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The Developmental State

    Governments have been playing a developmental role for millennia.  In the ancient world, governments built elaborate systems of irrigation that supported intensive agriculture.  In the Middle Ages, some principalities were able to leap ahead because they established educational institutions and encouraged the immigration of skilled artisans.   At the end of the 19th century, late industrializing countries in Europe relied on government to finance the large projects required to catch up with Europe’s industrial leaders.
             But the strategies used by developmental states are constantly shifting.  In the years after World War II, Japan and other East Asian nations relied on highly centralized planning bureaus to subsidize industrial investments for firms to catch up with European and U.S. competitors.   By the 1980’s, however, a new and decentralized model of developmental state began to emerge; this has been called a Developmental Network State (DNS).  It has proven highly effective in encouraging the creation and growth of new firms and new industries organized around cutting edge technologies.
             In the United States, the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) in the Department of Defense was a pioneer in using DNS strategies to support the growth of the computer industry in the 1960’s, 1970’s, and 1980’s.   ARPA officials who were themselves leading scientists and engineers had significant leeway to support technological initiatives in universities and in businesses.  They invested heavily in supporting the creation of Computer Science departments at leading universities and they set technological goals that brought significant breakthroughs in the creation of more effective human-computer interfaces.  In fact, many of the key features that were ultimately incorporated into the personal computer were initially created by ARPA-supported researchers.
            In the decades since, this approach to technology policy has diffused across the entire government.  Today, most significant innovations that occur in the U.S. economy have been supported and financed by Federal dollars.  Many of these innovations come directly out of Federal laboratories and Federally-funded university laboratories or from new startup firms founded by scientists and engineers supported by government research dollars.  But even large firms are increasingly dependent on university and government laboratories for helping them to develop new technologies.
     All of this is inconsistent with the market fundamentalist viewpoint.  For them, government is always the problem, not the solution.  So they have worked to keep the U.S. government’s developmental efforts hidden from the public.  Aided by a compliant media, their efforts have been remarkably successful.   Our goal is to bring this hidden developmental state into full public view.


Fred Block, “Swimming Against the Current”:  The Rise of a Hidden Developmental State in the U.S.”  Politics & Society  36:2  (June 2008):  169-206.

Ha-Joon Chang,   Bad Samaritans:  The Myth of Free Trade and the Secret History of Capitalism.   New York;  Bloomsbury Press, 2007.

------------------  Kicking Away the Ladder.  London:  Anthem Press, 2002.

Peter Evans,   Embedded Autonomy.  Princeton:  Princeton University Press, 1995.

Sean O’Riain, The Politics of High Tech Growth.  Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press, 2004. 

On ARPA specifically, see Alex Roland with Philip Shiman,  Strategic Computing: DARPA and the Quest for Machine Intelligence 1983-1993.  Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.

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