This paper examines and compares developmental public policies in developed countries and the Global South. Developmental policies refer to government interventions aimed at accelerating structural transformation, industrialization, and economic development. The study analyzes the evolution, design, implementation, and outcomes of key developmental policies pursued in developed economies such as industrial and technology policies. It then examines similar policies adopted in developing countries across Asia, Africa, and Latin America. The paper finds significant convergence in developmental state policies across the developed and developing world, but also finds divergence reflecting different starting conditions and capabilities. Factors driving policy success and failure are analyzed through case studies of individual countries. The study concludes by deriving implications for future developmental policy design in the Global South.
Public policies aimed at transforming economic structures and promoting rapid industrialization have been pursued by governments around the world, especially since the Second World War. Such “developmental state” policies have been seen as crucial tools for enabling late industrializers to catch up with more economically advanced nations (Johnson 1982; Amsden 2001; Chang 2003). While the first wave of developmental states emerged in the late 19th century in Germany and Japan, state-led development policies were more widely adopted across the developed and developing world from the 1950s onwards.
This paper comparatively examines developmental policies in advanced industrial economies and developing countries. The terms “developed countries” and the “Global South” are used as short-hands for these groups, while recognizing their heterogeneity. Developmental policies encompass a wide range of state interventions including industrial policies, technology policies, public investment, and trade and currency management. The study analyzes how these interventions have been designed and implemented across different national and historical contexts. It asks why developmental policies succeeded in some states but failed in others. It also examines how developmental thinking and policies have evolved over time.
The paper is structured as follows: Section 2 provides theoretical context by reviewing literature on the developmental state and developmental policies. Section 3 traces the history and evolution of developmental policies in developed economies like France, Germany, Japan, South Korea, and the United States. Section 4 comparatively analyzes developmental state policies pursued by developing countries across Asia, Africa, and Latin America since the 1950s. Section 5 examines case studies of developmental success and failure. Section 6 concludes by deriving implications for developmental policymaking in the 21st century.
The concept of the “developmental state” originated in studies on Japan’s rapid postwar industrialization (Johnson 1982). It refers to states that define national economic development as a key mission and intervene extensively through industrial policies to promote it. Chalmers Johnson characterized the developmental state as wielding both “plan-rational” and “market-rational” authority. The state sets development goals and policies in a directive, planned manner, while using market incentives and discipline to implement them (Johnson 1982).
Later scholars distinguished between developmental states, which intervene heavily in the economy, and regulatory states, which focus on fixing market failures (Amsden 2001). Developmental states deliberately distort prices and incentives to accelerate industrialization. In contrast, regulatory states aim to achieve Pareto optimal outcomes using marginal incentives (Evans 1995). The developmental state literature focuses on East Asia’s high-performing economies, where states played a leading role in rapid industrialization and growth.
Developmental state interventions are also referred to as industrial policies or development policies. Industrial policies aim to deliberately change a country’s production structure and capabilities (Chang 1994). They include tools like trade protection, subsidies, public investment, and technology transfer. Such interventions contravene neoclassical economics, which posit that liberal markets alone efficiently allocate resources. However, market failures provide a rationale for industrial policies to correct them (Stiglitz 1996). Open economy politics also explain industrial policy adoption (Rogowski 1989).
Critiques argue industrial policies risk government failure and rent seeking (Krueger 1990). Supporters argue they enable learning-by-doing and increase productivity (Harrison and Rodriguez-Clare 2010). Evidence suggests that while industrial policies fail often, they succeed in some developmental states. State and societal characteristics shape success versus failure (Doner et al. 2005).
Developmental states share features like competent bureaucracies, pilot agencies, productive business-government ties, and export orientation (Woo-Cumings 1999; Evans 1995). However, they also exhibit much diversity in origins and policy design. Comparative analysis must account for initial conditions, state capacity, political institutions, and changing development paradigms (Leftwich 1995). This paper undertakes such analysis by tracing developmental state policies across space and time.
Developmental State Policies in Developed Countries
This section chronologically examines major developmental policy phases in five advanced industrial economies: France, Germany, Japan, South Korea, and the United States. These case studies illuminate how developmental thinking and policies co-evolved with shifting technological and competitive challenges.
