[Excerpt] I first encountered David Turnham’s work after majoring in labor economics in undergraduate and graduate school and spending a year in Nairobi studying and modeling the labor market there. The atmosphere in Kenya was crackling with intellectual excitement: John Harris and Michael Todaro had just showed how the solution to urban unemployment might be rural development, George Johnson had demonstrated that earnings function analysis ‘worked’ despite doubts about the quality of developing country data and the applicability of developed country concepts, Dharam Ghai was developing the basic human needs approach to development, and Joe Stiglitz was formulating efficiency wage theory. At that time, we suspected, but did not know, whether the empirical patterns and analytical approaches for Kenya fit the conditions in other developing countries.
Turnham’s 1971 book The Employment Problem in Less Developed Countries: A Review of Evidence (OECD, Paris, 1971) gave us the answer. Kenya looked very much like other developing countries, which in turn looked like the developed countries in some respects but not in others. The empirical evidence presented by Turnham served as an invaluable source on developing countries’ labor markets, and the characterization of the problem as an employment problem countered those who saw the matter in terms of unemployment. That book is now known as a classic statement of where we were intellectually and what we knew empirically at that time.
Turnham has now written a new review of the evidence. This new book shows promise of achieving the same respected position in the literature on labor markets in developing economies as his earlier book did. As an entree into the empirical literature, the book is unmatched. Readers ranging from development specialists to bright undergraduates will find much to learn from it.