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Five myths about governance and development

David Booth's picture

In some areas of development policy, deep-rooted assumptions are extremely hard to dislodge. Like science-fiction androids or the many-headed Hydra, these are monsters that can sustain any number of mortal blows and still regenerate. Capable researchers armed with overwhelming evidence are no threat to them.
 
The importance of good governance for development is one such assumption. Take last month’s enquiry report on Parliamentary Strengthening by the International Development Committee of the UK parliament. It references the UN High Level Panel’s opinion that ‘good governance and effective institutions’ should be among the goals for ending global poverty by 2030. It would have done better to reference the evidence in 2012’s rigorously researched UN publication Is Good Governance Good for Development?
 
Here are five governance myths about which the strong scientific consensus might – eventually – slay some monsters.

Davos: New Briefing on Global Wealth, Inequality and an Update of that 85 Richest = 3.5 Billion Poorest Killer Fact

Duncan Green's picture

This is Davos week, and over on the Oxfam Research team’s excellent new Mind the Gap blog, Deborah Hardoon has an update on the mind-boggling maths of global inequality. 

 
 



Wealth data from Credit Suisse, finds that the 99% have been getting less and less of the economic pie over the past few years as the 1% get more. By next year, if the 2010-2014 trend for the growing concentration of global wealth is to continue, the richest 1% of people in the world will have more wealth than the rest of the world put together.


Measurements of wealth capture financial assets (including money in the bank) as well as non financial assets such as property. It is not just inefficient to concentrate more and more wealth in the hands of a few, but also unjust. Just think of all the empty properties bought by wealthy people as investments rather than providing housing for those in need of a home. Think of the billionaire chugging out carbon emissions flying around in a private jet, whilst the poorest countries suffer most from the impacts of climate change and the poorest individuals living want for a decent bicycle to get to school or work.
 

Why is it so much Harder to Talk about Politics than about Policies?

Duncan Green's picture

I’ve been running into some resistance recently in writing about politics, and some interesting patterns are starting to emerge.

Firstly, when I sent round a draft piece on the politics and policies of national redistribution (i.e. when you look at the countries who have reduced inequality, what did they do and what were the politics that led to them doing it?) the subtext from a number of commentators in the countries concerned was ‘love the policies, but could you not talk about the politics please?’

They felt that talking about politics and political players (whether leaders or movements), especially in a positive way (Government of X has done brilliantly on Y), could be politically compromising or just felt anxious about being seen as naive, or being denounced by the radicals. Oppositionalism (all politicians are venal, all leaders betray, any progress is purely a grudging response to overwhelming public pressure from below) seems much easier (see right). If politics is mentioned at all, it’s just through the cop-out of lamenting the lack of political will (which all too often means telling politicians to do things that will get them chucked out of power or shot, and then condemning them when they refuse).

The Things We Do: Bandwidth Poverty- When our Minds Betray Us

Roxanne Bauer's picture

Struggling to ‘get by’ is stressful.  We worry whether we can make it to our next paycheck, whether a trip to the market will be successful, whether we can pay the rent on-time… the list goes on.

All of this stress leads to an attention shortage, known as bandwidth poverty.  Bandwidth poverty creates a negative, reinforcing cycle.  When we experience financial poverty, we focus on the immediate need to make money or to pay a bill, and we don’t have sufficient cognitive resources or bandwidth to spend on other tasks or later deadlines. This leads to less-than-optimal decisions that leave us worse-off because we’ve lost the capacity or mental space to consider future needs.

In a series of experiments, researchers from Harvard, Princeton and Britain's University of Warwick found that urgent financial worries had an immediate impact on poor people's ability to perform well in tests of cognition and logic.

The researchers conducted two sets of experiments— in two very different settings— one in a mall in suburban New Jersey and one involving sugar cane farmers in rural India.
 

Do Pro-Poor Policies Increase Water Coverage?

Mukami Kariuki's picture

Lessons from a recent case study on informal settlements in Kampala, Uganda, where water services were expanded to reach the poor in less than a decade, indicate that pro-poor policies are critical to increasing water coverage for poor people. What is telling is that revenues and subsidies earned from serving the non-poor, combined with applying rigorous business principles, were equally important in sustaining these services.

In the case of Kampala, the utility improved its financial viability by more than doubling the number of connections from 59,000 in 2004 to 146,000 in 2009 and tripling revenues between 2004 and 2010. As a result of the policy, an additional 2,500 yard taps and 660 new public points were installed in the informal settlements. Although this was a small fraction of total new connections in the period, since they were shared, they reached 21% of the approximately 466,000 new people served during this period, those in the lowest socio-economic quintiles.

Everybody Loves a Good Conflict? Radio Broadcasting Policy in Nepal

CGCS's picture

AnOx 2013 alumni Preeti Raghunath discusses Nepal’s radio landscape, situating it within the country’s political environment. Preeti is pursuing her doctoral research at the Department of Communication, University of Hyderabad, India, on comparative policy frameworks on Community Radio in South Asia. Her research interests include community media for peace, media in conflict and transitional societies, media policy, critical political economy, critical security studies and deliberative policy-making.

