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11.1 Introduction

In 2002 there were 192 internationally recognized independent countries in

the world that included the 191 members of the United Nations plus Taiwan

(Alesina and Spolare, 2003). Among these countries are some that by historical

standards are extremely rich and many more that are relatively poor. Their

size, measured by geographical area, by total population, or by total GDP,

varies enormously. Measured by geographical and population size we observe

large poor countries (India) and large rich countries (USA) as well as

small rich countries (Switzerland) and small poor countries (Sierra Leone).

We also see every other possible combination in between. When we examine

the economic growth performance of these countries we also see a wide

variety of experience, from the high positive rates observed during the last

four decades of the twentieth century among the Asian Tigers (Hong Kong,

South Korea, Singapore, Taiwan) to the negative growth rates experienced in

many sub-Saharan countries during the last couple of decades. Since sustained

economic growth is the most important determinant of living standards,

there is no more important issue challenging the research efforts of economists

than to understand the causes of economic growth. In reviewing the

differential growth performances of countries such as India, Egypt, the ‘Asian

Tigers’, Japan and the USA, and the consequences of these differentials for

living standards, Lucas (1988) observed that ‘the consequences for human

welfare involved in questions like these are simply staggering. Once one

starts to think about them, it is hard to think about anything else’.

In this chapter we review many of the important theoretical, empirical and

political-economy issues relating to modern economic growth and the deter580

minants of living standards that have captivated the research interests of both

economists, economic historians and other social scientists during the twentieth

century.