Early Industrializers: List, Prussia, and Meiji Japan
Pioneer developmental states emerged alongside industrialization in 19th century Europe and Japan. Economist Friedrich List inspired a first wave of developmental policies in Germany. In contrast to Adam Smith, List argued that Britain preaching free trade after achieving industrial dominance was like “kicking away the ladder” for others trying to catch up (List 1856). List advocated protectionism, infrastructure investment, and industrial promotion to help Germany close Britain’s lead.
List inspired Prussia to adopt the Customs Union (Zollverein) in 1834 and infrastructure building to spur industrialization. Prussia targeted and subsidized railroads, coal, iron, and machinery. The state also founded technical institutes and trade schools to supply skilled labor (Chang 2003). Despite List’s premature death in 1846, his ideas influenced German unification under Prussia and the late 19th century German Reich.
Meiji Japan (1868-1912) followed similar developmental policies to catch up with the West. The Meiji state initiated a crash program of industrialization centered on strengthening military capabilities (Johnson 1982). It established state-owned enterprises in war-related sectors like mining, iron and steel, shipbuilding, and armaments. The state also subsidized new industries like textiles and machinery. To acquire foreign technology, Meiji Japan relied heavily on imported experts hired as o-yatoi gaikokujin (Chang 2003).
France: Indicative Planning and Dirigisme
In post-war France, rapid postwar reconstruction under the Monnet Plan laid foundations for indicative economic planning and dirigisme – direct state management of the economy (Levy 1999). French planners formulated multi-year plans outlining desired production targets. Under indicative planning, firms were encouraged but not compelled to align investments with plan targets. The Commissariat du Plan also used fiscal tools, public investment, and credit allocation to steer private sector decisions.
France nationalized industries after WWII, especially large banks, utilities, transport, and energy companies. The state directly managed these companies in a top-down dirigiste fashion. Indicative planning and state-led industrialization continued until the 1980s, when privatization and fiscal pressures precipitated a neo-liberal shift under President Mitterand (Clift and Woll 2012). State economic intervention regained salience after the 2008 global financial crisis.
Germany: Ordoliberalism and the Social Market
After WWII, Germany pursued a unique “social market economy” developmental model. It combined free markets with a strong welfare state. The social market was inspired by ordoliberalism associated with the Freiburg school of economics. Ordoliberals advocated using an activist state to create functioning markets and fair competition (Ptak 2009).
In contrast to continental welfare states, Germany relied more on policies like monetary discipline, independent central banking, and supply-side measures. But the German state also heavily subsidized industrial research and vocational training to support export competitiveness (Eichengreen 2007). Under leaders like Ludwig Erhard and Konrad Adenauer, Germany rejected full-scale nationalization and indicative planning. But the postwar German state used tax policy, public banks, and activist regulation to shape market outcomes (Abelshauser 2004). The social market combined free enterprise with a Rhine capitalist social partnership between business, government, and labor.
Japan: Industrial Policy and Keiretsu
Postwar Japan took state-led development to new heights under the Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI). MITI bureaucrats formulated and implemented industrial and technology policies through multiple policy levers (Johnson 1982). This included protectionism, licensing, credit allocation, tax breaks, subsidies, public investment, pilot agencies, state-backed R&D, and promotion of keiretsu (conglomerate groups).
Japan targeted strategic industries like steel, shipbuilding, chemicals, autos, electronics, and semiconductors for export domination through policies like the “Visionary Products Program” (Anchordoguy 2005). MITI leveraged export discipline and corporate competition to ensure efficiency. The state also promoted cooperative keiretsu groups centered on main banks to mobilize capital and coordinate industries.
By the 1980s, Japan became an industrial powerhouse challenging American dominance. But the 1990s collapse of Japan’s asset bubble led to two “lost decades” of stagnation that eroded the developmental state model (Vogel 2006). Critics argued MITI overreached, contributing to overheating and misallocation. Japan’s developmental policies also faced pressure from US trade disputes and globalization (Schaede 2008).
South Korea: Authoritarian Industrialization
South Korea pursued the most authoritarian version of state-led development under Park Chung-hee in the 1960s-1970s. The state held direct command over the banking system, subsidies, public investment, and credit allocation (Amsden 1989). Under state guidance, family-run chaebol conglomerates like Hyundai, Samsung, and LG spearheaded industrialization centered on manufacturing exports.
