Syndicate content

The Origins of Political Order: Review of Francis Fukuyama’s impressive history of the state

Duncan Green's picture

Origins of Political Order by Francis FukuyamaRicardo Fuentes has been raving about this book for months, so I packed it in my holiday luggage. Actually it’s two books – The Origins of Political Order takes us from pre-history up to the French Revolution/American Revolution, and the subsequent Political Order and Political Decay brings us up to the present day. They each weigh in at around 500 pages, so hope you won’t mind me taking two posts to review them.

Fukuyama is notorious for his ‘End of History?’ post-Cold War triumphalism, but he’s older, wiser and considerably more nuanced these days. The ambition of the two books is astonishing – nothing less than a history of the birth, evolution and current condition of the state worldwide, with fascinating potted histories of the states both obvious (China, England, Germany, US) and less so (Hungary, Poland, Nigeria).

The starting point is that ‘Poor countries are poor not because they lack resources, but because they lack effective political institutions. It asks (and tries to answer) wonderfully big hairy questions like:

  • why are some countries (eg Melanesia, parts of Middle East) still tribally organized?
  • why is China historically centralized, while India isn’t?
  • why is East Asia so special in its path of authoritarian modernization?
  • what explains the contrasting fortunes of the US and Latin America?

Fukuyama’s big idea is that political order is based on three pillars: effective centralized states, the rule of law, and accountability mechanisms such as democracy and parliaments. ‘The miracle of modern politics’ is achieving a balance between them, which is difficult both to achieve and then to maintain, with many states having one disproportionately stronger than the others, while others achieve it, and then lose it. Its achievement is often accidental, rather than deliberate. Analysing each state’s unique combination of the three pillars helps us understand the strengths, weaknesses and historical trajectories of different countries and empires.
 

Quote of the Week: Janan Ganesh

Sina Odugbemi's picture

Office workers"Another word for 'profession' is 'ghetto'.  People who work in the same field develop their own codes and slang.  They sleep and socialise with each other.  Without intending to, they seal off their world from uncomprehending outsiders."

- Janan Ganesh, a political columnist for the Financial Times. Previously, he was a political correspondent for The Economist. He appears weekly on BBC1's Sunday Politics television show and wrote a biography of George Osborne, the UK chancellor

Blog post of the month: The printed book will never die

Gonzalo Castro de la Mata's picture

Each month People, Spaces, Deliberation shares the blog post that generated the most interest and discussion. In July 2015, the featured blog post is "The printed book will never die" by Gonzalo Castro de la Mata, Chairman of the Inspection Panel at the World Bank.

British Library reading room When will the printed book die? Some think that its replacement by electronic media is imminent and promote this view using arguments that are both romantic and utopic: a new society where massive amounts of information can be accessed instantaneously and free, and with reduced environmental damage because of a decrease in the use of paper.

Although neither argument can stand serious analysis, there is no question that the electronic book is rapidly gaining in popularity. Most major “brick and mortar” bookstores have gone out of business, and today Amazon sells more electronic books than printed ones. There is also an explosion of blogs related to every imaginable (and unimaginable) topic, and there is no question that electronic media have some advantages over certain printed media such as newspapers and magazines.

Geek Heresy, by Kentaro Toyama: a book review

Duncan Green's picture

Gawain KripkeGuest post by Gawain Kripke, Oxfam America’s Director of Policy, on Kentaro Toyama's book Geek Heresy.

Geek Heresy book coverI love my smart phone. It’s awesome and it makes me more awesome. I honestly think that my life is much better with it than without. It makes me a better worker – able to review documents, communicate with colleagues, keep projects moving smoothly even when I’m out of the office.   It makes me a better citizen – I”m able to read news and events, can report emergencies and contribute to public safety and knowledge by feeding in through networks.  I think I’m a better parent – or at least it makes parenting easier.  All the logistics of picking up kids and changing schedules are greatly assisted by having my mobile phone.  It’s not cool to say so, but I think my mobile phone is a fundamentally empowering technology that helps make me a better person and helps me live a better life.

So, why shouldn’t mobile phones do the same for other people, including poor ones?  In researching this idea, I came across Kentaro Toyama.  I called him up, and in a long conversation, he batted down my fumbling ideas effortlessly and gracefully.  I didn’t know it at the time, but Toyama has emerged as a leading skeptic of technology-led concepts of development.  He’s now published Geek Heresy, a book that is worth reading, both for proponents and skeptics of technology in development.

Weekly wire: The global forum

Roxanne Bauer's picture
World of NewsThese are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.
 

