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Developing nations face a host of problems: low incomes; unequal distributions of income; inadequate health care and education; high unemployment; and a concentration of workers in agriculture, where productivity is low. Economic development, the process that generates widely shared gains in income, can alleviate these problems.
The sources of economic growth in developing countries are not substantially different from those that apply to the developed countries. Market economies with legal systems that provide for the reliable protection of property rights and enforcement of contracts tend to promote economic growth. Saving and investment, particularly investment in appropriate technologies and human capital, appear to be critical. So, too, does the ability of developing nations to match their population growth rate with the ability of the economy to increase real output.
Dependency theory, the notion that developing countries are in the grip of the industrialized countries, led to import substitution schemes that proved detrimental to the long-run growth prospects of developing nations. The movement of Latin American countries such as Mexico and Chile to market systems is a rejection of dependency theory. There is a general movement toward market-based strategies to support economic development in the future. But even market-based strategies will work only if efforts are made to ensure an adequate infrastructure, including the development of financial institutions capable of providing the required signals to guide individual decision making.