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Civil Soceity and Governance

Macro hype, micro hope: Optimists champion ‘Community-Led Development’

Christopher Colford's picture

Now there’s a guy who really puts the full-scale dismal into “the dismal science” of economics – spurring optimists to quickly seek out more hopeful visions of the future.

Those seeking a glimmer of hope about the economic future were well-advised to keep their expectations low as they awaited the gloomy analysis by Prof. Robert J. Gordon, the esteemed economic historian from Northwestern University, who spoke at the World Bank Group’s Macrofiscal Seminar Series on March 31. As anticipated, Gordon’s expertly documented but relentlessly downbeat scenario, based on his latest book, “The Rise and Fall of American Growth,” persuasively made the case for a future of chronically sluggish growth in the world’s advanced economies.

Gordon’s chilling projections combine some of the darkest aspects of Lawrence Summers’ worries about “secular stagnation,” Christine Lagarde’s lamentations of a “New Mediocre” and private-sector leaders’ struggle to strategize for the “New Normal.” Gordon’s bleak thesis foresees “little growth” – although, significantly, not zero growth – as the developed world’s weary economies endure perhaps decades of drift.

Policymakers in the world’s largest economies are surely exasperated by the painstaking crawl out of the global financial crisis – yet they don’t have much positive news to look forward to, asserts Gordon. With “declining potential productivity growth” compounding the impact of declining population growth and a declining labor-force participation rate, there’s probably no technological deus ex machina that can soon propel the world’s advanced economies toward restored prosperity.

That viewpoint defies the techno-utopian visions that have been so eagerly peddled to anxious Western voters, who can only dream of a return to brisk late-1990s-style growth. Quipped the Macrofiscal seminar’s discussant, Deepak Mishra: Gordon “has made a career of busting the technology hype.”

Yet Gordon’s logic need not trigger total despair among the Bank’s poverty-fighting professionals and their counterparts at other development institutions. Gordon emphasized that his analysis is about the American economy, and, to some extent, about the mature economies of Western Europe. His book’s foreboding predictions, he said, do not extend to developing economies, which enjoy “great potential for growth.”

For can-do pragmatists who strive for stronger growth and sustained progress in developing economies, there’s a ready antidote to Gordon-style macroeconomic gloom. By happenstance, immediately after Gordon delivered his grim analysis in the Bank’s J Building auditorium, optimists seeking inspiration needed only to cross the street to the Bank’s Main Complex to hear an energetic appeal for greater hands-on activism.

With an update on the movement for Community-Led Development (CLD), a seminar sponsored by the Bank’s Community-Driven Development Global Solutions Group learned of the promise that CLD offers for inspiring inclusive, sustainable solutions that enlist citizens’ engagement and build community-level confidence in strong governance standards.

Moving from macro to micro – dispelling the dread of inexorable global forces and embracing positive citizen-centric action – the CLD leaders leapfrogged Gordon’s macro-level angst to highlight micro-level opportunity.


Skeptics and Idealists in Demand

Sabina Panth's picture

Two types of reaction are common when talking about civil society engagement in public sector reform: 1. Skeptical.  2. Idealistic.  This leaves very little room for a realistic view to genuinely reflect on the actual impact and contributions of civil society in good governance work.