chapter  1
11 Pages

Definitions and Historiography of Retardation

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, retardation means lateness, slowness or delay compared to some expectation based upon previous progress or to some other independent norm. In assessments related to the performance of economies over the long run, retardation implies either deceleration in rates of economic progress or slow growth compared to other economies deemed appropriate for comparison. The first meaning of the word is predicated upon assumptions about a supposed potential for development at constant or accelerating rates of growth, and when the actual record of a given country is considered in terms of potential for growth that potential is usually defined in terms of a comparison with other countries. Failure or poor economic per­ formance means opportunities missed, leads lost and output foregone because of a neglect of best economic practice. But a slower rate of growth provides a rather inadequate index of the failure of a country to exploit new technology or other inputs that might raise productivity. In comparative terms, condemnation of performance based upon relative rates of growth assumes that producers in two countries faced equal, or roughly equal, opportunities to expand production - in this particular comparison, that the growth of domestic and international demand for the products of French industry and agriculture expanded at the same rate as the demand for British output. Clearly this was not true, but terms like retarded or relatively backward may still be war­ ranted if it can be shown that French producers made less of their opportunities than their rivals in Britain. On the other hand, it could be the case that opportunities offered to British businessmen between 1780 and 1914 were greater but that French businessmen exploited their more l imited markets more effectively.