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Über dieses Buch

This book examines Gunnar Myrdal’s analysis of poverty in relation to Sweden, the United States, South Asia, and the international economy. The chapters investigate Mrydal’s methodological development and his focus on the principle of circular and cummulative causation, dynamic economic analysis, institutional frameworks, value premises, and social engineering. The challenge of world poverty, the international dimension of poverty, and the legacy of The American Dilemma and Asian Drama are also discussed.
This book aims to explore the development of Myrdal’s analysis of poverty during his life. It will be relevant to students and academics interested in the history of economic thought, development economics, the political economy, and labor economics.

Inhaltsverzeichnis

Frontmatter

Chapter 1. Introduction: The Man and His Work

Abstract
The introductory chapter provides a capsule biography of Gunnar Myrdal’s life, a sketch of his personality—that of an egocentric workaholic—and an outline of the scope of the study, ranging from Myrdal’s doctoral dissertation to the end of his life. It sketches the main steps of his career and accounts for his major works.
Mats Lundahl

Chapter 2. Dynamics, Value Premises and Social Engineering

Abstract
This chapter traces the initial steps of Gunnar Myrdal’s methodological development, beginning with his search for a dynamic price theory in his doctoral dissertation, Prisbildningsproblemet och föränderligheten [The Price Formation Problem and Economic Change]. It deals with his criticism of Knut Wicksell’s formulation of the cumulative process and his own attempt to extend and improve it. The chapter goes on to spell out the development over time of one of Myrdal’s main methodological tenets: the call for the employment of a set of explicitly formulated value premises, his discussion of positive and normative economics and his change of position over time. It also discusses Myrdal’s beginning involvement in politics, his call for an active economic policy and the manifestation of this stance in his works from the 1930s.
Mats Lundahl

Chapter 3. Social Engineering in Practice: The Population Issue

Abstract
This chapter deals with Gunnar Myrdal’s interest in population issues. It provides an account of the best-selling book he wrote together with his wife Alva, Kris i befolkningsfrågan [Crisis in the Population Question], published in 1934, considered as the starting point of the Social Democratic construction of the modern Swedish welfare society. The book not only dealt with the problem of the decreasing rate of reproduction in Sweden at the beginning of the 1930s, but it also called for a radical restructuring of social policy along collectivist lines. The chapter tells the story of the hostile reception of the book not least by two of Myrdal’s most famous Swedish fellow economists: Gustav Cassel and Eli Heckscher. It also sheds light on the latter-day discussion of the actual importance of the Myrdal book for the Swedish model of society. Finally, it traces the main steps of the beginning of Myrdal’s conversion to institutionalism.
Mats Lundahl

Chapter 4. An American Dilemma

Abstract
This chapter provides an account of Gunnar Myrdal’s most famous work, An American Dilemma, published in 1944. This book analyzed the race problem in the United States. In this book, Myrdal turned his early use of cumulative causation into a coherent, concerted endeavor to prove that black poverty was not a purely economic phenomenon. It was caused by the interaction of white prejudice and discrimination and black economic, social and moral standards. When he wrote his book, he had become firmly convinced that all aspects of society mattered. There were no purely economic, social or political problems, only problems which involved all aspects of society, variables which interacted and which were intimately related to the existing institutions which performed economic and social functions and determined the actions of the individual actors. The book rested on the use of explicit value premises, the ‘American Creed’: democracy, equality, freedom, fair opportunity and the rule of law, principles shared by all Americans, but principles that were violated in the treatment of blacks by whites. Myrdal’s remedy amounted to social engineering and planning of society. The chapter also tells the story of the practical impact of An American Dilemma on American legislation and of the follow-up made by Myrdal in Challenge to Affluence in 1962.
Mats Lundahl

Chapter 5. The International Dimension of Poverty

Abstract
This chapter tells the story of how Gunnar Myrdal during his decade as executive secretary of the newly established United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (ECE) in Geneva between 1947 and 1958 turned to the analysis of poverty in an international perspective, in three major works, An International Economy, Development and Under-Development, usually referred to as his Cairo lectures, and Economic Theory and Under-Developed Regions. In these Myrdal relates the issue of domestic inequalities to that of inequalities on the international level. He investigates how the progress of certain regions tends to generate backwash effects which serve to lower the living standards in other regions in a cumulative fashion and how the same mechanism operates on the international level. Instead of leading to factor price equalization, trade serves to set off cumulative effects which lead to increasing income disparities between nations.
Mats Lundahl

