In this article, You will read the Theories of Regional Imbalance/Disparities – for UPSC (Human Geography – Geography Optional).

Regional Disparity is a spatial analysis of the growth pattern or the economic development. Certain areal units have higher growth propensity because of geographical advantages & inertia, while certain regions lack such advantages. Thus, they remain economically depressed & growth impulses are emancipated.

Regional Imbalance is the effect of variations in growth impulses over space. It is an important geographical search, as to why certain regions have higher growth rates while others have not? Regional imbalance the differential economic force existing in a region. Certain regions have polarisation of economic factors while some regions have economic deprivation.

Theories of Regional Imbalance

Environment determinism

  • According to this theory, natural resources gifted areas are more advance than other limited areas. For example, North East of the USA is more developed than the western area due to the availability of rich mineral resources such as coal, water, iron ore, etc.
  • Similarly, Western Europe is more developed than Eastern Europe.
  • Siberia, Amazon rainforest, the desert of Peru are less developed due to scarcity of resources.
  • Criticism:
    • With the possibilistic school of thought, man is an active agent and technological development can lead to development through better resource utilization.
    • For example, some pockets in Siberia are developed due to human interference (Trans Siberian Railway), Gold extraction from Alaska, timber from Amazon rainforests, Oil reserves, and solar energy in desert areas, etc can be taken as another example.
    • At the same time, it can be seen that India and Africa are underdeveloped in mineral-rich areas due to less exploitation of resources and technological development.
    • Japan is the best example of a possibilistic approach which is developed even after low availability of resources, due to high technology development.

Superficial theory

  • It is also called the climatic theory of development. As per the superficial theory, temperate regions are good for economic and human development, all the developed countries apart from Singapore are found in the temperate region. Climate factors are the most deciding factor for development.
  • Criticism:
    • Despite close to the temperate climate of the northern state of India, northern states in India is more backward than the southern states of India.
    • Temperate climate found in central Asian countries while tropical climate is found in South East Asian counties. However, Southeast Asian countries are more developed as compared to Central Asian countries.
    • Nearly the same climate is found in Israel, Lebanon, and Syria. However, Israel is a developed country, and Lebanon & Syria are the least developed countries.
  • The above Criticism shows the climate is not the only deciding factor for regional imbalance.

Racial theory

  • This explanation came from western scholars and witnessed during the pre-independence time.
  • It was based on the notion of racial superiority of the west and inferiority of the east.
  • Scholars say that poor countries or third world countries remain poor because of their attitude towards life, work, unprofessional behavior, incompetence attitude, lack of punctuality, etc.
  • As a result, advanced countries have ethics of modern economies so they are rich while poor countries lack those ethics which gives rise to North-South and developed underdeveloped divide in the world
  • Criticism
    • Racial theory was based on a communal approach that labeled one community against other
    • Most of the independent countries are on the path of development today like China, India, etc.
    • Thus, the above theory was discarded.

Economic theories

Neoclassical approach

  • It says the efficiency of transformation from resources to final goods and services determines the development of a nation.
  • If the efficiency of transformation from resources is more efficient in a country, then it would be more advanced.
  • It depends on the productive forces, labour skills, technology availability, which is the pre condition for the economic growth of a country (Rostov Model).
  • Therefore, capital accumulation or surplus production needed to break the vicious cycle of poverty. If a country is poor and if the vicious cycle of poverty is needed to be broken then there must be a capital investment in the country.
  • Less income sustains low demand and saving which is unable to stimulate new investment which affects the economy adversely and leads to poverty.
  • Development problem is viewed as how to break out of this cycle of self perpetuatory poverty.
  • Criticism
    • This approach focuses on maintaining economic order, i.e. capitalist approach
    • This theory does not talk about the redistribution of resources through which imbalance can be solved.
Neoclassical approach

Samuelson theory

  • This theory states the regional imbalance is due to the interplay of a number of factors such as:
    • Population (more population, more imbalance e.g. UP, Bihar)
    • Natural resources (development in Jamshedpur with nearby areas remained underdeveloped)
    • Technology
    • Capital formation

Spatial content theories

Spatial content theories include two main theories viz. Cumulative Causation Theory by Gunnar Myrdal and Core Periphery model by Friedman. (important from exam point of view)

Cumulative Causation Theory by Gunnar Myrdal (1956)

