Principle of circular and cumulative causation: fusing Myrdalian and Kaldorian growth and development dynamics.

Author:O'Hara, Phillip Anthony

Circular and cumulative causation (CCC) has been a critical principle of political economy for over a hundred years. While the roots of the concept go back further (see Humphrey 1990; O'Hara 2000), Thorstein Veblen (1857-1929) utilized the concept in his examination of the evolution of institutions. Gunnar Myrdal (1898-1987) scrutinized the conditions of African Americans and Asian underdevelopment through the lens of CCC; influenced as he was by Knut Wicksell (1851-1926) (Myrdal 1939). Nicholas Kaldor (1908-1986) applied CCC to the role of manufacturing in capitalist growth; influenced by Adam Smith (1723-1790) and Allyn Young (1876-1929). Numerous other scholars have utilized the notion of CCC, often in different ways. There are linkages between Veblen, Myrdal and Kaldor. For instance, Veblen influenced Allyn Young who in turn taught Kaldor; Myrdal got the concept from Knut Wicksell and worked with Kaldor at the United Nations (Economic Commission for Europe); and Kaldor (1970, 142) got the term from Myrdal.

The first main section, studies the similarities and differences between the Myrdalian and Kaldorian CCC frameworks. The second section develops a general system model of integration between the two traditions. There is a large measure of continuity between the two CCC approaches; they complement each other. Myrdalian CCC concentrates on the social provisioning aspect of development, while Kaldorian CCC centers on demand-supply relationships linked to the manufacturing sector. Linking both CCC approaches in an integrative model enhances our understanding of development and growth dynamics, and contributes to the development of institutional-evolutionary political economy.

Comparison of Myrdal and Kaldor on CCC

Myrdalian and Kaldorian CCC traditions have significant commonalities as well as important differences. They have three main things in common. The first is the principle of circular causation, where the variables are interrelated, and the general manner of interaction between variables is complex and manifold. Circular causation is a multi-causal approach where the core variables and their linkages are delineated. CCC eschews single factor theories. Both Myrdalian and Kaldorian CCC examine circular relationships, where the interdependencies between factors are relatively strong, and where variables interlink in the determination of major processes.

The second similarity is cumulative causation, where the variables tend to operate as positive feedback processes, magnifying and multiplying the combined impact of the interactions through historical time. The coefficients of interaction between variables will play some role here, as will the extent of any negative feedback (drawback) effects working in the opposite direction. These cumulative interactions are crucial to Myrdalian and Kaldorian empirical studies of money, growth, demand, development and ethnicity. Both forms of CCC examine cumulative dynamics, where the feedback within and between variables often tend to have a multiplier or amplified impact on the overall outcomes.

The third similarity relates to traverse, path dependence, and hysteresis that move the system through time in a typically non-equilibrium fashion. Both approaches to CCC recognize the importance of history and time, as well as space and geography, since changes to the social and political economy condition the path of evolution and transformation; and there are regional differences to growth and development as well. The acquisition of knowledge, technical skills and economies of scale/scope affect the path of growth and development in complex and multifarious ways. Both theories explain real world processes that impact nations and regions, and which help explain differences in the outcomes between regions and areas.

The fourth similarity is that cumulative processes often have endogenous contradictions embedded in their dynamics. This aspect has been under-emphasized in the literature, yet it is very important since it means that cumulative changes may sow the seeds of their own demise. When David Gordon (1991), for instance, criticized Kaldor's theory for having too much cumulation and not enough contradiction, he was cognizant of the problem but underplayed the degree that Kaldor himself recognized the problem (e.g., see Kaldor 1966). Setterfield (2001) has set the record straight for Kaldor, since, for instance, regimes of accumulation often have norms and mores that become locked-in, even when industrial change is required (see also Argyrous 2001 and Toner 2001). For Myrdal, on the other hand, the contradictions are more obvious, since cumulation occurs more specifically in tandem with uneven development; and counteracting forces can often be strong (though themselves cumulative, perhaps in a different direction).

These are strong similarities; core ones. Indeed, they are the foundation for linking the traditions. However, the differences are also important, since they allow the traditions to examine marginally different (but complementary) problems. There are three main differences between the models, differences of emphasis rather than quality. The first is that Myrdalian CCC concentrates on the social economy and development through interdisciplinary analysis; whereas Kaldorian CCC centers on more technical demand-supply issues linked to economies of scale and growth. Although Myrdal started out applying CCC to money and macroeconomics (Myrdal [1939] 1965), his most famous two-volume application was to the under-privileged situation of African Americans in the United States (Myrdal 1944), along with his three-volume work on Asian underdevelopment (Myrdal 1968). Myrdal influenced others to apply the theory to issues such as the provision of public and social services in rural and remote areas (Fagence 1980), the socio-political crisis in Poland in the 1980s (Tarkowski 1988), and uneven development at the regional level (Higgins and Savoie 1995). Myrdal's holistic vision is consistent with an interdisciplinary method for the social sciences, broadening the field of inquiry to social, political and economic relationships (see Hawley 1979).

Kaldor's CCC was a narrower economic approach to linking demand with supply through interdependencies with investment spending, productivity and world income. He placed more emphasis than Myrdal on the growth impact of CCC processes in domestic, regional and world economies. Kaldor (1972; 1975; 1980) recognized the importance of history and time, especially investment demand being embodied in scaled economies and regimes of accumulation. He stimulated other economists to apply his analysis to issues of industrial maturation and demise in the United Kingdom (Eatwell 1982), the balance of payments constraint (McCombie and Thirlwall 1994), and regimes of accumulation (Pini 1995). Kaldor's vision is narrower than Myrdal's yet still recognizing the importance of multi-causal processes and long-term change.

Secondly, the Myrdalian system is more values-oriented, concerned with the role of ideology, assumptions, social norms and mores; whereas the Kaldorian system is seemingly more objectively founded on evidence and empirical evidence (Berger 2008). Thus, Myrdal emphasizes the normative elements of inquiry, recognizing the role of human relationships and...

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