Paul Wolfowitz: 'Sustained economic growth is essential for development'

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The Independent Online

What a difference 40 years makes. I recall reading pessimistic analyses in the mid-1960s that said South Korea was doomed to failure because it lacked the ingredients deemed necessary for successful development. Yet in the span of a few decades, Korea and East Asia have experienced the greatest increase in wealth for the largest number of people in the shortest time in the history of humanity.

If we can liberate the energies of the African people and unleash the potential of the private sector to create jobs, Africa will not only become a continent of hope, but a continent of accomplishment. When Africa's challenges seem overwhelming and the statistics staggering, let us remember - for every Afro-pessimist today, there was an Oriental fatalist 40 years ago.

We have also come a long way in the last 40 years in our understanding of how development works. We know it can be a complex and - in some ways - mysterious process. Forty years ago, scholars sought to explain economic growth primarily in terms of inputs of labour and capital. When a third variable - technology - was introduced, that was considered a remarkable innovation.

Today, we have a much broader and better understanding of what drives development and growth. We know that sustained economic growth is essential for development and reducing poverty. And, we also know that many of the drivers are not measurable in numerical terms. Because they are harder to measure, harder to predict and often harder to influence, there is a tendency to discount these factors as "soft".

That would be a mistake, because sustainable development depends as much on leadership and accountability, on civil society and women, on the private sector and on the rule of law, as it does on labour or capital. Perhaps the most important determinant for reducing poverty is leadership. And institutions of accountability such as civil society and a free press can help leaders listen, help to hold them accountable for results, and expose corruption.