In the 1950s, the field of development economics was born.
Economist William Arthur Lewis was pondering how his country, Saint Lucia, could transform from a primary agriculture dominated society to an industrialized one.
He came up with a revolutionary idea. How about we try to look at the underdeveloped countries on their own merits.
Meaning instead of comparing e.g. Saint Lucia to a mythological ideal archetype, translating: what is Saint Lucia missing to fulfil this unrealistic mythological ideal. Instead, how about we dig into what the country has to offer.
Revolutionary yet so simple. Instead, to look for what a country is missing, let’s see what is present.
How to marshal the human and natural resources into driving industrialization.
In 1979, William Arthur Lewis was awarded the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic. The only black person to ever get this one.
Somehow, down the road, Lewis’ idea was cast aside by a field dominated by white economists. Their focus continued to be on what is missing. The academic term for this is “the subtraction approach”.
Basically saying, why is country X not like country Y.
Why is Mali not like Sweden. What is Mali missing to become like Sweden?
The simple answer is because Mali is not Sweden.
The consequences of the subtraction approach are that mostly white economists look for what Africa is not (while Europe and we represent what is present). Africa became stuck in a negative tale. African countries either have the wrong leaders, wrong institutions, wrong people, wrong location, or wrong policies.
President Macron just represents this ancient approach in how to understand Africa and the problems on the ground. The continent of the missing. Africa is the mythological opposite to Europe.
The focus on what is missing blinds us all for what is present. When you only decide to look at weaknesses, it is easy to overlook the strengths. The subtraction approach also led to horrible history writing. Suddenly it appears, Africa has always been “backwards”. That led to theories why Africa was trapped in history.
We overlook that African countries, also post-colonialism, have experienced growth. Economists remember the downs but forget the ups. When the correction was done, it clearly proved that not a single African country was trapped.
Perhaps it is time to bring back the past; to bring back William Arthur Lewis and his revolutionary ideas that did earn him a Nobel Prize in economic.
1) Examine a country on its own merit, not to a mythological archetype.
If you were constantly compared to Einstein, you will always appear inadequate on every level
2) Look at what is present
3) Use that to marshal the present human and natural resources for the better of the country