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Comparative advantage, industrial policy and the World Bank: back to first principles


  • Singh, Ajit


This paper provides a critical analysis of the World Bank’s new thinking on industrial policy. After outlining the changing perspectives on industrial policy put forward by the World Bank over the last three decades, we argue that the bank’s economists have taken one step forward (the approval for the enhanced role of the state) but also one if not two steps backward (by strong encouragement to countries to seek their current comparative advantage in pursuing industrial policy). We argue that a critical analysis of the World Bank’s policy stance on industrial policy as on other main issues is essential because of the institution’s hegemony in policy analysis of economic development as well as its conditionality, which may now well include what this paper regards as its inappropriate industrial policy. The analysis in the paper combines classical contributions on international trade and the world economy, relevant economic history, as well as Krugman’s comments on these issues in terms of modern economic analysis. The paper concludes with reflections on the appropriate industrial policy for developing countries that the World Bank should support.

Suggested Citation

  • Singh, Ajit, 2011. "Comparative advantage, industrial policy and the World Bank: back to first principles," MPRA Paper 39050, University Library of Munich, Germany.
  • Handle: RePEc:pra:mprapa:39050

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Karl Aiginger, 2007. "Industrial Policy: Past, Diversity, Future; Introduction to the Special Issue on the Future of Industrial Policy," Journal of Industry, Competition and Trade, Springer, vol. 7(3), pages 143-146, December.
    2. Glyn, A. & Hughes, A. & Lipietz, A. & Singh, A., 1988. "The Rise And Fall Of The Golden Age," Cambridge Working Papers in Economics 884, Faculty of Economics, University of Cambridge.
    3. Justin Lin & Ha-Joon Chang, 2009. "Should Industrial Policy in Developing Countries Conform to Comparative Advantage or Defy it? A Debate Between Justin Lin and Ha-Joon Chang," Development Policy Review, Overseas Development Institute, vol. 27(5), pages 483-502, September.
    4. Calsamiglia, Xavier, 1977. "Decentralized resource allocation and increasing returns," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 14(2), pages 263-283, April.
    5. Alex Izurieta & Ajit Singh, 2010. "Does Fast Growth in India and China Help or Harm US Workers?," Journal of Human Development and Capabilities, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 11(1), pages 115-141.
    6. Ajit Singh, 1998. "Financial liberalisation, stockmarkets and economic development," Nova Economia, Economics Department, Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais (Brazil), vol. 8(1), pages 165-182.
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    Cited by:

    1. Lectard, Pauline & Rougier, Eric, 2018. "Can Developing Countries Gain from Defying Comparative Advantage? Distance to Comparative Advantage, Export Diversification and Sophistication, and the Dynamics of Specialization," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 102(C), pages 90-110.
    2. Evelyn Dietsche, 2017. "New industrial policy and the extractive industries," WIDER Working Paper Series 161, World Institute for Development Economic Research (UNU-WIDER).
    3. Johannes Schwarzer, 2016. "Trade and Employment. An Overview," Discussion Notes 1601, Council on Economic Policies.

    More about this item


    World Bank; industrial policy; economic development; trade;

    JEL classification:

    • F12 - International Economics - - Trade - - - Models of Trade with Imperfect Competition and Scale Economies; Fragmentation
    • L52 - Industrial Organization - - Regulation and Industrial Policy - - - Industrial Policy; Sectoral Planning Methods
    • L50 - Industrial Organization - - Regulation and Industrial Policy - - - General
    • O14 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - Industrialization; Manufacturing and Service Industries; Choice of Technology


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