Howard Stein

Faculty / Academic Staff
African development
Intellectual Biography: 

I am economist. To a humanities focused group, the field must invoke images of mathematical obscurantism, rational deductivity and the neoliberal reordering of the world. Through its ahistorical universalizing of human behavior and ubiquity in the North and South, neoclassical economics, the dominant form of economic theory today denies the very idea or meaning of the global South as a source of theory. However, not every economist is woven of the same fabric.

My research has been Africa-focused with occasional forays into East and Southeast Asia. I have published books and articles on a variety of subjects including industrialization and industrial policy, agriculture, banking and finance, globalization and capital flows, institutional development, aid ownership, structural adjustment, the IMF and the World Bank. I have just completed work as the principle author on the 2014 UNECA annual economic report on building industrial policy institutions in Africa based on eleven commissioned studies from countries around the continent. Since 2008, I have been studying the impact of property formalization in rural Tanzania with an interdisciplinary team of two anthropologists (Kelly Askew from U. of M, Rie Odgaard formerly of DIIS and a geographer (Faustin Maganga of the IRA, University of Dar Es Salaam) with a focus on its impact on poverty, conflict and land accumulation and dispossession. In virtually all cases, the work has tried to incorporate perspectives from the global south.

I began my venture into the global south in Tanzania where I taught economics at the University of Dar Es Salaam in the 1980s while still a grad student and wrote my dissertation on national planning. This was a period when African countries were still inspired by the ideas of Gunnar Myrdal and others that nations needed to draw on localized knowledge to help define and direct their own economic destinies. In those days we did not teach from US based economics textbooks, but from the work of scholars inspired by insights from the south including Walter Rodney, W. Arthur Lewis, Ann Seidman, Justinian Rweyemamu, Clive Thomas, Albert Hirschman, Karl Polanyi, Samir Amin, and so many others. Today, sadly few economists in Africa under the age of 50 know these works or these authors.

So what can an institutional economist bring to the conversation? One would think it was important for this project to understand the epistemology of economics which has has such a wide impact on life inside and outside the academy. How has the tradition of theorizing about economies from the south been displaced by what Albert Hirschman called mono-economics? How much has been facilitated by the aid community in Africa to create support for their often neoliberal related agenda by training and retraining economists in neoclassical mono-economics both in universities and inside key government agencies? How much has been a by-product of the incentives created through efforts to localize aid related research and reports in the name of “capacity building”. What are the new pockets of alternative thinking inside Africa that can challenge the hegemonic influence of neoclassical economics? Among other things, I plan to draw on the research from our five year project on property right formalization in Tanzania which has tried to critically evaluate the hypotheses associated with a mono- economic vision of the transformation of rural relations. In addition, I have done some preliminary historical work on emasculation of economics from the south (Africa) and how it was reconstituted in the image of mono-economics.

Presentation Title: 
Undermining Economic Theory from the Global South: 'Capacity Building' and the Instrumental Promotion of Shared Ideologies, Theories and Concepts
Thandika Mdandawire "Institutional Monocropping and Monotasking in Africa" in Noman, Akbar, Kwesi Botchwey, Howard Stein and Joseph Stiglitz eds. Good growth and governance in Africa: Rethinking development strategies. Oxford University Press, 2012. Hirschman, AO The Rise and Decline of Development Economics,in AO Hirschman, Essays in Trespassing – Economics to Politics and Beyond, Cambridge,Cambridge University Press, 1981 Toye, John FJ. Dilemmas of development: Reflections on the counter-revolution in development theory and policy. Oxford: Blackwell, 1987.