education are often made. These actors often construe their region’s ‘only’ comparative advantage in economic development as one of cheap labor; they worry that a more educated labor force may diminish that advantage by leading to a general increase in the region’s relative wage, and by reducing the prized ‘docility’ and ‘gratefulness’ of the region’s labor force; they also expect to lose the returns to their investment in better education, because of the fabled outmigration of the best workers. The above-noted experiences of firm owners and managers, in turn, seems to translate into a lack of pressure on governments by important local elites for improved education–a kind of fatal absence of demand-driven pressures. These various perceptions, it is important to note, are eminently rational in both private and economic terms.”31
Beyond such particular cases, various studies have indicated a general connection between inequality, especially in land holdings, and weak expansion of schooling. (Bowles, 1978; Galor et al, 2004; Alesina and Rodrik, 1994). The common point of these examples and more general studies is that they tend to demonstrate that the lack of progress with schooling in low-income parts of the world is not explained by a lack of will, ignorance about the gains from schooling, or even a lack of funds per se. Instead, a lack of progress in schooling is often, if not always, explained by the fact that powerful groups do not have an interest in advancing the schooling of the population. Their interest may be direct (a schooled labor force may be less docile) or indirect (a schooled labor force is not worth paying for) or it may operate on a broad social level (a schooled population may be less likely to accept the status quo). In whatever way this interest is seen, it is real, and the ability of those who have this interest to impose it on society in general is a result of their socio-political power and their economic position – which is to say it is a result of the unequal distribution of income and wealth. In many societies, then, it is hard to envision real progress in schooling without some changes in the structure of power and income and wealth distribution.
IV.C. Distributional Impacts of Growth
In its call for increasing “food productivity of smallholder farmers,” the Sachs Report again sees the problem in terms of ignorance. Advocating a new green revolution in Africa and the left-behind regions of Asia and Latin America, the Report presents poverty alleviation and economic development as generally attainable through
31 Tendler also draws a parallel between current era Northeast Brazil and the late 19th century South in the United States, and notes (pp. 51-52): “The U.S. Southern story helps us to understand three important aspects of the Northeast Brazilian case. First, it shows how the fear of education is not limited to individual firm owners or to business elites as a group. Second, the U.S. Southern story brings to the fore the central importance of the perspective of the backward region–as distinct from that of states and municipalities–in driving attitudes and actions toward education. Though strong regional entities existed in both cases, they nevertheless had almost no fiscal or implementation responsibilities in the education sector, which fall in the domain of local, state, and federal governments. Third, and seemingly unrelated to education, a particular form of industrial policy adopted by governments in lagging regions–recruiting outsider firms with tax exemptions and other subsidies–has had a strong negative impact, if only indirectly, on education.”