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The Politics of Uneven Development
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Book description

Why do some middle-income countries diversify their economies but fail to upgrade – to produce world-class products based on local inputs and technological capacities? Why have the 'little tigers' of Southeast Asia, such as Thailand, continued to lag behind the Newly Industrializing Countries of East Asia? Richard Doner goes beyond 'political will' by emphasizing institutional capacities and political pressures: development challenges vary; upgrading poses tough challenges that require robust institutional capacities. Such strengths are political in origin. They reflect pressures, such as security threats and resource constraints, which motivate political leaders to focus on efficiency more than clientelist payoffs. Such pressures help to explain the political institutions – 'veto players' – through which leaders operate. Doner assesses this argument by analyzing Thai development historically, in three sectors (sugar, textiles, and autos) and in comparison with both weaker and stronger competitors (Philippines, Indonesia, Taiwan, Brazil, and South Korea).

Reviews

'Rick Doner has long argued that the study of development requires a close consideration of how industries evolve. In this important new book on Thailand, he combines his deep knowledge of the country with compelling theoretical arguments about the institutional determinants of upgrading and long-run growth.'

Stephan Haggard - University of California, San Diego

'Why do some countries make transitions to higher levels of technology and economic development and others fail? Doner’s important study tries to answer this question … Doner’s book is a fascinating methodological encounter for he knows Thailand well while skilfully locating Thailand’s development in comparative perspective. This is good area studies and good political economy. Doner’s book is well-structured, remarkably logical, and theoretically sound. While the author is fluent in his theoretical perspectives, he writes about technological upgrading and economic development in an exceptionally clear manner, making the book accessible to a wide audience.'

Kevin Hewison - University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

'This book is a tour-de-force. It tackles some of the biggest questions in comparative political economy with both innovative theorizing and rich empirical work. Whether one's interest is in the political economy of development, comparative political institutions, or the political economy of Southeast Asia, this book is a must read.'

Allen Hicken - University of Michigan

'This book charts exciting new directions in the study of the political economy of development. In recent decades, development stalled in a range of middle income countries, and scholars have been trying to figure out why. Doner’s insightful book gives us a convincing answer. Doner first unpacks the concept of development to isolate recent challenges of upgrading and then shows how overcoming these challenges requires enhanced institutional capacity that in turn depends on a relatively rare set of political conditions. The book is a model for combining broad theory and penetrating empirical analysis. Anyone concerned with the problems of inequality, upgrading, and development in the 21st century will want to read this book.'

Ben Schneider - Northwestern University

'This is a landmark book. It synthesizes the large literature on structural change and upgrading, and analyses several national economies and several sectors to show what determines progress in both. The result is a model of institutional and political analysis, which combines case studies with systematic comparisons. While Thailand is the main focus, the book is directly relevant to a large number of countries which are stuck in the ‘middle-income trap’, whose success in breaking out of the trap is crucial for a more equal distribution of world income.'

Robert H. Wade - London School of Economics

'This book is spot on with explaining the political economy of economic development in Thailand. Unlike neo-classical attempts to provide a series of simple but painful steps that countries should pursue but with a framework that is neither built around an active state … nor is equipped with epistemologically sound propositions à la Washington Consensus, Doner's explication meets the requirements of theorising as his framework is testable and is substantiated with concrete evidence. … this is an outstanding book … makes a convincing contribution to explaining how developing states can pursue upgrading policies even under circumstances of external vulnerabilities. … The three empirical cases provide excellent evidence to support the illuminating framework advanced by the book. It should be a must read for government leaders, scholars and students.'

Source: Journal of Contemporary Asia

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