Michael Todaro defined development as a “multi-dimensional process that involves major changes in social structures, popular attitudes and national institutions…economic growth, reduction of inequality, and eradication of absolute poverty”. In a quest to further explain and understand this, two theories (dependency and basic needs theory) amongst several others have been propounded.

According to Dos Santos (1971), [Dependency is]… “an historical condition which shapes a certain structure of the world economy such that it favors some countries to the detriment of others and limits the development possibilities of the subordinate economies…a situation in which the economy of a certain group of countries is conditioned by the development and expansion of another economy, to which their own is subjected”.  In short, dependency theory describes the interaction between developing and developed nations, with a primary focus on the exploitative and unequal relationships fostered between these two worlds, mostly due to post and neo colonialism. It first emerged in the 1950’s advocated by Raul Prebisch, drawing on a Marxian analysis of the global economy. It is viewed as an opposing theory to that of modernization as propounded by the likes of Talcot Parsons. The theory of basic needs however, recognized that [other] attempts at bridging the development gap were failing; “rather than ‘trickling down’ to help the poorest, the benefits of economic development were being experienced largely by the richer countries and groups. The theory was proposed as a lasting solution to these problems. This approach focused development policies directly on the poorest in society. The basic needs outlined did not only lay emphasis on physical needs for survival, but also access to services, employment and decision making. (ILO page 95). It has ‘minimum specified qualities of such things as food, clothing, shelter, water, and sanitation that are necessary to prevent ill health, undernourishment and the like’. (Streeten 1981:9).


At the core of the basic needs theory is the happiness of the individual. It stipulates that, at least, members of a developed society once their basic survival needs have been met can aspire to do more, and be generally open minded to more development. In effect, poor people would continue to be poor and generally unable to economically grow like their developed counterparts, if their basic needs such as food (with nutritional value), safe drinking water etc. cannot be met. Comparatively, dependency theory argues that, because dependent nations are subject to the unfavorable and monopolistic terms of trade with developing nations, development continues to be an almost nonexistent phase in dependent nations. As it is, the dominant nations are only getting richer to the detriment of dependent nations. How would basic needs be met if these dependent states are continually been exploited and left with little value for their largely agrarian exports? Colonialism has left a dent on developing nations with which they’re still struggling. Although many of these former colonies have attained autonomy, there is a system in place where the elites of LDCs serve as middle men in the trade between developed and developing states; more or less continuing the trend of colonialism [neo-colonialism]. These elite had become heavily dependent on the dominant states in order to fuel their lifestyles, while these same elite neglect the needs of their people, further regressing their respective states, while helping the developed nation’s progress. The basic needs theory advocates that the framework of ownership and power, and the policies pursued by governments were unsavory to the poor. Thus, solutions should consider the poor, and try to elevate them from their level, by increasing demand for their goods and services by skills training. By doing this, the people within a state would be able to meet their basic survival needs and as a result, be able to afford to care about non-material needs. At this point, the people would be able to invest the time and resource into developing to their full potential, and subsequently, curb their over- reliance on developed nations.

Albeit the seeming similarities in the theories, they have some rather sharp differences. One such obvious difference is the emphasis dependency theory places on the ‘unfair’ exploitation by the developed world of LDCs. While the basic needs theory focuses its energy on the provision of basic needs of the people, the former seeks to lay blame at the feet of past colonial masters.  Again, while dependency theory according to Frank Gunder talks about a social revolution of the working class that should help break away from developed nations, and thus grow its own economy, basic needs asserts that development policies should not only be focused on economic growth and poverty alleviation, but the individual should be able to develop to his/her full potential as well.  After all, what good is an economically vibrant economy if its people still can’t meet their basic needs!

Dependency theory for a long time assumed a static never changing face. The proponents of dependency theory were formerly of the view that, unless LDCs cut of ties from the developed nations and kept their surplus for their own use, and also following economically and socially independent ideas, these peripheral states wouldn’t develop. This view however changed with the great strides made by Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, Brazil etc, which although still dependent, used the capital that they received to enhance their development agendas. Metaphorically, the ants saved up resources from their trade with the geckos, enough to build anthills.




Balaam, D.N. Veseth, M. (2004) Introduction to international political economy, Upper Saddle River, N.J : Pearson/Prentice Hall.

Bapir M. L., A Critical Comparison of Leading Theoretical Conceptualisations of Development and their Significance for Assessing Development in Practice [online] Available from: [2012-10-31]

Bryant C., White L. (1982) Managing Development in the Third World. Boulier, Co : Westview.

Dos Santos, T. (1970) The Structure of Dependence, American Economic Review, vol. 60, issue 2, pages 231-36

Dos Santos T.(1970) “The Structure of Dependence,” in K.T. Fann and Donald C. Hodges, eds., Readings in U.S. Imperialism. Boston: Porter Sargent, 1971, p. 226

Todaro M., (1977) Economic Development, 11th ed., with Stephen C. Smith (Pearson Education and Addison-Wesley, April 2011).

Prebisch R. (1950) The Economic Development of Latin America and Its Principal Problems (New York: United Nations,)

Streeten, P. (1981) First Things First: Meeting Basic Human Needs in the Developing Countries,

Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Willis K., (2005) Theories and Practices of Development. London, New York, Routledge.




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