  • It was the major effort towards explaining the spatial difference in regional development
  • This theory is based on how western countries progressed from subsistence agricultural economy to advanced industrial economy (from rural to urban life)
  • He suggested that regional imbalance is merely a stage in process of development
  • He has shown a three-stage model to show regional imbalance and the final development of the landscape.
    • Stage I (equilibrium stage)
      • In this stage whole landscape has uniform development but it is characterized by rural agrarian traditional society with lack of development and as forces of development began to operate, the 2nd stage begins.
    • Stage II: Regional imbalance in this stage is due to two factors:
      • Cumulative Causation:
        • It means polarization of factors of production, resources, skilled labours and industrial growth. E.g. the comparative location advantage of cities like Bombay, Madras, Calcutta, Delhi, etc attracted factors of production from nearby areas which led to their development and rendered nearby areas underdeveloped.
        • The centre experienced a cumulative growth pattern while surrounding regions have a backwash effect.
        • Thus, at the cost of the surrounding region, the core developed.
      • Backwash effect:
        • It means deprivation, desertification of surroundings.
        • Thus, development is disenchanted in the surrounding regions but the core witness high growth. (E.g. sucking of capital, raw material, skilled labour from surrounding region by core area).
        • The above factors lead to the development of megacities.
    • Stage III- Spread effect/trickledown effect
      • A stage comes when the threshold arrives and there are diseconomies of scale.
      • The congestion, population, scarcity of land, etc. put constraints. E.g. in Calcutta setting up any more industry is uneconomical.
      • This leads to the dispersal of economic activities from these industries to elsewhere.
      • Centrifugal forces characterize the stage and development is diffused towards underdeveloped segments. This is called the spread effect.
      • Capital investment moves away from the core and surrounding region experience development.
      • Thus, it leads to the spread of periphery of big cities and an example is set on with overall economic growth in the whole landscape.
  • Criticism
    • No government role mentioned for the trickledown effect
    • These two theories (spatial content theories) are humanistic models are partial truth because regional imbalances are deeply laid in the historical, social, political and economic process.
Cumulative Causation Theory by Gunnar Myrdal (1956) 1
Cumulative Causation Theory by Gunnar Myrdal (1956) 2

Core periphery model by Friedman (1966)

  • It assumes that development has a bias in favor of some favored location at all regional national and international level
  • A region that develops rapidly becomes the core, surrounded by not-so-developed regions, i.e. periphery which is the area of stagnation.
  • The centralized geographical location attracts people, factors of production at cost of periphery and highest magnitude of phenomenon is concentrated at the core.
  • As we move towards the periphery, the magnitude of the phenomenon decreases because there is the natural law of centralization.
  • Thus always core is developed than periphery which leads to regional imbalance.
Core periphery model by Friedman (1966)
  • Four different stages identified in this model. Each stage suggests a change in the relation between core and periphery. The stages are:
    • A preindustrial society with localized economies
    • The development of core and periphery (take-off stages)
    • Dispersion of economic activity and control into certain parts of the periphery.
    • The emergence of spatial integration (drive to maturity stage)
  • Stage I- Core area can’t be differentiated, so many regional enclaves exist in the region.
  • Stage-II- Single core favored by different factors grows to become a strong core. Capital and labour prefer to move to the core leaving a large periphery, impoverished by the backwash effect.
  • Stage-III
    • Many secondary cores develop adjacent to the main core mainly due to the spread effect (development of Gurgaon, Faridabad, and Noida around Delhi).
    • The exchange of labour and capital is increased between core areas.
    • Large periphery on nation scale reduced to the metropolitan periphery of much smaller dimension.
  • Stage-IV
    • The metropolitan periphery vanishes as they are gradually absorbed into the expanding economy.
    • Now spread effect, as well as local and national backwash effect, maintain an equilibrium
    • There is greater national integration, efficiency in location, and peak growth potential as the cities are integrated, which leads to greater functional interdependence.
Core periphery model by Friedman (1966) 2

Export base and regional multiplier models

While the model put forward by Myrdal is applicable to developing countries, other models such as export base and regional multiplier models are by and largely applicable to developed economies.

Export base model

  • The export base model suggests that a region capable of producing goods and services and grows much more rapidly than those not having exportable surplus or capacity.
  • For example, the countries witnessing the industrial revolution in the 19th century (Britain, France, Germany, etc.) produced an exportable surplus and became developed in the passage of time
  • An enlarged export base plays a dominant role in aggravating regional imbalances because export generates surplus income which in turn gives impetus to the non-basic or service sector of an economy.
  • This explains the growth of the dominant region and the decline of some industrial regions like mining.

Regional multiplier theory

  • It attempts to explain how economic growth in a region accelerates further growth.
  • As a result of economic growth basic sector industries expands. For e.g. a growing machinery industry requires more supply of steel, on the other hand, increased demand of steel forces steel manufacturing units to enhance production which requires more machineries.
  • This type of mutual interaction acts as a multiplier process as a result of which “growth stimulates further growth in a complex rising spiral of production”.
  • However, these two models are western models based on their experience and history.
  • It means that the process started from a balanced stage consisting of pockets of economic growth and poverty.
  • With time the situation got accentuated and then there was the dispersal of development.
  • The sequence involves destroying our natural resources like water, land, air, etc. (pollution).
  • This involves creating the problem and deal with them. i.e. first polluting the environment and then make efforts to clean it.
  • Thus, there is a need to think of a model having balanced the development of all regions together.
Regional multiplier theory

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Can not thank you enough!


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