Theories of economic development as diverse as modernization, dependency, world-system,
and market reform take a "critical factor" view. Proponents of each theory argue
that countries fail to develop because of an obstacle to economic growth. We argue
instead that neither a critical factor nor a single path leads to economic development;
viable paths vary. Economic growth depends on linking a country's historically developed
patterns of social organization to the opportunities of global markets. We formulate
a sociological theory of cross-national comparative advantage including not only
economic factor endowments but also institutionalized patterns of authority and organization.
Such patterns legitimize certain actors and certain relationships among those actors,
which facilitate development success in some activities but not in others. We illustrate
this approach to understanding development outcomes with a comparative analysis of
the difficult rise of the automobile assembly and components industries in South
Korea, Taiwan, Spain, and Argentina.