Chapter 6. The Culminating Effort: Asian Drama

Abstract
When Gunnar Myrdal left Geneva in 1958, he embarked on his largest study ever, which was to occupy him for a full decade: his investigation of the causes of poverty in South Asia, notably India. This chapter tells the story of Asian Drama and The Challenge of World Poverty, where the latter presents the policy conclusions of the former work. Asian Drama represents the culmination of Gunnar Myrdal’s life-long methodological endeavor. There, as heterodox and institutional as ever, he pulls together all the threads that he had been spinning since the 1920s. Explicit value premises—‘modernization ideals’—loom large. Mainstream development economics is subjected to devastating criticism, the importance of industrialization is played down and the role of labor utilization in agriculture is brought to the forefront, as is education, health and population aspects. Myrdal also remains true to his social engineering ideal. The importance of planning is stressed throughout and the problem of the ‘soft’ character of the South Indian state is analyzed at length.
Mats Lundahl

Chapter 7. The Reaction to Asian Drama I: The West

Abstract
As could be expected, Gunnar Myrdal’s analysis of the South Asian poverty problem provoked strong reactions from many quarters. This chapter deals with the reaction to Asian Drama in the West, mainly from conservative economists. Basically everybody agreed that the book was a very serious and important analysis of the plight of South Asia. However, many saw the book as too long and too rambling. It also dealt far too much with India. Myrdal’s manifest pessimism was also subject to criticism. During the ten years that had elapsed during the writing of the work, some Southeast Asian countries had done comparatively well. The conservatives reacted to his criticism of the market mechanism and his endorsement of planning. The book was also criticized for a lack of historical perspective and for excessive reliance on the Western experience. The chapter singles out the especially hard views of P.T. Bauer who found little to praise in Asian Drama and who found Myrdal’s approach to be bordering on the intellectually dishonest.
Mats Lundahl

Chapter 8. The Reaction to Asian Drama II: Radical and Asian Views

Abstract
This chapter deals with the criticism against Asian Drama by Marxist economists and economists from South Asia. Two Soviet economists devoted an entire book to a critique of Myrdal. It contains exactly what you would expect: emphasis on the lack of an analysis of capitalism and imperialism, failure to employ Marxist concepts and methods and a contention that Lenin had provided a much better analysis of the problems dealt with by Myrdal. The only viable strategy for South Asia was the Soviet one. Western radicals were critical as well. Andre Gunder Frank pointed out that his own analysis was superior to that of Myrdal, and Joan Robinson systematically set the Chinese experience against that of India. Other radical critics pointed to the lack of the international context in Myrdal’s analysis. The reception in South Asia itself was critical as well. Myrdal was accused of unfamiliarity with on-the-ground realities, notably in the countryside, and for his ethnocentric insistence of Western modernization ideals not shared by important segments of the local societies. More important, as subsequent events would show, however, Myrdal failed to predict the course of development of the economies of South Asia over the next few decades: the impressive progress made in terms of poverty eradication. Not least did he underestimate the power of foreign trade as a catalyst of economic change, the positive role of the state in a number of countries in the region and the advance made on the population front.
Mats Lundahl

Chapter 9. After Asian Drama

Abstract
Asian Drama was Myrdal’s last important scientific contribution. The last twenty years of his life were spent on a retrospective of what he had already accomplished. This is dealt with in this chapter. Myrdal kept coming back to his old themes in conferences and speeches. He revisited his two major works, An American Dilemma and Asian Drama, and he stressed the importance of dealing with inequality and the moral aspects of the poverty problem. He also changed some of his former views, mainly those on foreign aid, which, he argued, had been largely inefficient and had better be concentrated on the poorest and distributed through non-governmental organizations like the Red Cross. Until the end of his life, however, Myrdal remained an optimist with respect to the future of mankind.
Mats Lundahl

Backmatter

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