Media policies in transitional societies often mirror the nature of governance, and policy making in such nations. Nepal provides a prime case study of a transitional nation whose media policy reflects issues with its governance structures. The country itself acts as a buffer state between India and China, successfully ousted a 240-year monarchy after a decade-long civil war between the extreme-left Maoists and the King’s security forces, and became the Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal in 2008. Currently, Nepal is mired in repeated attempts to draft a Constitution, and is expected to finally hold a long awaited Constituent Assembly election in November of this year. The impact of the larger political scene on media policies, especially policies concerning community radio (CR) broadcasting, makes for an interesting study.

Nepal is widely credited for being the first country in South Asia to open up its airwaves to community and private broadcasting. The National Media Policy of 1992, the National Broadcasting Act of 1993 and the National Broadcasting Regulation of 1995 permitted the establishment and broadcasting of community radio stations in the country (Pringle; Subba, 2007). In 1992 various actors such as the Nepal Press Institute, the Himal Group, Worldview Nepal and the Nepal Forum of Environmental Journalists (NEFEJ) came together to apply for a community radio broadcasting license. After a five-year struggle, Radio Sagarmatha became the first CR station in Nepal and South Asia to receive a broadcasting license and go on air in 1996 (UNESCO, 2003). With that, Nepal’s successful tryst with community broadcasting became a talking point for activists in countries like India and Bangladesh, who were lobbying for the opening up of airwaves in their respective countries.

Reinhart & Rogoff: Paradigm Battles, Reputation Hits, and the Public Intellectual

Sina Odugbemi's picture

You can almost feel the intensifying and clangorous clash of two economic policy paradigms. The question is: what is the best policy response to high indebtedness by countries especially after the global financial crash of 2008? Some economists say stimulate the economy now even if it means taking on more debt, pursue growth and then deal with deficits once the economy is robust. Others say you have to deal with deficits now by imposing serious, often crippling austerity programs. The bloodless phrase for this: fiscal consolidation.  Who is right and who is wrong? Unfortunately for many citizens, this is not an argument that can be settled in a science lab, perhaps by testing the theories on some unfortunate rats or monkeys. Entire countries are the laboratories for the testing of these rival policy paradigms.

I use the phrase ‘policy paradigms’ advisedly because I have been reading the notable political scientist  Peter A. Hall who wrote the classic piece ‘Policy Paradigms, Social Learning, and the State: The Case of Economic Policymaking in Britain’ for the journal of Comparative Politics in 1993. I went back to the piece after reading the April 2013 special issue of the journal, Governance, which is entirely about the politics of policy paradigms. In that compelling issue, a salute to Hall’s classic essay, he himself has an op-ed titled ‘Brother, Can You Paradigm?’ Hall restates the view that policy paradigms shift, for example from Keynesian policies to monetarist ones, but in order for this to happen ‘each of these transitions required a motivation, means, and motor’.  

What Is the Point of the European Report on Development 2013?

Duncan Green's picture

The 2013 European Report on Development was published yesterday, with the title Post 2015: Global Action for an Inclusive and Sustainable Future. I’ve been rude about previous ERDs, and I’m afraid I’m going to be rude about this one, but a conversation at last week’s OECD gabfest (more on that tomorrow) at least made me think differently about the ERD’s purpose and value.

If you read the ERD as a thinktank document, it is pretty underwhelming. The 20 page exec sum (which is all they sent me in advance) contains no killer facts, no big new ideas and not much new reseach. When I asked one of the report’s authors for his 30 second elevator pitch on what was new, he couldn’t answer. So far, so bad (and they really need to get some media people involved on that elevator pitch).

Ending Open Defecation, Not by Evidence Alone

Jaehyang So's picture

Open defecation – going outside without using a toilet or latrine – is one of the most important threats to child health and human capital, period; ending it must be a policy priority.

What if We Allocated Aid $ Based on How Much Damage Something Does, and Whether We Know How to Fix It?

Duncan Green's picture

I usually criticize development wonks who come up with yet another ‘if I ruled the world’ plan for reforming everything without thinking through the issues of politics, power and incentives that will determine which (if any) of their grand schemes gets adopted. But it’s been a hard week, and today I’m taking time out from the grind of political realism to rethink aid policy.

Call it a thought experiment. Suppose we started with a blank sheet of paper, and decided which issues to spend aid money on based on two criteria – a) how much death and destruction does a given issue cause in developing countries, and b) do the rich countries actually know how to reduce the damage? That second bit is important – remember Charles Kenny’s book ‘Getting Better‘, which argues powerfully that since we understand how to improve health and education much better than how to generate jobs and growth, aid should concentrate on the former.


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