Economic development is not as complicated as you think it is

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The Last of the First Development Economists

Alfred P. Thorne had a rare mind and led an exciting life.

He was among the first economists to emerge from British Guiana, the former colony (now Guyana) in South America. Born in 1913, his curiosity about the world was nurtured into the self-study of the then-emerging field of economics.

  • He spent a year in the Amazon as a nineteen year old, living and working among the poorest people in the region
  • He earned a B.Comm Honors from the University of London School of Economics and a Masters in Business Administration and a PhD in Economics from Columbia University.
  • His monograph, The Size, Structure and Growth of the Economy of Jamaica was a seminal work in the field of development economics and collected by private and public economic institutions and libraries worldwide.
  • He went on to become a practicing economist, consultant to both U.S. and British governments, professor and scholar at world-ranking institutions of higher learning. (He was invited to speak at some of the world’s most advanced institutions of economic studies; he lectured at Oxford University, Cambridge University, the Wharton School of Finance and Commerce at the University of Pennsylvania, and Yale University's Economics Department.)
  • Alfred P. Thorne also won a Fulbright Scholarship to travel to Iran and develop an economic development plan in the later years of his career. After much deliberation, he declined. His youngest son was suffering from a life-threatening illness, and Dr. Thorne decided to stay near him in the last few years of his young life.

He was my grandfather, and we worked together for over sixteen years, as he began losing his sight, to publish his work on how to create real economic development in the now poor countries of the world.

You can imagine that having grown up in a plantation colony, coming of age when radios were first introduced to the world, and participating the emerging field of economics, he has an amazing perspective on economic development.

The world is much different now. We have cell phones and video conferencing, databases and satellites. And the disparities between the rich and poor countries have accelerated at a heartbreaking pace.

Alfred P. Thorne was a first-person witness to the course of history. He knew that for real economic development to occur, foreign aid would have to be given in a way that is fundamentally different. We would have to make a  fundamental shift in how we think of rich and poor countries, and the reasons why they are rich and poor.

The book Poor By Design is the culmination of his life’s work.

Unraveling Poverty

Knowing a few things about me will help you understand this site. I was not trained as an economist. My introduction to economics and development economics began while I was a student at Brown University. Just after graduation, I started compiling some of my grandfather's writing, and I thought this project would just take a few months. I knew nothing about economics at the time, much less about economic development.

Poor By Design book coverMore than sixteen years later, this project has taken me from Providence, Rhode Island, to the libraries of MIT, Harvard, as far as rural Mexico, East and West Africa, India, the Czech Republic, Switzerland, New Zealand, and China. Little by little, I’ve gathered insights into what my grandfather taught me for more than a decade.

The result of our years of work is a book that sheds light on an unexplored cause of poverty across the globe. It challenges conventional wisdom and questions the assumed causes of underdevelopment in low-income nations. Persistent poverty in the developing countries is no accident.

We owe a huge, very special thank you to the Kickstarter project backers who made it possible for us to publish the book.

I started documenting my experiences in this blog to make it easier to keep my friends abreast of this long, hard struggle to expand my understanding of a world I knew very little about when I started. I continue to draw from my studies in development, entrepreneurship, finance and energy while writing for On the New Economy.

Thanks for reading,

Malaika

 

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