WIDER Annual Lecture 12
Developing Countries in the World Economy

The Future in the Past?

This lecture examines recent changes in the significance of developing countries in the world economy from a longer term historical perspective. From 1820 to 1950 developing countries experienced a sharp decline in their dominant share of world GDP and a rapid divergence in their per capita income from Western Europe and North America.

This widening gap persisted until the early 1970s, but then the situation changed. Rapid economic growth in the developing world over the past three decades has increased its share of international trade, industrial production, and total output. The impression of widespread development, however, is misleading, as much of the catch-up is attributable to no more than about a dozen countries.

Regional differences in performance within the developing world are striking, and there is more divergence than convergence in income when compared with industrialized nations. Many poor countries and poor people continue to lag behind. Even so, the beginnings of a change in the balance of economic power in the world are visible. And the past could be a pointer to the future.The 12th WIDER Annual Lecture was given by Professor Deepal Nayyar in Helsinki on 23rd February 2009, under the title ‘Developing Countries in the World Economy: The Future in the Past?’.