Alacevich, Michele

Heyman Center for the Humanities, Columbia University
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History of development ideas, policies and institutions
Heyman Center for the Humanities, Columbia University
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Last updated: January 31, 2023
Michele Alacevich, Associate Director for Research Activities at the Heyman Center for the Humanities, Columbia University, specializes in the history of 20th century development institutions and ideas, and international history. Current interests include the history of development, the policies of postwar reconstruction in Southern Europe, and the history of social sciences in the 20th century, with a focus on the linkages between the history of ideas, economic and political history, and the history of economic thought. His book The Political Economy of the World Bank: The Early Years (Stanford University Press, 2009) has been translated into Spanish, French, Italian, Russian, and Arabic. His publications include articles in Journal of Global History, History of Political Economy, Review of Political Economy, Rivista di Storia Economica, and Journal of the History of Economic Thought. Before moving to Columbia University, Michele Alacevich was a research scholar at Harvard University (2010-2011), Columbia University (2009-2010), and the World Bank (2006-2008). He holds a Ph.D. in business history from the University of Milano, Italy (2006).

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Early Development Economics Debates Revisited

2007-12, Alacevich, Michele

Development economics in its early years created the image of a fierce fight between advocates of contrasting theories or approaches- "balanced growth" vs. "unbalanced growth" or "program loans" vs. "project loans." This view has the merit to highlight such conflicts in great detail; yet it fails to take into account the reality of development economics as it was practiced in the field. This paper reassesses these old conflicts by complementing the traditional focus on theoretical debates with an emphasis on the practice of development economics.A particularly interesting example is the debate between Albert Hirschman, one of the fathers of the "unbalanced growth" approach, and Lauchlin Currie, among the advocates of "balanced growth" on how to foster iron production in Colombia in the 1950s. An analysis of the positions held by these two economists shows that they were in fact much less antithetical than is usually held and, indeed, were in some fundamental aspects surprisingly similar. Debates among development economists during the 1950s thus must be explained-at least partially-as the natural dynamics of an emerging discipline that took shape when different groups tried to achieve supremacy-or at least legitimacy-through the creation of mutually delegitimizing systemic theories.

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Visualizing Uncertainties, or How Albert Hirschman and the World Bank Disagreed on Project Appraisal and Development Approaches

2012-11, Alacevich, Michele

Since its birth in 1944, the World Bank has had a strong focus on development projects. Yet, it did not have a project evaluation unit until the early 1970s. An early attempt to conceptualize project appraisal had been made in the 1960s by Albert Hirschman, whose undertaking raised high expectations at the Bank. Hirschman's conclusions -- published first in internal Bank reports and then, as a book in 1967 -- disappointed many at the Bank, primarily because they found it impractical. Hirschman wanted to offer the Bank a new vision by transforming the Bank's approach to project design, project management and project appraisal. What the Bank expected from Hirschman, HOWEVER, was not a revolution but an examination of the Bank's projects and advice on how to make project design and management more measurable, controllable, and suitable for replication. The history of this failed collaboration provides useful insights on the unstable equilibrium between operations and evaluation within the Bank. In addition, it shows that the Bank actively participated in the development economics debates of the 1960s. This should be of interest for development economists today who reflect on the future of their discipline emphasizing the need for a non-dogmatic approach to development. It should also be of interest for the Bank itself, which is stressing the importance of evaluation for effective development policies. The history of the practice of development economics, using archival material, can bring new perspectives and help better understand the evolution of this discipline.