R Lucas and the Historical Specificity of Development

The law of diminishing returns gives a reasonable explanation both of why there are so many people per square mile in the lush plain of Bengal, compared to the tundra of northern Canada, and also of why living standards are about the same in these two places . . . If the new technology was embodied in new machines or in expert Englishmen, why did these machines and experts not go abroad, to be combined in production with inexpensive foreign labor rather than with expensive English workers? (Lectures on Economic Growth, 3)

R Lucas is fully capable of thinking through geographical and even demographic differences—note the example, middle of page three, from Bengal and Canada. But will he be able to articulate the roles that nationalism, imperialism, and politics play in the reasons that machines and experts not only failed to find there way to all shores in the Empire, but may not have been welcomed on these shores—by British investors, by local oligarchs—even assuming they could have made this journey?

The story R Lucas will have to tell, however, will not concern local oligarchs, nationalism, or imperialism; he is developing a model of development.