Catch up growth and social capability in developing countries: A conceptual and measurement proposal

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Martin Andersson Andrés Palacio


While the income per capita in the developing world since the turn of the Millennium has grown faster than that of the developed world, the question whether there is an ongoing process of catching up between countries remains. The notion of income convergence has provided many insights into the sources for long-run growth but has largely neglected the role of social capabilities in economic development. By social capabilities we mean the qualification of the ‘theory of convergence’ which asserts that productivity growth rates  between countries tend to vary inversely with regard to productivity levels. The social capabilities approach holds that a country’s potential for rapid growth is strong when “it is technologically backward but socially advanced” (see Abramovitz, 1986:388). This means that the potential to catch up under globalization is strongest for countries in which social capabilities are developed to allow successful use of technologies and where institutional arrangements are conducive to economic progress. Yet there is no clear agreement in the literature on the main components of social capabilities or how to measure them. Our framework argues that the role of capabilities in catching up needs to understand them in terms of structural transformation, economic and social inclusion, state´s autonomy and accountability. Without progress in these dimensions within-country inequality may increase and might in turn lead to stagnating growth and slim prospects for global income convergence.

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