Modernization and Dependency Theories on Global Inequality

Modernization and dependency theories present two different perspectives on international development and point out two fundamentally different solutions to global inequality. While modernization theorists assumed that progress was achievable through the adoption pre-specified strategies, dependency theorists call for tailored strategies that take into account the unique attributes and features of each nation and its position in the global economy. This paper seeks to provide a comparison of these two theories and determine which of them allows for a more useful understanding of global inequality.

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While dependency and modernization theories are incredibly different, they also share a few features in common. Both approaches place particular emphasis on macrostructures in their exploration of the process of development and its barriers (Pieterse, 2010). They also share the belief that the process of development can bring about social and economic progress. According to the modernization theory, development is a phased process through which all nations undergo a progressive transition from traditional to modern societies. The assumption that all countries follow a predefined path of development is almost entirely derived from observation of European progress towards social and economic modernization. It neglects the disparity between western societies and those in developing countries who, apart from being completely unique face the ever-present challenge of having weak positions in the global economy (Hout, 2016).

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It is unfair to assume that low-income countries are primitive versions of developed countries and that they are set to undergo the same exponential growth witnessed by European countries if they adopted similar strategies. Similar criticism of the modernization theory prompted an analysis of underdevelopment and dependence, which gave rise to the dependency theory (Hout, 2016).  This perspective on development posits that resources in the global economy flow from poor underdeveloped countries to wealthy developed countries. The enrichment of these developed countries at the expense of the underdeveloped countries gives rise to global economic inequality.

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Concerning global inequality, the modernization theory posits that low-income countries can improve their standing in the global economy by adopting industrialization and adjusting their attitude to work. They could also reconfigure their cultural values and create more modern social structures. European nations that adopted such strategies have enjoyed longer lifespans and low poverty levels. However, these strategies may not be useful to all nations around the world because not all countries have access to the same resources. These strategies would also be ineffective because, high-income countries choose which countries loans go to and thus, control access to resources required for industrialization. Moreover, while high-income countries would want low-income countries to flourish enough to continue providing cheap labor, they would not want this growth to establish a threat for them in the global economy.

In my opinion, the dependency theory provides a much clearer understanding of global inequality. According to this theory, exploitation of middle income and low-income countries by high-income countries creates a cycle of dependence (Little et al. 2012). Underdeveloped countries cannot develop without aid from developed countries. All the resources they require to do so end up in countries to be converted to manufactured goods. These goods are shipped back to the developing countries to and sold at exorbitant prices. Buying the manufactured goods depletes the capital that underdeveloped countries would need to set up competitive manufacturing sectors of their own. Moreover, developed countries remain the only way developing countries can access loans to offset development. This cycle of dependence means that developing countries will forever remain impoverished and unable to achieve any form of sustainable economic development (Little et al. 2012).

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To conclude, while modernization theorists provide a framework through which development can be fostered in the ideal European setting. However, the strategies proposed by this theory hold little weight against the understanding of global inequality provided by dependency theorists.

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