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Uneven Development

  The existence of dramatic differences in levels of economic development, whether at a world scale (in the form of differences between developed and less-developed countries), or at a continental scale (such as the north-south divide in Europe), or at a subnational scale (for example the differences between the southeast and the rest of the UK) are debated by geographers and economists as examples of uneven development. Even as a descriptive concept, there are debates about how best to characterize unevenness, but the most profound disagreements are about explanations.

According to neoclassical economics, uneven development should be self-correcting because less-developed areas will have low costs for land and labour and hence attract investment from high-cost areas. There are some examples of this, especially the appearance of the newly-industrializing countries in the 1970s, but often unevenness seems extremely persistent over time. This point is emphasized by Marxists, who stress that more developed status at one time tends to lead to a concentration of economic and often of political power, which can be used to ensure that future investment largely favours the more developed area, and so that advantage becomes cumulative. This fits well with the UK government\'s adoption of policies which favour the southeast and with US domination of the World Bank and IMF.

However, there are some exceptions to the perpetuation of advantage. British capital, for example, has been keen to invest abroad and the West Midlands region of England has plummeted from privilege to deindustrialization. Conversely, economies in the Far East have advanced rapidly in relation to Europe and the US. A third set of arguments, under the title ‘spatial divisions of labour’, suggests that the pursuit of profit and growth uses the differences between places in different ways at different times to produce changes which are neither self-correcting nor self-perpetuating. This argument is more difficult to refute than the two earlier positions, and has the merit of directing attention to the detailed reasons for persistence and change in unevenness. But its critics object that it is more a detailed description than a general explanation. PS

Further reading D. Massey, Spatial Divisions of Labour.



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