The importance of Geography

During class today, we learnt about the role geography plays in development and how it is a vastly divided topic in the field. Given the various different opinions and theories related to geography and development, I decided to explore a few notable theories in further detail to gain a better understanding about the debate surrounding the importance of geography in development.

Tropical Environment

Jeff Sachs aims to explain the disparity in incomes around the world with the development challenges faced by countries in tropical environments. In particular Sachs argues that in tropical areas the lag in technologies in the health and agricultural sector have led to “a substantial income gap between climate zones” (Sachs, 2001). His arguments lends itself to the climate specific issues and crises such as Malaria that are faced by nations and how there is a need for greater international support in developing and distributing technologies to prevent such tropic-specific issues. 

Resources and conflict 

Paul Collier’s poverty traps include the resource curse that leads to a rent-seeking governments. “The heart of the resource curse is that resource rents make democracy malfunction”(Collier P, 2007). The resource curse refers to countries that are in extreme poverty or face dire conflict over the natural resources in that area due to the exploitative nature of the government and people in control. Similarly Collier elaborates on this point with another poverty ‘trap’, landlocked nations must trade with their neighbours and it’s these neighbours that matter. He argues “bad neighbours”(Collier P, 2007) are bad markets to trade with and provide poor links to sea ports or the global markets. For instance, Uganda and Switzerland are both landlocked but that “at least in recent decades Switzerland has been in the better neighborhood”(Collier P, 2007) and as a result prosepered economically far more than Uganda. In this sense, Collier’s poverty traps highlight geography is crucial to understanding the underdevelopment of certain nations and why they are prone to conflict.

Geography doesn’t explain anything

“History illustrates there is no simple or enduring connection between climate or geography or economic success” (Acemoglu & Robinson, 2012). Acemoglu and Robinson completely dismiss importance of geography and Jeff Sach’s arguments in explaining the disparity in the world. The main argument rests on the modern day inequality in nations such as Nogales which are due to the US-Mexico border, or countries which have economically prospered despite the tropical environment such as Singapore. Instead they propose, global economic disparity is due largely to the political institutions in place. 

Given the expanse of literature on the connection of geography and development, to what extent we believe geography is important depends largely on which theory we believe. What is widely accepted however, is that no single factor provides the rationale for world inequality but it instead is a combination of factors such as political regimes and institutions, economic policy surrounding resources, access to global markets, and attitudes to new technologies.

References

Acemoglu, D. & Robinson, J. (2012). Why nations fail (1st ed., pp. 49, 50). New York: Crown Publishers.

Collier, P. (2007). Bottom Billion : Why the Poorest Countries are Failing and What Can Be Done About It. Cary, GB: Oxford University Press, USA. Retrieved from http://www.ebrary.com

Sachs, J. (2001). Tropical underdevelopment (1st ed., pp. 2,3). Cambridge, MA.: National Bureau of Economic Research.

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