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Transformational Change

Developing democracies can thrive — messily

Brian Levy's picture

In a recent blog post, I introduced some data on patterns of governance change in developing democracies. The data confirm a central theme of Working with the Grain that most developing democracies are messy, and are likely to remain that way for the foreseeable future. For the overwhelming majority of developing democracies, transformational fantasies are just that – fantasies. In these messy settings, our conventional frameworks of good governance and technocratic policymaking are of little use. Those of us who are committed to democratic pathways need new understandings of the way forward.

This post provides the empirical detail which I promised in the earlier post – and highlights also what the reality of democratic ‘messiness’ implies for action. As I laid out in the earlier post – and as the attached file on MAJOR GOVERNANCE IMPROVERS 1998 to 2013 details, — 65 countries are on a democratic pathway and have populations in excess of 1 million and per capita incomes which (as of 2000) were below $10,000.  The group divides more-or-less evenly between 35 countries for which the recent period has been one of continuing (albeit often uneven) economic progress, and 30 countries that have experienced limited, if any, gains on either the institutional or economic front.  The 35 countries in turn divide into three predominant patterns.

Transformational fantasies, cumulative possibilities

Brian Levy's picture

Reality Check Ahead signDreams die hard. I was on the road for much of last fall, talking about my new book – which promotes (as I put it in a recent piece in foreignpolicy.com), the virtues of modesty in our approach to democratic development. While my message is a sober one, my aim is not to foster pessimism but rather to highlight pragmatic ways forward.

Yet, repeatedly, I come up against critics who bewail my seeming lack of ambition. “Why”, they ask, “do you sell short the possibilities of transformation? Isn’t what we need bold, decisive, ethical leadership which cuts through the messiness of present predicaments?  Where governance is weak, bold leaders can and should make it strong – rapidly and systematically!”.

By now, there is plenty of scholarship that makes the case that changes in governance cannot be willed into being – but rather that ‘good governance’ is the cumulative consequence of a long, slow incremental process. Nobel-prize-winner Douglass North and colleagues have clarified conceptually how personalized bargains between contending elites can provide platforms for both stability and (perhaps) the slow evolution of formal rules of the game. Francis Fukuyama masterfully documents, over two volumes, the deep historical roots of the rule of law, and of the difficult challenges posed by democratization in settings where state capabilities remain weak.

For many, though, conceptual and historical perspectives remain unpersuasive. “We need change”, they insist. “Therefore good leaders should provide it.”

How UK’s Anti-Slavery Campaign Led to Transformational Change

Johanna Martinsson's picture

If you are a frequent reader of this blog, you will know that we in CommGAP are interested in learning how to change social norms for better governance and accountability.  In a forthcoming paper, I will take a closer look at the journey of norms in development; how they emerge, become global norms and diffuse to local contexts.  In reviewing global advocacy campaigns that led to transformational and normative change, it’s hard to ignore one of the most successful and important reform movements of the 19th century, namely the UK’s Anti-Slavery Campaign. How did the campaign manage to change such deeply entrenched norms as slave trade and slavery throughout the British Empire in some 50 years? Clearly, it’s a unique case that involved many institutional and environmental factors, and it would be impossible to cover all of them in a single blog post.  However, the campaign would not have succeeded if it wasn’t for a number of critical components that are of great interest to what we are learning about social norms and successful reforms.