South Korea focused on transferring capabilities from basic industries like textiles into complex sectors like electronics, steel, automobiles, and shipbuilding. The state owned major banks and actively guided credit and investment to targeted industries. Export targets were enforced vigorously, as was repression of labor (Haggard 1990). South Korea’s developmental model began democratizing in the 1980s-1990s after civil unrest toppled military rule. The 1997 Asian financial crisis also initiated economic liberalization. However, legacies of state guidance persisted through “governed interdependence” between government and business (Weiss 1998).
United States: Defense Spending, Research Subsidies, and Antitrust
The United States assumed a more laissez faire economic ideology than other developed states. But even America adopted major developmental policies, especially after WWII (Block 2008). The massive buildup of defense manufacturing capability during WWII and the Cold War acted as a form of industrial policy. Federal and defense spending on aerospace, computers, semiconductors, telecoms, and other industries drove technology advancement and created new firms (Mowery 2010).
The US state strongly promoted science, technology, and education. Government funding accounted for over 70% of R&D spending at its peak in the 1960s (Mazzucato 2013). Mission-oriented agencies like DARPA, NASA, and the NIH pioneered commercial spin-offs in sectors like electronics and biotechnology. Antitrust policies also shaped industry structure and competition to limit monopoly power.
However, the US eschewed overt industrial planning, credit targeting, national champions, and conglomerates. Postwar growth was driven more by military Keynesianism than explicit industrial policies (Ferkiss 1993). The share of government R&D funding fell to around 30% by the 2000s as market liberalization expanded (Mazzucato 2013). Faith in free enterprise was never displaced by centralized state planning as in dirigiste France or MITI Japan.
Comparative Analysis of Developing Country Experiences
Developing countries across Latin America, Asia, and Africa also adopted developmental state policies from the 1950s onwards to try to catch up with the industrialized world. This section examines major waves of developmental policy adoption in the Global South. It analyzes how developmental models were adapted to local contexts and their relative successes versus failures.
1950s-60s Import Substitution in Latin America
Following the Prebisch-Singer hypothesis, many developing countries adopted import substitution industrialization (ISI) policies after WWII. ISI aimed to subsidize domestic manufacturing to reduce dependence on primary commodity exports. It focused on building up indigenous industries to supply domestic markets protected by tariffs and quotas (Hirschman 1968).
Latin American countries like Argentina, Brazil, and Mexico pioneered strong ISI policies in the 1950s-1960s. Governments imposed steep tariffs and exchange rate controls to constrain imports. They provided subsidies, public investment, and privileged credit access to favored firms to expand manufacturing (Sikkink 1991). State-owned enterprises (SOEs) were created in sectors like steel, utilities, and transportation.
However, chronic fiscal deficits and debt eventually triggered a balance of payments crisis in the 1980s across Latin America. This initiated a lost decade of deindustrialization, crisis, and policy reversal towards Washington Consensus neoliberalism. Critics argued ISI bred inefficient and uncompetitive industrial dinosaurs unable to survive export competition. State interventions also became prone to political manipulation and rent seeking by elites (Krueger 1974).
East Asian Export-Led Industrialization
In contrast to Latin America, East Asian countries like Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, and Indonesia pursued more export-oriented developmental state policies from the 1960s-90s. They focused on promoting labor-intensive, light manufactured exports using policies adapted from Japan (World Bank 1993). States provided incentives for foreign technology transfer and export processing zones to access export markets. Domestic producers received subsidies and tax breaks conditional on export performance.
State-owned banks and development finance institutions like Singapore’s Economic Development Board played a key role in mobilizing and allocating investment credit to targeted sectors and firms (Castells 1992). Unlike Latin America, East Asia eschewed heavy protectionism and maintained fiscal prudence. Export orientation instilled competitive discipline lacking in ISI.
Many East Asian states evolved towards more authoritarian and centralized developmental regimes over time. But they were remarkably successful in transitioning from light exports into more complex industries and services. Singapore, Taiwan, and South Korea eventually graduated to become developed, high-income economies. However, the 1997 Asian financial crisis revealed weaknesses in “crony capitalism” between governments and conglomerates that precipitated some policy liberalization.
