Wither The Economics of Agricultural Development?

In spite of healthy demand for a renaissance in economic policy for agricultural development, the academic supply response is found wanting. The infusion of public economics into the economics of agricultural development, which thrived during the 1970s and 80s, has stagnated due to the lack of foundations in transaction costs, dynamics, and the co-evolution of specialization and governance. Many of the policy ideas found in the World Bank’s, WDR 08, for example, reflect a post-modern tendency to seek and destroy market failures with new mandates and subsidies for farmer cooperatives, microfinance, crop insurance, and land reform. The new development microeconomics favors form over substance and overemphasizes multiple equilibria, trap theories, new market failures, and the new case for social insurance. Empirical research has likewise suffered from the quest for clever instruments and methods instead of informative results that estimate parameters of established theories, distinguish between competing theories, or challenge theory to explain empirical patterns. These latest fads and fancies have distracted economists from the quest for fundamental explanations of development patterns, especially the nature and causes of specialization as an engine of growth. The stage is set for young dynamic scholars to develop new tools of analysis to explain empirical patterns in behavior and organization in developing agriculture and to build the foundations of a public microeconomics of development.

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