The network effect: The legacy of the Economic Growth Center’s Country Studies program

Though it ended 50 years ago, the impact of Yale’s Country Studies program can still be felt to this day — in academia, government, and beyond.
Paul Kuznets with colleagues from the Bank of Korea during the 1966-67 academic year

Paul Kuznets (second from left) with colleagues from the Bank of Korea during the 1966-67 academic year as part of the Country Studies program. Photo courtesy Paul Kuznets.

United Nations consultant, algorithmic stock trader, chief economist of the Office of Management and Budget, Marxist theorist. These are just some of the jobs held by the alumni of the Country Studies program, the flagship research agenda of Yale’s Economic Growth Center (EGC).

When the EGC was founded in 1961, it sent 25 young economists into the field to gather data and write books on the economies of developing countries. But the impact of this effort, known as the Country Studies program, transcends the volumes that were ultimately published. The program shaped careers and networks that have been influential not just within academia, but also to governments, international organizations, and non-governmental organizations.

Though the program ended 50 years ago, its legacy continues. As the Economic Growth Center celebrates its 60th anniversary during the 2020-21 academic year, it also celebrates this generation of economists whose leadership helped the field grow.

From Country Studies to development economics

The Country Studies scholars were devoted to their studies of specific developing countries. 

The benefits of economist Werner Baer’s time in Brazil occurred almost immediately. While he was there, he recruited numerous young Brazilian scholars to the EGC’s International and Development Economics (IDE) program, which offered master’s degrees in development to international scholars. He was also instrumental in the invitation to famed Brazilian economist Celso Furtado, who was exiled by Brazil’s new military government following the coup of 1964, to work at the EGC. After leaving the EGC in 1965, Baer headed west to Vanderbilt University, where he was part of a group known as the “Vanderbilt Boys” for its influence on the “modernization” of graduate economics study in Brazil. 

We explored a plethora of interesting issues, most of them coming from our own Country Studies experience,” said Albert Berry, who worked in Colombia and is now a professor emeritus at the University of Toronto. 

In Berry’s case, the work led him to continue examining outcomes related to land concentration in Colombia, such as agricultural productivity and income inequality, an interest that he has returned to periodically throughout his career. Knowing one country as well as the Country Studies encouraged also meant that the scholars were well-positioned to conduct comparative analysis research, and Berry later compared inequality between Colombia and several Asian countries. 

Paul Kuznets, who studied South Korea and is now retired from Indiana University, also continued to pursue topics that interested him during his Country Studies travels, such as the role of South Korea’s military government in promoting development. He also took a comparative approach later, analyzing a few of the economies that made up “East Asian Miracle.” 

Berry and Kuznets were two of many scholars who studied countries that had been almost entirely unfamiliar to them prior to the Country Studies program, but who continued to study these countries for the rest of their careers. 

Networks of scholars in academia, government, and beyond

Most Country Studies participants took professorial positions at other universities following their time at the EGC, as well as taking on projects for the Ford Foundation, the World Bank, USAID, and the United Nations Development Programme. Gerry Helleiner ’60 M.A. ’62  Ph.D., whose research took him to Nigeria, went on to teach at the University of Toronto where he would become known as one as Canada’s leading development economists as a result of his numerous positions related to development policy. He worked for multiple U.N. entities, had an eight-year stint as G-24’s director of research, and helped establish several African research organizations. While at the United Nations, one of his colleagues was Edmar Bacha ’65 M.A. ’67  M.Phil. ’68 Ph.D., a former student and one of the Brazilian scholars who Baer recruited to Yale.

Yale and the EGC benefited from these networks. Carlos Diaz-Alejandro, who studied Argentina for his country study, returned to Yale as a beloved professor in 1969, after spending four years in Minnesota. Howard Pack, whose studied Israel with the program, later took a job at Swarthmore College, where he taught future EGC director Chris Udry and sparked the younger economist’s interest in development-related questions. Udry ultimately received a Ph.D. from Yale and was a professor at Yale for nearly 20 years. He led EGC from 2000 to 2005. 

Some Country Studies scholars eventually left academia to lead development consulting firms or to work for think tanks. Amar Siamwalla, who conducted his research in his home country of Thailand, returned there following his time at the EGC. Since 1984 he has worked with the Thailand Development Research Institute. A few went into business, including Charles Rockwell, who studied the former Yugoslavia before developing successful algorithms for trading stocks

For Steve Resnick, the time he spent abroad transformed his view of mainstream economics. His experience in the Philippines — which coincided with the civil rights, women’s liberation, and anti-war movements in the U.S. — made him “ripe” for a more radical approach. He went on to become an influential Marxist theorist at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst.

Other Country Studies participants still saw value in the neo-classical approach to economics — with its emphasis on limited government and free markets — but felt their experience with the program helped them better understood leftist critiques of capitalism. “For many of us, what we found in our countries was an awful lot of reality which if not fully consistent with the criticisms that Marx made was at least partly consistent with them,” Berry said. “Probably quite a few of the rest of us shifted a bit that way as we got to know the reality of the third world.”

Regardless of ideological leaning, the participants maintained a lifelong interest in development economics. Even those whose careers went in other directions, such as Van Doorn Ooms ’60 M.A. ’65 Ph.D., eventually returned to the issue. Ooms studied Malaysia during his time with the Country Study, but took a break from development to serve as chief economist of the Office of Management and Budget, the House Budget Committee, and the Senate Budget Committee in the 1970s and ’80s. After leaving government service, he became senior vice president and director of research at the Committee for Economic Development. 

The Growth Center was a good part of my motivation to move into development in economics and the Korean experience was another big part which of course came from the support of the Growth Center,” said Paul Kuznets. “It’s all part of the fabric and I still have good Korean friends that I meet and talk to. It’s been a very fulfilling career.”

Lisa Qian is a 2020 economics graduate of Yale College, and a former intern at the Economic Growth Center. This article is part of a series about the first decade of the Economic Growth Center, published as part of EGC’s 60th Anniversary celebration during the 2020-21 academic year.

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