After listening to this lecture by Owen Barder of the Center for Global Development, I think I’ve developed a better understanding of the rational behind many of the initiatives sponsored by Jeffrey Sachs (most notably the Millennium Villages Project).
According to Complexity Theory, Barder argues, traditional economic models fail to anticipate why some countries have been able to benefit from convergent economic growth, while others are stuck in a poverty trap. In other words, interventions in developing countries that focus on the one “missing ingredient which will enable poor countries to grow,” as Barder puts it, are doomed to failure. No one intervention (whether in access capital, modern technology, improved economic efficiency, better institutions or reformed politics) is able to influence the “complex adaptive systems” that make up a society.
The upshot of Complexity Theory for international development (as I understood it) is that development practitioners should not focus on individual interventions or impose their preconceived ideas on how societies develop. Instead, they should look for opportunities to sponsor innovation and encourage adaptation that will contribute to positive feedback loops.
Development can therefore be redefined as “the emergence of self-organizing complexity.”
Wow, that was a mouthful and I’m not sure I did it justice…I only just started studying Consumer Theory in my grad-level economics class. Anyway, you should watch the lecture, it will blow your mind: http://www.cgdev.org/doc/CGDPresentations/complexity/player.html.