India: Fabian Socialism to Liberalization
India adopted a distinct developmental path as a post-colonial democracy. Under Prime Minister Nehru, India pursued Fabian socialist policies like nationalization of major industries, central planning, and autarkic trade policies (Kohli 2004). This was coupled with promotion of small firms in the “socialistic pattern of society.” The public sector dominated infrastructure, financial services, heavy manufacturing, and other “commanding heights.”
However, India’s socialist model bred inefficiency due to limited capacity, political patronage, and corruption. Autarky isolated India from trade and foreign investment. Under Premier Indira Gandhi, some liberalization was initiated. But India remained comparatively poorer and more state-controlled than East Asia until the 1991 balance of payments crisis (Panagariya 2008). This catalyzed sweeping privatization and liberalization reforms.
India thus transitioned over time from developmental socialism to a more market-based model. But the state retained roles in areas like technology promotion through agencies like ISRO and BARC. This helped seed a globally competitive software and IT services sector. Poverty reduction also remained a policy imperative in India’s development strategy.
Sub-Saharan Africa: From State Controls to Liberalization
Many sub-Saharan African (SSA) countries pursued similar ISI strategies as Latin America upon independence in the 1960s-70s. This import substitution focus was reinforced by primary commodity dependence, limited private sectors, and socialist influences (Arrighi 2002). The developmental state in Africa relied more on state-owned enterprises and centralized control over the “commanding heights”, rather than East Asian style public-private partnership.
Most SSA states created marketing boards and parastatal corporations to drive agricultural commodities, mining, manufacturing, utilities, transport, and financial services (Herbst 1993). This high degree of state control aimed to mobilize resources for development. But the results were disappointing due to weak capacity, mismanagement, and commodity dependence. Most countries failed to substantially industrialize or diversify exports under ISI and state-led development.
By the 1980s, accumulating debt and fiscal crises triggered Western-backed structural adjustment reforms centered on privatization, liberalization, and state retrenchment (Stein 1995). Support for state-led development eroded due to perceptions of government failure. The withdrawal of developmental policies under structural adjustment contributed to continued commodities dependence and limited industrialization in much of Africa. But some states like Ethiopia and Rwanda continued pursuing more state-led developmental policies into the 2000s.
China: Gradual Reform of Socialist Development
China represents a unique gradualist transition from comprehensive central planning towards a more market-based developmental model. Under Mao Zedong, China was an orthodox communist economy with total state ownership and control over resources. But agricultural stagnation and inefficiency led Deng Xiaoping to initiate gradual “socialism with Chinese characteristics” reforms after 1978.
China began decentralizing control over township and village enterprises (TVEs), legalizing private business, opening special economic zones (SEZs), and promoting foreign trade and investment (Qian 2003). However, the state retained control over land, mineral resources, and strategic industries. Industrial policies and five-year plans continued targeting priority sectors from automobiles to cleantech. State-owned enterprises and state-led finance remain dominant despite gradual privatization.
China’s hybrid socialist market economy enabled rapid catch up growth through strategic integration with global supply chains. Policy experimentation and special zones allowed gradual expansion of market mechanisms without wholesale shock therapy (Heilmann 2008). However, China faces challenges transitioning its investment and export-led model towards greater domestic consumption and innovation. Xi Jinping has recently called for strengthened Communist party control and state guidance to avoid falling into the “middle income trap.”
Challenges of Late Industrialization: Policy Divergence and Convergence
This comparative historical analysis reveals significant diversity but also common patterns in developmental state policies across the developing world. Policy designs were adapted to different conditions and paradigms. Import substitution, export orientation, state control, and liberalization strategies all enjoyed periods of prominence. Performance also varied widely from outstanding successes like South Korea to failures like Nigeria.
However, some degree of policy convergence and emulation across countries also occurred through the transfer of ideas and diffusion of “global models” (Evans 2004). The rise and fall of development paradigms like ISI and Washington Consensus neoliberalism induced cycles of convergence and divergence. Developmental states exhibit institutional similarities in their strategic governance capabilities, even though specific policies differ greatly (Leftwich 1995).
Late industrialization poses common challenges for developmental states regardless of context (Gerschenkron 1962). These include scarce capital, limited private sector experience, reliance on primary exports, weak infrastructure, and dependence
on foreign technology. Policymakers face choices between interventionism and laissez faire, imports versus exports, and state versus private sector roles. All developmental states require capacity to devise policies tailored to local endowments and political economy.
