. But this one dominates our beliefs, if not our reality.

Check its record: you may be surprised: No major economy ever developed this way, not the U.K, not Japan, not South Korea, not even the United States.1

The Interventionist Model

So enter a second model, which we can call interventionist, and depict it as top-down. It explains more of the successful reality. Economies grow behind various government efforts to promote and protect their national enterprises.

These efforts have taken a variety of forms. Most common have been protective tariffs, even in what have since become the wealthiest countries of the world. Common too has been the state construction or subsidization of national infrastructures to help businesses develop—for example, dams for power generation and highways to move goods. The U.S. government granted land for the building of privately-owned railroads, at the same time that it was maintaining significant tariff barriers.

The interventionist model took its most extreme form under the communist regimes of Eastern Europe, with their comprehensive five-year plans and extensive ownership of economic enterprises. Happily for their people, those days are over. Unhappily for them, and many other people, this was replaced by the globalization model, which has since been promoted as the only game in town. (See the TWOG of November 7, entitled “Has the Berlin Wall fallen on us?”)

Once again, check the reality. The interventionist model is alive and well throughout the world, if not in this extreme form. Or sometimes it is alive and sick, because while the rich countries force the globalization game on poor countries, they themselves cheat by playing the interventionist game, for example by using tariffs or domestic subsidies to keep the agricultural produce of poor countries out of their own markets.

Of course, tariff barriers have mostly come down. But subsidies to domestic enterprises have not, as in the case of cheap loans to help them sell their goods abroad. Some of this may be justified, in helping young enterprises to get off the ground. But these interventions have hardly been limited to that. Tune in to all the accusations that Airbus and Boeing fling at each other about such practices. Of course the bigger and richer the country, the more it can do this kind of cheating, and so the greater likelihood that its enterprises will win in the global game.

The Indigenous Model

Happily for most of us, there is a third model, which offers the greatest hope for this troubled globe—as soon as we recognize the central role it has played in all successful economic development (even though elements of the other two models are always present as well). We can call this model indigenous, and depict it as inside-up.

The enterprises that build and sustain a healthy economy rarely come in from the outside. Some are created by the state—which at times can be for good reason—while many others are supported by it in one way or another. Most, however, are built by local entrepreneurs, who engage local people with their novel ideas. These companies tend to source locally, including their use of law firms, consultants, and advertising agencies, all of which further aids the growth of the domestic economy.

Every major country has its iconic examples of such enterprises. Say America and think Google or IBM; say India and it may be Tata or Infosys; in Japan, Honda; in Brazil, Embraer. No matter how global these particular enterprises have become, all have maintained their headquarters, and their roots, in their countries of origin. And so they keep providing significant economic benefits. (Not so for the smaller countries—I speak here as a Canadian. The iconic enterprises are more frequently sold off to foreign interests, with the loss of such benefits. But the government must not interfere: after all, this is a global game, run by the big guys.)

Even in the most developed countries, however, further economic development depends not on these large established enterprises so much as on the establishment and retention of new indigenous ones. They create the jobs, instead of doing the downsizing. (See the April 2 TWOG on downsizing as bloodletting.) Think about the role that the Apples, the Googles, the Facebooks, and the rest play in the American economy today.

Global enterprises coming in from the outside do not usually build on a country’s unique strengths, or encourage the autonomy necessary to learn, which is key to all development. People forced to imitate learn only how to copy. Some of this is obviously necessary in today’s world, but it can never be sufficient for any country. Pride in our own accomplishments may not figure in economic theory, but it sure does in the success stories of great enterprises—and great economies. So it is time to get past the dominating game of globalization, with all its cheating, in order to foster the healthy development of all countries, rich and poor.

© Henry Mintzberg 2015

1. Chang, H.-J. (2002). Kicking Away the Ladder: Development Strategy in Historical Perspective. Anthem Press. When I first published about these ideas, in 2006, I had to explain why Ireland was not an exception: it already was rather developed, and within the E.U., when it went so one-sidedly to this outside-in model. Given Ireland’s subsequent economic performance, I no longer need to make this point.