In the last thirty years, the developing world has undergone tremendous changes. Overall, poverty has fallen, people live longer and healthier lives, and economies have been transformed. And yet many countries have simply missed the boat. Why have some countries prospered, while others have failed?

Stefan Dercon argues that the answer lies not in a specific set of policies, but rather in a key ‘development bargain’, whereby a country’s elites shift from protecting their own positions to gambling on a growth-based future. Despite the imperfections of such bargains, China is among the most striking recent success stories, along with Indonesia and more unlikely places, such as Bangladesh, Ghana and, tentatively, Ethiopia. Gambling on Development is about these winning efforts, in contrast to countries stuck in elite bargains leading nowhere.

'[An] urgent and important book.' ― Financial Times

‘A brilliant, well written and important book. Thoroughly recommended.’ --LSE Review of Books

Stefan Dercon is Professor of Economic Policy at the University of Oxford. He previously served as Chief Economist of the UK Department of International Development (DFID) and as Development Policy Advisor at the UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office.

Extract here Summary twitter thread @gamblingondev

Related piece: In Praise of African Technocrats, African Arguments


Gambling on Development - how economic miracles can happen. Financial Times (David Pilling) (gated version, ungated text)

Summer Books 2022 (Martin Wolf) (gated version, ungated text)

Review by Stephen Williams, African Business (gated version, ungated version)

Review by Stephen Howes part 1 and part 2

Review by Centre for Global Development (Ranil Dissanayake)

Interviews and articles

Why Beer and Pizza are integral to Development, Devex (Will Worley)

Interview, Guardian (Saeed Kamali Dehghan)

"Ontwikkeling is allesbehalve romantiek", Trends (Jozef Vangelder), (open version, pdf)

"How Bangladesh benefitted from 'elite bargain' ", The Business Standard (Hrishik Roy)

"Democratie is geen garantie voor welvaart", Trends (Jozef Vangelder), (gated version, ungated pdf1 pdf2 pdf3)


‘The most important book on international development in a decade. An intensely political story of economic development–one that could only be written by someone with Dercon’s unusual mix of scholarship and statesmanship.’ — Christopher Blattman, author of Why We Fight

'This book, written by one of the greatest living development economists, is full of hard-won insights and provocative observations. Dercon’s radical modesty, fierce intelligence and deep commitment to describing what actually occurs in the field–in all its hypocrisy, comedy, tragedy, mystery and idealism–distinguishes him in a field too often defined by naive optimism and snake oil solutions.’ — Rory Stewart, former UK Secretary of State for International Development

‘Dercon’s message is sobering: there is no silver bullet for development. But any success must rest on the foundation of a bargain among elites, who commit to development and are willing to learn. This should and will be a classic in international development.’ — Yuen Yuen Ang, author of How China Escaped the Poverty Trap and China’s Gilded Age

“Stefan Dercon’s book is an ambitious and uncompromising analysis of the challenge of economic development across the world, from China and India, to Kenya and Ghana. It dissects failures and successes, drawing on diverse methodologies and the author’s own experience of living and working in all corners of the world. Peppered with data and direct observation, the book is fascinating to read”. Kaushik Basu, Professor of Economics and Carl Marks Professor of International Studies, Cornell University. Former Chief Economist of the World Bank.

"Solving the problems of poverty in the world requires combining a command of what social scientists know with a mastery of the politics involved in turning that knowledge into practical policy. But scientists don't understand politics, and politicians don't understand science. Stefan Dercon understands both. This book is a unique achievement." James Robinson, author (with Daron Acemoglu) of Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity and Poverty

‘Why is there persistent divergence in development outcomes around the world? The focus has been on policies, but this insightful book proposes we focus instead on implicit contracts or bargains among political and entrepreneurial elites. Superbly incisive, engaging and timely.’ — Leonard Wantchekon, James Madison Professor of Political Economy and Professor of Politics and International Affairs, Princeton University

‘A challenging, informed and insightful book. Dercon brings expertise, humility and humanity to the vital question of what makes countries poor and what can help them prosper.’ — David Miliband, president and CEO of the International Rescue Committee, and a former UK Foreign Secretary


Financial Times - The Rachman Review (with David Piling)

Development Drums (Owen Barder)

In Pursuit of Development (Dan Banik)

Charter Cities (Kurtis Lockhart)

Global Dispatch (Mark Leon Goldberg)

Trends Talk (Jozef Vangelder)


TV version Trends Talk (Jozef Vangelder)


Spice FM (Kenya)

Presentations and discussions

Oxford Martin School

Youth Policy Forum Bangladesh