Social Scientist. v 27, no. 318-319 (Nov-Dec 1999) p. 27.


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G.K. LIETEN5

Multinationals and Development: Revisiting the Debate

Throughout the 1970s, a number of critical studies on the impact of multinational corporations (MNCs) in the developing countries were published (a.o. Jalee 1968, Vernon 1973, 1977, Helleiner 1972, Barratt Brown 1974,1974, Radice 1975, Hymer 1976, Ahmed Idris-Soven et al 1978). The studies were critical of the MNCs in more than one sense, and conjured a future in which (developing) countries would exercise more autonomy and more state-aided development. A sizeable chunk of the social scientists concerned with or residing in the Third World turned against the MNCs with their imposing commercial, technological and political power. The dismay at the dependency of formally independent states, summarised in the title of Vernon's book (Sovereignty at Bay), appealed to many. In the 1980s and 1990s, with a few exceptions (Reiffers 1982, Michalet 1985, Dunning 1981,1992, Lieten 1987, Dixon et al 1986, Jenkins 1987) the focus had shifted, and it has continued to shift. It has shifted to such an extent that the TINA syndrome rules the roost1. Immanuel Wallerstein (1996: 356) exclaims:

By the 1990s, it became hard to remember that anyone was ever optimistic. No one today seems to think there will be significant change in a relatively short run, a prosperous world for everyone. And everyone, or almost everyone, it seems, has given up on state action as the remedy. 'We were all Keynesians once', I suppose is the new slogan. Now, bless our souls, even most of us who were most radical in our politics a short time ago, are 'free marketeers'.

The shift, apart from ideological, has also been a shift into different theoretical concerns. In the 1970s, the number of studies on MNCs

i, Netherlands.

Social Scientist, Vol. 27, Nos. 11 - 12, Nov. - Dec. 1999



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