The concept of late development is ubiquitous in political science. Scholars generally use the term to explain the state's role in the economy based upon the timing of a country's industrialization. Many consider Japan a quintessential example of state-driven late development. This article surveys the late development theories of Alexander Gerschenkron and Alice Amsden. It then appraises these theories based upon Japan's experience, demonstrating that neither accurately describes the state's role in Japan's industrialization.
To be clear, the argument is not that the state played no part in Japan's economic development. The question is whether late development offers an effective conceptual tool for explaining the causes, content, and timing of state action. There are many possible explanations of Japan's industrialization. Late development is only one of them, and not a very good one.