In preparation for a lecture in honor of Albert Hirschman, I have been spending some time with the great man's writings. Somewhat ironically in light of my own research interests, I found that I was a lot more familiar with Hirschman's generalist works--Exit, Voice and Loyalty and The Passions and the Interests are among my all-time favorite books--than his work on development proper.
Reading this work, I am awed once again by a mind which was as much at ease with the technical arcana of irrigation projects as it was with the rarified world of political philosophy. Yet I can also see why he must have been such a source of frustration for his contemporaries. He was in many ways the ultimate contrarian--always looking for the unique and the exceptional, while not shying from building general theories from those cases. He was a critic of the reigning development theories of his time (the big push and balanced growth), arguing, quite correctly in my view, that the under-developed societies who had the capacity to implement these comprehensive programs would not have been under-developed in the first place. He argued instead for a strategic, opportunistic approach, based on making the best of what you have.
Hirschman would have been a fierce critic of the dogmatism of the Washington Consensus and its sequels, had he maintained a strong interest in development. And I think he would have found strong vindication for his pragmatic approach in China's phenomenal success.