Modernization, Agricultural Economics, and U.S. Policy towards Land Reform in South Vietnam

TitleModernization, Agricultural Economics, and U.S. Policy towards Land Reform in South Vietnam
Annotated RecordNot Annotated
Year of Publication2022
AuthorsGawthorpe AJ
Secondary TitleInternational History Review
Key themesAgriculturalModernization, Distribution, Formalisation-titling, Policy-law

The issue of land tenure loomed large in the Vietnam War, providing significant motivation to members of the Vietnamese Communist movement. Despite this, the United States never made a serious effort to urge the non-Communist regime in Saigon to carry out a thorough program of land redistribution. This article explains why by tracing the development of post-war U.S. policy towards the question of land redistribution and how this impacted American action in Vietnam. It argues that U.S. policy towards the land in South Vietnam was rooted in the assumptions of modernization theory, which privileged the role of landlords in an unfolding development process while arguing against the empowerment of tenants. But this ideology faced resistance from proponents drawing on a previously-unexplored tradition: the discipline of agricultural economics. Rooted in an acknowledgement of the diversity of historical experiences and institutional arrangements which governed the relationship between land, society, and the economy, agricultural economists were skeptical of or in downright disagreement with many of the key tenets of modernization theory. Although the agricultural economists lost the policy debate, they revealed the limits of modernization theory–especially when the Saigon regime eventually moved to implement a sweeping land reform against American advice.


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Journal Article