This chart about the lack of resolution to some basic problems in Africa -- between solutions proposed in 1938 to those from 2005 -- fascinates me not only for the info it presents but for the range of responses it has elicited. It is a chart from a working paper by William Easterly, a professor of economics at NYU.*
Here is the abridged version posted by Easterly at this blog:
( for the full version from Easterly's paper.)
for the full version from Easterly's paper.)
Also see the interpretations of the data set at Reason.com and then at the blog Marginal Revolution. The lack of resolution to the above problems, commenters say, is either racism's fault, the UN's fault, Africans' fault, economists' fault, the fault of Adam Smith more specifically, the fault of kleptocrats, or some combo of all.
For his part, Easterly writes at his blog that "technology does not implement itself. Technical knowledge needs people to implement it - people who have the right incentives to solve all of the glitches and unexpected problems that happen when you apply a new technology, people who make sure that all the right inputs get to the right places at the right time, and local people who are motivated to use the new technology."
*(I'm also interested that it's cast as some unified sense of "Africa," instead of particular countries and regions, but that's a point for a different post.)
I wonder how many of these "solutions" were dropped in favor of the new, new thing, only to return decades later? I'm pretty sure, for example, that using manure was displaced by fertilizer during the green revolution, only to come back into favor when the downsides of pesticides and fertilizers became evident. As you suggested, there's a lot of historical and cultural granularity missing from such a chart.