The Food Problem and the Evolution of International Income Levels

This paper examines the effect of agricultural development on a country’s overall development and growth experience. In most poor countries, large fractions of land, labor, and other productive resources are devoted to producing food for subsistence needs. This “food problem” can delay a country’s industrial development for a long period of time, causing its per capita income to fall far behind the world leader. Once industrialization begins, this trend is reversed. The extent to which a country catches up to the leader depends primarily on factors that affect productivity in non-agricultural activities: agricultural productivity is thus largely irrelevant in the very long run. But in the short run, a country that experiences large improvements in agricultural productivity (due to, say, a Green Revolution) will experience a rapid increase in its income relative to the leaders.

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Publication Type:
Working or Discussion Paper
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JEL Codes:
E130; O400; O410; Q100
Series Statement:
Center Discussion Paper No. 899

 Record created 2017-04-01, last modified 2017-08-16

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