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Myrdal, the state and political development Winterford , David B.

Abstract

A discussion and analysis is offered of Gunnar Myrdal's contributions to the theory of political development. Attention is focused on his conception of the role of the state as an agent of development. The paper is divided into two parts. Part I is concerned with the development of the state in the advanced welfare democracies of the West. We find that this development both affects and is affected by the emergence of an organized institutional infrastructure. We discuss the political development of the West --the development of a strong, capable, and effective state --in terms of the liberal interlude, the organization of markets, the spread of equality and the emergence of the "welfare state" as an "organizational state." We find that Myrdal seriously underestimates the critical requisites for an effective yet democratic "organizational state." Part II discusses Myrdal's application of his model of development to the underdeveloped world. Here we find that Myrdal is ideologically compatible with those elites who stipulate that the state must be the main agent of development. Yet through a discussion of the "modernization ideals" of socialism, political democracy and state planning as well as the exigencies of corruption and personal insecurity we do not find an organized institutional infrastructure underpinning the strong, capable, and effective state. Rather we find the "soft-state." For what we characterize as rational political reasons the "soft-state" is marked by low citizen obedience and few obligations placed on the citizens by the political leaders. We argue that this is intimately related to the low degree of equality between individuals and groups. In fact, since so many receive so little from the outputs of state activity, the state is unable to enforce a network of citizen obligations. We find that the "soft-state" is characterized by two things: ambivalence among the elites; and, stability of the system. Yet this stability is a stability of stagnation not development .On the basis of Myrdal's discussion of the agricultural sector we suggest that the only way the "soft-state" will be hardened into a more capable state is through a selective retrenchment of state activities. It would appear that the underdeveloped world would profit from a liberal interlude of reduced state activities. Moreover, by giving encouragement to those groups in society who are less bound by convention and who do not have a vested interest in the status quo, (e.g. the progressive agriculturalists), it may be possible to secure political development, that is, the development of an organized institutional infrastructure, making for a strong, capable, and effective state.

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