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Study Notes

Do government subsidies help to promote economic development?

A-Level, IB
AQA, Edexcel, OCR, IB, Eduqas, WJEC

Last updated 2 Mar 2023

This study note looks at the use of government subsidies in developing countries. Is this an effective and equitable form of intervention to help promote growth and development?

Many government make extensive use of subsidies - defined broadly as any form of financial support offered to producers.

  • Agriculture: Many developing countries subsidize their agricultural sector to promote food security and self-sufficiency. For example, in India, the government provides subsidies on fertilizers, seeds, and other inputs to farmers to increase crop yields.
  • Manufacturing: Some developing countries offer subsidies to manufacturers to encourage the development of domestic industries. For instance, Bangladesh offers subsidies to its garment industry to boost exports.
  • Energy: Governments in developing countries may also offer subsidies to producers in the energy sector to promote the use of renewable energy sources. For example, in Morocco, the government offers subsidies to renewable energy producers to help reduce the country's dependence on fossil fuels.
  • Technology: Some developing countries may also provide subsidies to technology companies to promote innovation and development.
  • Tourism: Some developing countries offer subsidies to the tourism industry to promote economic growth and employment. For instance, Egypt offers subsidies to hotels and resorts to attract foreign visitors and boost tourism revenue.

Government subsidies can help to promote economic development in low-income countries if they are well-targeted and effectively implemented. However, their impact on economic development depends on several factors, including the type of subsidy, the specific industry or sector that receives the subsidy, and the overall economic context in which the subsidy is provided.

When subsidies are well-targeted, they can help to address market failures, support the development of key industries, drive economic diversification and promote job creation and lift per capita incomes. For example, subsidies for agriculture can help to increase food production and improve food security, while subsidies for renewable energy can promote the use of cleaner energy sources and reduce dependence on imported fossil fuels.

However, subsidies can also have negative effects on economic development if they are not well-designed or if they are provided to industries that are not competitive or sustainable in the long term. Subsidies can create inefficiencies and distortions in the market, leading to wasteful use of resources and reduced economic growth.

They can also create dependency on government support, discouraging private investment and innovation. Many lower income countries have a limited tax base making it hard to fund subsidies on a long-term basis and increasing the need for deficit-financed spending.

Subsidies have a role to play but can lead to government failure which - in turn - might deepen existing market failures. Free market economists argue against subsidies making the case that the price mechanism and the private sector is best placed through signalling, incentive and rationing to allocate scarce resources.

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