This paper merges and extends four basic development hypotheses that usually appear separately in the literature; in so doing, it sketches a comprehensive basic framework for development theory. Ultimately, the paper links distribution and growth to knowledge, social conflict, and collective action. The four hypotheses are as follows. First, the complementary properties of nonrival knowledge combine with the imitative properties of social influence to generate a starkly uneven spatial distribution of innovation and production. Second, unequal distributions of power and associated power relationships underlie the creation and development of economic institutions. Third, economic development requires establishing credible commitments from (or restraints on) power holders, in both the private and public spheres, that prevent their seizing the gains from others’ investments in knowledge and capital—and that, simultaneously, motivate the provision of basic public goods and services. Fourth, policy innovations can relax some of the political constraints that accompany establishing credible commitments. Discussion centers on relationships between these hypotheses, distribution, and the concept of collective-action problems (CAPs). Distinct configurations of institutional mechanisms for resolving CAPs provide foundations for basic categories of social orders—each of which suggests its own set of constraints on development. Generally speaking, development constitutes an evolutionary process of creating and enhancing a society’s capacities to foster pro-social or cooperative behavior that facilitates at least partial resolution of underlying collective-action problems.