The most successful developmental states like South Korea and Taiwan adapted broad principles like export orientation and public-private partnership to their contexts. But they avoided damaging extremes like overprotectionism or excessive liberalization. States that moved too far towards either statist control or uncontrolled markets often suffered from distortions and instability. The sequencing and pacing of policy reforms mattered greatly for their impact.
Policy success also depended on synergies between economic policies and state-society relations (Doner et al. 2005). Developmental states needed legitimacy and linkages to business to implement policies effectively. Authoritarian power provided coherence in East Asia, but also risks from cronyism and repression. Democratic politics introduced volatility but also accountability. Different configurations of state and social forces produced divergent development outcomes.
Ideologies and models waxed and waned with global economic cycles. But developmental states exhibited continued pragmatism and adaptation in their policy tools. They combined market incentives with strategic intervention to foster structural change. Policy diversity persisted both between countries based on initial conditions, and within countries over time as leaders targeted new frontiers. Catching up with advanced economies remained a perpetual challenge subject to evolving strategies and limitations.
Case Studies of Policy Successes and Failures
Cross-national analysis reveals complex interactions between policies and outcomes. While strong state intervention generally correlated with rapid industrialization, this was neither universally true nor causally guaranteed. To better understand how policies translated into diverse results, this section examines illuminating country case studies of developmental success and failure.
South Korea: State-Led Excellence
South Korea represents one of the most successful instances of state-led development. Between 1960 and 1996, Korea achieved the fastest economic growth in history, with per capita income rising 100-fold (Chang 2003). This industrial transformation was orchestrated by the authoritarian regime of Park Chung-hee. The state identified target industries, provided export subsidies, directed credit through state-owned banks, and assisted rising chaebol conglomerates like Hyundai and Samsung (Amsden 1989).
Trade protection nurtured domestic automobile, steel, and shipbuilding industries, while quotas and incentives promoted manufactured exports. State agencies like the Economic Planning Board used Five Year Plans to coordinate investments. Despite repression of unions, the state ensured labor peace and discipline for export competiveness. Education policy expanded the skills base. Effective bureaucracies were staffed meritocratically.
State policies successfully accelerated structural transformation from light into heavy industries. Growth was equitably distributed to raise incomes across society. South Korea leveraged state guidance, private sector incentives, and global trade synergistically. However, the 1997 financial crisis revealed weaknesses in “crony capitalism” that induced some policy liberalization. Nevertheless, South Korea remains exemplary for its state-led developmental success.
India: Partial Progress with State and Market
India has achieved more modest development as a democratic developing country with mixed state and market roles. Under Nehru’s early socialist model, India expanded education and infrastructure. But this import-substituting model stagnated by the 1970s (Panagariya 2008). Overregulation stifled entrepreneurship and isolated India from trade. State-owned firms proved inefficient without performance incentives. Excessive red tape bred corruption.
After 1991, India liberalized substantially through privatization, reduced regulation, and freer trade. Growth accelerated, poverty fell, and a globally competitive services sector emerged. However, the state retained important developmental roles. Public investment built infrastructure and capabilities. Agencies like ISRO, BARC, and CSIR supported technology development and commercialization. Hybrid private-public enterprises were effective in some industries like telecom. Select interventions compensated for certain market failures.
India’s mixed state-market model produced uneven but substantial development progress. Liberalization unlocked dynamism but risks excessive inequality and instability. The state contributed importantly to development, even after shedding its domineering control of the Nehru era. India’s policy evolution reveals the continued relevance of strategic state interventions combined with market forces.
Argentina: From Illusory Success to Policy Disillusionment
Argentina represented a poster child for import substituting industrialization in Latin America in the 1950s-60s. The state actively promoted domestic manufacturing of consumer goods and basic materials behind high protective barriers. Import licenses, multiple exchange rates, credit subsidies, and public investment supported industrial deepening (Ferrer 1963). GDP grew robustly as output rapidly diversified from agriculture into industry.
However, heavy state subsidies and deficits eventually triggered a balance of payments crisis by the 1970s. ISI had fostered inefficient, uncompetitive industries reliant on protectionism. State interventions were also manipulated to enrich political-business elites. The distorted economy crumbled under fiscal strains and external shocks. After initially doubling down on controls, Argentina ultimately embraced sweeping neoliberal reform.
