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Resilience to economic shrinking

A social capability approach to processes of catching up in the developing world since the 1950s


Over the last seventy years attempts at economic catching up, in which poor countries grow fast enough to narrow the gap to the rich countries, have largely been erratic and unsustained. However, notable exceptions do prevail. These are predominately found in Asia. To understand the reasons behind why some have succeeded while most have so far failed to catch up, development research has centered its attention on understanding the sources and drivers of economic growth.

Yet, such a one-sided focus on growth neglects an important component of the development experience: the significance of resilience to economic shrinking. Asia has forged ahead of other developing regions since the 1950s not only because its economies grew more, but perhaps even more importantly, they also shrank less. With fewer economic setbacks, the catching-up process becomes continuous and consistent. In fact, it seems that the success of economic development to a large extent depends on the country’s resilience to economic shrinking.

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French Dictionary

Aims of the project

The purpose of the proposed research project is to incorporate the role of economic shrinking into the understanding of the process of economic development in the developing world since the 1950s. The aim is to put forth empirically grounded theoretical generalizations that will enable us to understand how the least developed countries can develop resilience to shrinking and as such, contribute to our knowledge of how economic development can be sustained in the poorer parts of the world. To fulfill the aims, the project considers two overriding research questions derived from preliminary scrutiny of long-term macro data:

• What is the impact of economic shrinking on the catch-up performance of developing countries?

• How and to what extent do a country’s social capabilities affect its resilience to economic shrinking?

To answer the research questions, the project will fill the knowledge gaps on three interrelated themes. It will set out first to establish the different empirical growth/shrinking patterns of the last seven decades among the developing countries, and second, to assess the role that economic shrinking has played in these processes over time. Third, constituting the core part of the project, it will analyse these different shrinking experiences from a framework of social capabilities, which for our purposes are interpreted as (i) broad-based inclusion of the population in the market, (ii) transformation of economic structures, (iii) social stability, (iv) accountability, and the (v) autonomy of the state.

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Martin Andersson

Department of Economic History, Lund Universty

Principal investigator


Tobias Axelsson

Department of Economic History, Lund Universty


Seán Kenny

Department of Economic History, Lund Universty


Juan Pablo Juliá Ciarelli

Department of Economic History, Universty of Gothenburg

The Team


Montserrat Lopez Jerez

School of History, University of St. Andrews


Igor Martins

Faculty of History, University of Cambridge


Andrés Palacio

Department of Economic History, Lund Universty


Emelie Rohne Till

Department of Economic History, Lund Universty


Sylvia Schwaag Serger

Department of Economic History, Lund Universty


Anthony Smythe

Department of Economic History and International Relations, Stockholm University


John Wallis

Department of Economics, University of Maryland

Meeting room
Research output

Published papers

Andersson, M., Julia, J. P., and Palacio, A. (2024). Resilience to economic shrinking: reinterpreting the Asian economic miracle in a comparative perspective, 1964–2018. Development Studies Research. 11:1.

Smythe, A., Martins I., and Andersson M. (2023). Inequality, poverty, and resilience to economic shrinking. International Journal of Development Issues.

Axelsson, T. and Martins, I. (2023). Resilience to Shrinking as a Catch-Up Strategy: a Comparison of Brazil and Indonesia, 1964–2019. Studies in Comparative International Development, pp.1-26.

Rohne Till,  E. (2022). “Is this time different? Social capability and catch-up growth in Ethiopia, 1950–2020”. In: Journal of International Development, 34.2, pp. 1259–1281

Andersson, M., Axelsson, T., and Palacio, A. (2021). “Resilience to economic shrinking in an emerging economy: the role of social capabilities in Indonesia, 1950–2015”. In: Journal of Institutional Economics, 17.3, pp. 1–18

Andersson, J. and Andersson, M. (2019). “Beyond Miracle and Malaise. Social Capability in Côte d’Ivoire and Senegal during the Development Era 1930–1980”. In: Studies in Comparative International Development 54.2, pp. 210–232.

Andersson, M. (2019). “Poverty: what low-income countries need is not more economic growth, it’s less shrinking”. In: The Conversation.

Andersson, M. and Palacio, A. (2017), “Catch up growth and social capability in developing countries: A conceptual and measurement proposal”. OASIS 26: 7-23.

Working papers

Andersson, M., Palacio, A., von Borries, A. (2022). “Why has economic shrinking receded in Latin America? A social capability approach”. In: Lund Papers in Economic History. Development Economics; No.:236.

Andersson, M., Julia, J. P., Palacio, A. (2022). “Resilience to economic shrinking as the key to economic catch-up: A social capability approach". In: Lund Papers in Economic History. Development Economics; No.:231.

Andersson, M. (2018). “Resilience to Economic Shrinking: A Social Capability Approach to Processes of Catching up in the Developing World 1951-2016”. In: Lund Papers in Economic History. Development Economics; No.:183.

Palacio, A. (2018). “The Social Capability Index and Income Convergence. In: Lund Papers in Economic History. Development Economics; No.:184.

Research output
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We are grateful to the following supporters, without which this project would not be possible:

Eiffel Tower Paris

XIX World Economic History Congress



Exotic Urbanism



Misty Mountains



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