Our Top Ten Blog Posts by Readership in 2012
Originally published on May 1, 2012
Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson have produced a magisterial book: ‘Why Nations Fail’. If you are interested in governance, nay, if you are interested in development, you should read it. I picked it up the week it was published and I could not put it down until it was done. That is how powerful and well-written it is. Yet it is over 500 pages long. In what follows, I am going to focus on what I liked about it and the thoughts it provoked in me as I read it.
First, I admire the simplicity and power of the thesis: what the historical evidence suggests is that nations with inclusive political and economic institutions are capable of sustained growth. Nations with extractive political and economic institutions are not. End of story. Even when an authoritarian state/regime appears to engineer economic growth for a while, it will hit a limit soon enough. Why? Human creativity, human inventiveness and necessary creative destruction of old ways of doing things cannot happen in authoritarian environments. Vested interests are able all too easily to block threatening entrants to the economy; property rights are not secure and so on. Those who control political institutions use their power to extract surpluses in often brutal ways. Key quote:
This is the sixth of our series of posts by PhD students on the job market.
The post-2015 discussion on what should succeed the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) is picking up steam, with barely a day going by without some new paper, consultation or high level meeting. So I, along with Stephen Hale and Matthew Lockwood, have decided to add to the growing slush-pile with a new discussion paper. We want you to read the draft (see right) and help us improve it. Contributions by 5 November please, either as comments on the blog, or emailed to research[at]oxfam.org.uk.
The paper argues that there’s an urgent need to bring power and politics into the centre of the post-2015 discussion. To have impact, any post-2015 arrangement has to take into account the lessons of over a decade of implementing the existing MDGs, and be shaped by the profound global change since the MDGs were debated over the course of the 1990s and early noughties. We’re hoping that this will be at the centre of this week’s discussions in London linked to the High Level Panel and in Berlin at the Berlin Civil Society Center on Development post 2015.
There’s a clutch of different research initiatives trying to understand Africa’s political economy and its impact on development and aid. Often, the tone of the political economists can be quite discouraging – Alex Duncan gives a tongue-in-cheek definition of a political economist as ‘someone coming to explain why your aid programme doesn’t work’. There are few practical ‘take aways’ either for large bilateral aid agencies, or NGOs other than ‘give up and become a researcher’.
And that’s pretty much the tone of a logotastic ‘joint statement’ from 5 research programmes based (loosely) in the UK, Denmark, and the Netherlands (The Africa Power and Politics Programme, Developmental Leadership Programme, Elites, Production and Poverty: A Comparative Analysis, Political Economy of Agricultural Policy in Africa, Tracking Development). Here’s some highlights:
Oxfam is publishing a fascinating new series of case studies today, describing its programme work on local governance and community action. There are case studies from Nepal (women's rights, see photo), Malawi (access to medicines), Kenya (tracking public spending), Viet Nam (community participation) and Tanzania (the ubiquitous Chukua Hatua project), and a very wise (and mercifully brief) overview paper from power and governance guru Jo Rowlands. Here are some highlights:
“Governance is about the formal or informal rules, systems and structures under which human societies are organised, and how they are (or are not) implemented. It affects all aspects of human society – politics, economics and business, culture, social interaction, religion, and security - at all levels, from the most global to the very local."
These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.
New Platforms, New Public Opinion?
"With the continued growth of new communication media and technologies, the public opinion and research sector is abuzz with equal doses of optimism and skepticism for its future. In a world of falling response rates and increasing costs for phone and face-to-face surveys, does this new frontier ask us to merely measure the chatter on Twitter and Facebook or does it reframe the definition of public opinion itself? This is among the many questions challenging the Digital Team here at InterMedia." READ MORE
DFID Research for Development
The engagement of women's movements with religion: legal reform in Anambra state, Nigeria
"Campaigning by the women's movement in Anambra State was instrumental to the introduction of a new law in 2005 designed to prevent the maltreatment of widows. Religion is often implicated in gender inequality and discrimination against women, but religious leaders and organizations played key roles in this campaign. The case study enabled the researchers to address the questions of when, why and how religious actors facilitate rather than obstruct legal reform intended to realize women's rights." READ MORE
The Annual Bank Conference on Development Economists (ABCDE) took place last week here at the World Bank (May 7-8, 2012). I registered and attended key sessions because of the unusual focus of the conference: Accountability and Transparency for Development. I say unusual because it is still unusual for economists focusing on international development to take those topics seriously. The impression one had was that topics of that kind were not ‘hard’ enough, and were on the ‘soft’, touchy-feely, tree-hugging side of development. The impression was confirmed in the course of the conference itself as speaker after speaker referred to research being done on these topics as part of the ‘cutting edge’ of development economics.
In a New York Times column last Friday David Brooks discussed a book by Jim Manzi, and extolled the idea of randomized field trials as a way for the US to make better policies.
While it’s nice to welcome Citizen Brooks into the fold, there are a couple of points in his article worth exploring a bit.
The term ‘political economy’ has become an increasingly popular part of the vernacular at the World Bank and other development agencies. In parallel, interest in the political economy aspects of development has also seen a resurgence in academia, within both economics and political science departments, and even in leading business programs.