Rapid liberalization led to deindustrialization, rising inequality and instability in the 1980s-90s. Policy credibility was lost through cycles of interventionism, crisis and failed shock therapy. Argentina represents a case where extensive state developmentalism proved unsustainably distortive, while abrupt liberalization also caused wrenching harm. It exemplifies the policy risks of undisciplined and unstable extremes at either end of the state-market spectrum.
Malaysia: State-Business Coordination for Industrial Upgrading
Unlike Argentina, Malaysia managed a gradual upgrading from export-oriented industrialization into more advanced sectors with state-business coordination. After initial import substitution, Malaysia transitioned in the 1960s into policies promoting manufactured exports with multinational participation (Rasiah 1995). Labor-intensive electronics assembly drove early export growth.
The state provided incentives for skills development and local content. Public agencies like the Penang Development Corporation facilitated technology transfers to domestic firms. State oil revenues funded industrial investment and promoted heavy industries like steel. Government linked companies (GLCs) entered strategic sectors like autos and aerospace.
Critics argued GLCs distorted competition and risked crowding out private investment. But Malaysia’s developmental governance achieved significant upgrading. Collaboration between government and business coordinated skills and industrial policies for continual manufacturing development. Unlike Argentina, the state retained fiscal prudence to avoid crisis. Malaysia exemplifies selective interventions supporting industrial evolution rather than disruption.
Policy Implications for Developmental States
This comparative study holds important lessons for developmental state policies in the 21st century. It suggests certain principles while avoiding simplistic ideological prescriptions. The analysis indicates that development requires neither exhaustive state control nor unchecked free markets (Evans 1995). Developmental states need both governance capabilities to devise strategic policies, and market dynamism to implement them efficiently.
Different combinations of market and state roles have succeeded historically, contingent on local contexts. Private sectors have typically driven growth most successfully, but within enabling environments shaped by developmental policies and institutions. Successful states have blended public guidance and infrastructure with private incentives and accountability (Doner et al. 2005).
Market forces and incentives are crucial for efficient allocation and dynamic growth. But markets also exhibit endemic failures in areas like infrastructure, human capital, technology, information, and environmental externalities. Strategic state intervention can potentially correct these failures and activate development (Stiglitz 1996). Policies should aim to alter incentives at the margin rather than comprehensively plan economies.
Policy design should build on local factor endowments and capabilities rather than emulate abstract foreign models. Development reflects differential structural change rather than convergence to equilibrium (Gerschenkron 1962). States should expand domestic value addition, technological capabilities, and increasingly complex export baskets. Education, skills training, and infrastructure expansion empower structural transformation.
Effective policy implementation requires insulation from capture by special interests. It benefits from transparent and accountable governance institutions (Evans 1995). Bureaucratic autonomy and performance management can enhance effectiveness relative to politicized cronyism. Reciprocal checks and balances between state and business can mitigate collusive corruption.
Finally, managing policy transitions and sequencing reforms appropriately is vital. Rapid shifts between state-led development, liberalization, and populist subsidies have often proved destabilizing. Gradual and adaptive policy adjustment enables sustained institutional evolution. Developmental states should maintain coherence in strategic priorities while pragmatically adjusting specific instruments to match changing conditions.
This study has analyzed developmental state policies in comparative and historical perspective. It traced policy variations across time and space, examined determinants of success and failure, and derived implications for developmental governance. The analysis reveals both context-specific diversity as well as recurring challenges and policy choices. There are no universal templates, only adaptable principles, for activating development.
Strategic state intervention has frequently played important catalytic roles in accelerating catch-up growth and structural change. But government policies require market dynamism and private initiative to succeed. Development reflects synergistic combinations of state guidance and market discipline tailored to local endowments and institutions. Policy design and implementation capabilities determine if states transform structure or degenerate into predatory autocracy or captured bureaucracy.
There are no shortcuts to development. But the study of diverse developmental state experiences provides guidance for constructing policy mixes suited to particular opportunities and constraints. Pragmatic adaptation, policy learning, and institutional co-evolution are imperative. The developmental state remains a potent but contingent instrument for rapid inclusive development when strategically deployed.
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