Social Scientist. v 7, no. 76 (Nov 1978) p. 79.

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Under development and the Theory of Unequal Exchange


THE theories of underdevelopment, from the Marxian perspective, swing between two extremes. On the one hand, Gunder Frank and others take the mechanisms of imperialism to be the mechanisms of underdevelopment. Others like Bhadhuri see underdevelopment, in agriculture atleast, as the result of a static system not easily susceptible, that is, not showing any tendencies, to change. In other words, the role of imperialism varies from being the sole cause of underdevelopment to being just another constraint on an already underdeveloped system. Faced with this spectrum of views, Ranjit Sau in his Imperialism and Underdevelopment sets out to identify the nature of imperialism in its modern phase and the role it plays in the undcrdevclopement of the Third World.

Following the code of the economists he starts out with a theoretical discourse: from a rejection of the neoclassical and Cambridge school models to a rejection of the models of unequal exchange of Emancul and Braun. His own theoretical model of unequal exchange is based, presumably, on his critique of the above mentioned models. Unfortunately, however, his model gives us very little additional insight into the nature of imperialism.

Peeping through Sau's mathematics, his argument can be put forward quite simply as follows: If the prices of two commodities arc equal then the commodity with a higher wage rate will embody less labour than the commodity with a lower wage rate. Since the advanced capitalist countries have a higher wage rate than the underdeveloped countries, there exists unequal ' exchange in international trade—that is the basis of unequal exchange is seen to be the fact that the wages in the two countries are different. The question which then arises is that if the

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