Catching Up, Forging Ahead, and Falling Behind (Abramovitz

Catching Up, Forging Ahead, and Falling Behind is an article written by American economist Moses Abramovitz, who was adviser to the United States representative on the Allied Reparations Commission in 1945 and 1946. Through this article, the second mostcited among all the papers published by the Journal of Economic History as of 2006, he proposes the “catch up hypothesis” which includes some characteristics that he calls “social capability”. He then elaborates on a historical experience for this hypothesis. Last, he strolls on an explanation of the congruity of technology and resources and the interaction between followers and leaders within the subject.

Abramovitz, as said before, proposes a “catch up hypothesis” that states that being behind in terms of productivity gives a higher potential of rapid advance. In other words, when productivity goes on for a long period of time, its measure will show that rates are smaller than those that the ones found at the beginning of such process. This, naturally, has much to do with the technological development of a country and with its economical status. Thus, it relates with the “social capability” that the country in subject has. Whether it posses the organizational, educational and social qualifications to maintain an expected productivity. Some historical experiences are cited. Strength is shown mostly during the first quarter-century following World War II in several currently industrialized countries. In these, there is a convergence in their productivity levels, and it is accompanied by dramatic shifts in countries' productivity rankings. Through this, the author explains the plausibility of reflecting the kind of catch-up that a nation may expect over a simple indicator of technological gaps. The average of several countries versus the United States in terms of a technological breach maintained certain resistance to be reduced for the period from 1870 and 1929. There are three basic arguments for this that also explain the congruity of technology and resources: a) technology during that period depended on a long saving capital and resource using methods, b) some countries that may have not been latecomers –such as Britain,

lacked experience in large scale production and commerce, and c) World War I turned to be a big setback for many countries but a stimulus to growth in the United States. Finally, there is an interaction between followers and leaders. This includes

technological borrowing by followers, exports by leading countries to less developed countries and exchanges via flow of applied knowledge. The main preoccupations when in a current condition of change of roles are whether the US and Europe will be as quick to adapt to methods as Japan has historically been, and if new rising economies will guard working knowledge of their operations more closely than US companies have done. Regardless of what may be in the predictable future of leading nations that are losing that position, more important is to note the fine balance that exists between productivity and other material incomes and social welfare extents.

In general terms, the hypothesis provides with a basic guideline that may explain the different levels of productivity that a country finds. Throughout history, these are

continuously changing depending on several factors. Nevertheless, there has always been those that lead and those that follow. Thus creating a series of vicious cycles that only make more profound the dependence that one nation has with regards to another. There on, it should be in our best interest to attempt to alleviate this pattern to whatever possible extent. It is here where we take into account the level of social

adaptability that a country has. Most important is to comprehend that not all cultures assimilate challenges in the same way. Education and other forms of training, health and inventiveness are some of the factors that modify the productivity level of a country. It seems important to study certain factors that have universally shown to affect productivity. This will prove useful when drawing public policies that have as a fixed goal to attain the greatest conducted development in social, political or economical matters.

On the basis of these conclusions, I believe that it is absolutely necesarray to obtain the best productivity possible. Are there some factors that lay away from our power to handle them? Human nature seems to always prove this wrong. Two examples come to mind: the former Soviet Union from 1960 through 1980 pursued a war of technological advancement

with the United States. Even if evident state of the art technology was produced in the Union, productivity got stock due administrative and economical problems of the government that eventually resulted in a low adaptability of society, and thus in the loss of the war. Meanwhile, China has constructed upon a productivity outline that has amazed the whole world. Starting in the 1990’s, its government decided to invest in education,

research and direct its economy in exports. It is clear that inventiveness is not as great an asset as expected from new industrialized countries. Nevertheless, the cheaper production of technology that is produced elsewhere with higher input into research has allowed for them to concentrate on a part of the process and thus alleviate costs. The economy of the country develops quickly. As said before, the material rewards and a swell social welfare received by a society are not entirely relevant in this matter as it has been proven to be inversely proportional to the productivity level of a country. How far can a government go that is not pushing over the limits? Some countries seem to find a delicate equilibrium even if no formula can for certain be prescript. Chile is nowadays definitely a brilliant example of well being and productivity that directly reflects such outcomes in the revenues of industries and the development of technology.

Abramovitz, Moses. "Catching Up, Forging Ahead, and Falling Behind.", Mitchell A. Seligson and John T Passé-Smith (ed). Development and Underdevelopment: The Political Economy of Global Inequity. London: Lynne Rienner Publishers. 133-153.

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