The opening sentence of Tolstoy’s novel Anna Karenina-All happy families are alike; every happy family is happy in its own way-is popular among development experts, who often give their own version as follows: All assets are equal; Every business is poor in its own way. This idea, we can call the Anna Karenina principle of economic development, is the idea to see the value of the context and local knowledge.
And exercisers aren’t the only ones who share this positive sentiment. A long literature on development has made us well aware of the danger of simply copying the best practices of education from developed countries, or “isomorphic mimicry” to use the term. from evolutionary biology to the developmental literature.
But compared to the idea of Anna Karenina, it was an unexpected result. In short, what is wrong is not the punchline but its setting. Thinking of all economic activities as being like school is just a mistake. (Derisively, this could be described as a case of “idiomorphic myopia,” or the inability to clearly see different business models.) But why is this the case?
If all economic activity is seen as a type of business, one wants to draw inspiration from the successful country only, or most of it. This helps to explain, for example, the important role that South Korea plays in the collective thinking of development experts. The “winner” approach makes the country’s cases less well studied and used in development circles. And that is, the focus is on a narrow part of the understanding of successful development.
The best cases cannot be seen as a success in the beginning. To give an example from personal experience, when I share that I am writing about Spain’s rise to high income, my colleagues often agree that it is an interesting case. Spain but really, I thought I would write about the economy. fall not winning. This is about a country, Spain, which is among the few that has reached a high level of income in recent years and in 30 years it has been able to have 30 percentages as a share of per capita with that of the United States. .
In the eyes of the world captured by the idea of Anna Karenina, the economic history of rich countries is not very interesting. The bottom line is that the belief that all economies are created equal does not mean that their paths to their current highs are likely to be the same. But in practice, these two beliefs often go hand in hand. And when they do, they show a loss that comes from looking at a rich set of facts that are often seen as stylized institutional trajectories. As with biodiversity, there is great value in understanding how successful adaptations occur in the development environment. Not knowing how rich countries get to where they are going in different ways is a lost opportunity to learn from different experiences.
Why is this important? Not least because the successful transformations of others can provide a springboard for one’s own reformation. The problem of planning development programs, as Albert Hirschman said, is the balance between the elements of the status quo that must be taken as unchangeable. and those elements of the status quo to be abolished. Avoiding this problem is the essence of project planning and, as Hirschman noted, the outcome of a project becomes a matter of achieving that balance. By creating local context and awareness it can go a long way in understanding what causes problems because, by definition, some elements of the status quo will be destroyed. So it’s worth looking at how many other countries have dealt with related issues. Often, a development problem facing one country is solved by another country but in another region.
Taking solutions from one area and applying them to another is a productive process, usually for example in design thinking. In creative techniques, the number of ideas made is important for the quality of the solutions made, not for helping to find comparables or common features, but also because it helps prevent job stagnation and brings about practical solutions.
Not only are all real estate companies the same, but their approach to the road to get there is guaranteed to be full of information. To return to Anna Karenina, it may not be her first words but her last words, spoken by Tolstoy’s alter-ego Levin, that may be more relevant after all: “My whole life … it is not for nothing… the doubt of the goodness in my power to put in!”
Photo by Didier Weemaels on Unsplash (public priest)