ABSTRACT

This chapter presents a simple economic theory (and associated evidence) to explain how some early agriculturally-based preindustrial societies developed despite most of their population being subject to Malthusian dynamics. Their development depended on a dominant class limiting its membership and extracting an economic surplus which it could use (among other things) to accumulate capital and advance knowledge thereby adding to this surplus. As is shown, the evolution of urban centres facilitated this development process. Extraction of the agricultural surplus prevented the increasing population from dissipating this surplus and curtailing development. Examples are given of early economically extractive and non-inclusive societies which were long lasting. Their persistence is at odds with the views of some contemporary development economists about the development prospects of these types of societies.