The flying geese model is a theory of industrial development that was developed by the Japanese economist Akamatsu Kaname in the 1930s. Close to a century has passed since Akamatsu came up with the theory, but across luncheons and lecture halls, the flying geese paradigm continues to shape discussions regarding economic development.
The flying geese paradigm conceptualises the link between economic growth and industrialisation as being led by a ‘lead geese’; with the US playing the role as the global head goose and Japan as the Asian head goose.
This theory was formulated by Akamatsu during a period of Japanese imperialism; when Japan was on a path to expand its empire. The invasion of China and the Pacific War are legacies of this era. It would, however, be a mistake to view the flying geese paradigm as solely a wartime theory.
Akamatsu’s flying geese model was based on an analysis of the Japanese economy since it opened up to Western countries in the nineteenth century. Akamatsu’s support of international trade–including with Western nations–was at odds with Japan’s actual situation during the war. Akamatsu regarded Japan not as a senshinkoku – a highly
developed or leading country – but as a shinkokoku, a more advanced country among the follower countries.
Akamatsu’s theory was used as an ideological justification of Japan’s imperialism in Asia and it remains important to clarify Akamatsu’s own involvement in Japan’s war planning.
It was, however, not until the 1960s that the flying geese model became more influential in Japan’s discourse. It became the development orthodoxy among Japanese economists and intellectuals in the early and mid-1990s. It is cited routinely not only by economists, but also by business and government officials.
Through the analogy of flying geese, Akamatsu points out that development is not supposed to be a steady and gradual process. Countries do not all move forward at the same speed. They are at times dormant and at other times make great leaps in advancements.