Teaching economic development- the legacy of Celso Furtado

The Brazilian economist Celso Furtado  (1920-2004) promoted an analysis of underdevelopment that turned out to be known as “structural and historical”. The interpretation of the Argentine economist Raul Prebish had strong influence on him, particularly the center-periphery approach. In the 1950s, Furtado focused the center-periphery dynamics in the capitalist system, that is to say, the relations between industrialized countries and those countries exporters of commodities. His approach was based on the idea that development and underdevelopment were part of the same process: the world-wide capital accumulation process. In his view, underdevelopment results from a process of dependency that has cultural and political nature. Students of economics should be aware of the inner nature of this process.

After the Second World War, Furtado considered that  Latin American economic growth was, in fact, a false modernization as it did benefit only a minority and reinforced social heterogeneity. After the 1970s, he criticized that national states put emphasis on price stabilization instead of encouraging developmental policies. In this historical setting, Furtado pointed out to a “new dependency” where financial capital accumulation has not only dominated social dynamics but also reinforced poverty, illiteracy, income inequality and wealth concentration.  This new dependency has turned out to subordinate livelihoods to transnational and financial interests.

Indeed, Celso Furtado privileged the understanding of underdevelopment as a process of cultural and political domination. In his latest works, he highlighted the need to rescue the cultural factors in any effort of thinking development.  Students of economics should also be committed to this attempt.


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