Labor and Social Protection
This is a three-part series from Brian Levy on the manner in which the media, activists and politicians talk about the role of government. This post focuses on the importance of engaged democratic debate and the rhetorical traps that can derail political discussions.
I’ve been thinking a lot in recent months about how we talk about government. So, spurred on in part by the truly appalling tone of discourse in the Republican Party’s nomination contest, I’ve decided to write a few United States-centric blog posts on the subject (though I’ll stay away entirely from chauvinistic slurs, or comments about ‘walls’ or ‘roads to serfdom’).
Somehow, in the area of governance, our usual ways of measuring (and honoring) human endeavor don’t seem to apply. Ordinarily, working and playing in teams teaches us how to master the challenges of co-operative, collective achievement — which can be way, way harder than striving alone. Governing is a quintessentially collective endeavor, especially in democracies. Yet all too often the discourse (and not only by nameless plutocrat presidential candidates…..) is resonant of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s description of Tom and Daisy in The Great Gatsby:
“They were careless people….. They smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made.”
In a series of complementary blog posts — on Washington’s Metro on Obamacare;, and on South Africa’s public sector — I explore some consequences of our carelessness in the way we speak about the public sector. Here I focus on the underlying logic of the conversation. A good place to begin is with the analysis of institutions.
The great institutional economist, Douglass North, defined institutions formally as “humanly devised constraints which govern human interaction”. (‘Rules of the game’ is his classic, informal definition.) Another Nobel-prize-winning economist, Oliver Williamson, built on North’s definition. “Governance”, Williamson suggested, “is an effort to craft order, thereby to mitigate conflict and realize mutual gains”. Crafting governance arrangements for the public sector is hard – much harder, Williamson emphasizes, than governing a private firm. Yet, somehow, seduced by high-sounding bromides, we trivialize the challenge. We gloss over the complexities, imply that what is extraordinarily difficult should be straightforward, and end up fueling disappointment and despair. The result is the pervasive distrust of government evident across much of the industrialized world.
To get the pulse of an institution’s financial management and its room for growth, we must first look at its financial statements. The information in these statements is, of course, essential but often provides only a partial picture focusing on short-term returns.
To understand the true value created by an organization, we need to look more broadly. This necessitates going beyond traditional financial reports and spending time understanding how the institution manages its non-financial resources.
Bangladesh has a major opportunity to address one of its most pressing development challenges: creating 20 million new jobs over the next decade. And the trade agenda will be a centerpiece of any strategy that seeks to address this challenge.
Join me for a Facebook Q/A chat on January 28 to discuss this and other findings from the recently released report Toward New Sources of Competitiveness in Bangladesh co-authored with Mariem Mezghenni Malouche.
Below are some 4 highlights from the report, which we will be discussing. I look forward to your questions and a vibrant discussion!
- Bangladesh will need to expand its linkages with neighboring countries such as China and India as well as other Asian countries like Japan and South Korea. Not only are these very large markets, they are also potential sources of greater foreign direct investment. What are the critical steps that will allow this to happen? How can the recently signed Motor Vehicles Agreement between Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal help? What are the barriers to Bangladesh’s venturing into new markets?
- Bangladesh will need to gradually diversify its export base into new product areas while also strengthening its position as the second-largest garment producer in the world (after China). Our report explores the critical challenges that could allow this to happen. In your view, what challenges lie ahead if Bangladesh tries to diversify its exports? Can you name some prospective industries (for diversification)? What will be the role of foreign direct investment in this diversification? What kind of reforms are needed to attract more domestic as well as foreign direct investment?
- Male, from Madurai, India, Age between 16-25, intermediate diploma holder
“ I am a full time independent freelancer and my 100% earning comes from online. So definitely internet is one of the most important things in my life”
- Male, from Dhaka, Bangladesh, Age between 26-45, completed Bachelor and above
These quotes are just a glimpse at the power of digital technologies, coming from many amazing stories as people answered the following question online: “how has your life changed (personally or professionally) after you began to use the internet?” A key message from the responses is “Internet provides an opportunity to learn, earn, make friends, connect with family and friends, apply for jobs easily, and shop online.” As discussed in the upcoming World Development Report 2016 “Digital Dividends,” the internet, and other digital technologies, are changing the way people work, entertain, interact, and find jobs across high, middle and low-income countries.
“Within two days, I was able to hire the right people from the right locations” -- Employer using Souktel
In West Bank and Gaza, women are 19 percent of the total labor force (figure 1). But among the users of Souktel, an online job matching platform, more than one third of the users are women. This is one of the many promises of digital technologies for development.
Figure 1: Share of the labor force, nationally and in Souktel
Source: Souktel and Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, prepared for World Development Report 2016.
This was the first local election in 10 years in most places of the country. Voters elected council members of three tiers of local governments: district, urban councils, and union council/ward.
How will these elections impact the lives of average citizens?
International experiences have shown that the main benefit of elected local bodies is their closeness to citizens, which allows them to be much more responsive – although with sustained hard work -- to improving local services such as waste, water, sewerage and transportation.
In a report about managing spatial transformation in South Asia launched at the 3rd Pakistan Urban Forum, we highlighted that (see chapter 3 of the report).
To that end, we identified three closely related "deficits" -- empowerment, resource, and accountability -- which, if tackled properly, could lead to improved local urban governance.
The recent local elections in Pakistan are important steps toward reducing these three deficits. The new local government laws, which were enacted in most provinces in 2013, started to re-empower local governments after the expiration of the earlier 2001 Local Government Act.