The Flying Geese Paradigm | A Century Later and No Lead Goose

The flying geese theory was developed by Japanese scholar Kaname Akamatsu in the 1930s prior to WWII and the Japanese occupation of Southeast Asia. It is a theory of global economic development in which a leading nation–Japan in Asia and the U.S in the West–were foreseen as analogous to a lead goose that other nations obediently followed.

Much has changed in the past century and despite the fact that the theory continues to be discussed, there is not much within it that has come to fruition.

Firstly, the theory proposes that the geese that trail behind will eventually catch up with the lead goose; but by that time, the lead goose would have moved on.

In many economies, however, it has been noted that stages and phases in ‘economic development’ were skipped or foregone entirely. In China, for instance, the personal computer phase of technology was largely bypassed as the economy as a whole transitioned directly into mobile.

The flying geese paradigm also concluded that the relative positions of nations in the hierarchy remained stable over time.

I have often wondered how much of this boils down to nostalgia over either aspired or lost empires. Even though empires no longer exist, these ideas and theories continue to exist in people’s minds.

Decades have passed and wars have been fought, won and lost. The theory’s propositions have quite simply not come true.

Even as the U.S. industrialised, its economy did not outgrow agriculture. Instead, U.S. policymakers treat agriculture as a permanent sector of the American economy. What actually occurred was that the agricultural sector was upgraded and made more productive with each new wave of innovative technology; with the help of government subsidies and support.

None of this technological progress in the agriculture sector would have happened if policymakers decided that agriculture was an ‘old industry’ which was best outsourced to ‘poorer countries’ where there is an abundant supply of farmworkers using older techniques and technology.

We must completely abandon the idea that there are industries which by their nature are ‘old’ and should be dismantled as an economy progresses to new and advanced industries.

There are no old industries, only industries that have not yet been modernised with new technology.

As for the flying geese paradigm, it seems that it would be better to watch the geese move on and do what they do best: migrate only to later return.


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