A New Report Identifies 30 Technologies That Will Save Lives in the Next 15 Years
SMITHSONIAN.COM 
President Obama wasn't the only head of state visiting Ethiopia this summer. In early July, the United Nations brought global leaders to Addis Ababa, for the third annual International Conference on Financing for Development. The goal of the meeting was to outline what the UN calls Sustainanble Development Goals—a series of financial, social and technological targets that they want countries in the developing world to hit by 2030. At the conference, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the Government of Norway, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and global health nonprofit PATH released "Reimagining Global Health," a report outlining 30 innovations that will save lives in the next 15 years.

The Coming Robot Dystopia
Foreign Affairs
The term “robotics revolution” evokes images of the future: a not-too-distant future, perhaps, but an era surely distinct from the present. In fact, that revolution is already well under way. Today, military robots appear on battlefields, drones fill the skies, driverless cars take to the roads, and “telepresence robots” allow people to manifest themselves halfway around the world from their actual location. But the exciting, even seductive appeal of these technological advances has overshadowed deep, sometimes uncomfortable questions about what increasing human-robot interaction will mean for society.
 

The (ongoing) quest for Latin America’s role in internet governance

CGCS's picture

Carolina Aguerre and Hernan Galperin of UDESA discuss the results of their research into Latin American internet governance mechanisms. Click here to read the full report.

Marco civil da internetSince the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) in November 2012, policy experts and scholars have demonstrated a more focused interest in understanding regional variations in internet governance preferences and organizational models. Yet many of these efforts have failed to fully grasp the complexity of a region such as Latin America. Part of the problem lies in the lack of a strong supranational political institution such as the European Union. Latin America is a patchwork quilt of various political and trade agreements, none of which provide a coherent framework for collective action on critical internet governance issues.

Our research suggests that countries in the region should not be characterized as “swing states (Maurer and Morgus, 2014),” for many have a long-standing record of formal and/or tacit support for the current multistakeholder governance model. The analysis looks at three dimensions of governance: the technical, the institutional, and the systemic. We focus our research on four case studies: Argentina, Costa Rica, and Mexico, with Brazil serving as a comparative reference, due to its status as a well-documented, successful model of multistakeholder governance. The three cases offer a fascinating perspective on the challenges that countries face in the early stages of institutional-building for internet governance. In particular, we analyze the key forces that shape the strategies of the multiple stakeholders involved, thus shedding light on the different organizational models that are emerging across the region.

Campaign Art: Refugees are Not that Different

Roxanne Bauer's picture

People, Spaces, Deliberation bloggers present exceptional campaign art from all over the world. These examples are meant to inspire.

Last year, the United Nations announced the global population of refugees had reached levels not seen since the Second World War. Moreover, the Global Trends Report published by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that in 2014, conflict and persecution forced an average of 42,500 persons per day to leave their homes and seek protection elsewhere— either within their home countries or across national borders— resulting in 19.5 million refugees worldwide at the end of the year. 
 
It’s easy to get lost in the statistics and forget about the individual stories of each refugee.  Refugees leave behind neighbors, homes, and jobs. They once battled their morning wake up calls, watched football on television, and had their family over for dinner— just like other people.

To capture the similarities and to highlight that what makes refugees different from others is simply circumstance, CARE Canada launched a campaign called #NotThatDifferent.  As part of the campaign, they produced a video in which average Canadians and Syrian refugees in Jordan and Lebanon were interviewed and filmed; their life stories have much in common.
 
VIDEO: #NotThatDifferent


Kicking green on the green for more than just the green

Leszek J. Sibilski's picture

Sport, and in particular football, can be used to promote health and development in many countries. However, large-scale sporting events like the football World Cup can have a detrimental effect on the environment and sustainable development.  Can FIFA and other governing bodies use their immense influence and budgets to establish environmentally friendly practices?

young kids play football in ZimbabweSport is a powerful symbol which eliminates barriers and provides opportunities for rapprochement. It does not have the power to stop tanks, but is capable of bringing people together and can be an excellent platform to open up dialogue, unite people and build trust. Sport is a bond to make a positive change in the world.” - Wilfried Lemke, UN Special Adviser on Sport for Development and Peace
 
An ever-increasing number of leaders in sports as well as politics, business, education and even religion are starting to pay closer attention to how sports can be a tool to benefit humanity. UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon emphasized the commitment of the UN System to promote sport as a tool for development – including using it to achieve the United Nations Millennium Development Goals.
 
The game of football is a sport embedded in the lives of many people, communities, and economies. Often called “The Beautiful Game,” it is accessible to all. An estimated 265 million male and female players in addition to five million referees and officials make a grand total of 270 million people - or four percent of the world's population - that are actively involved in the game of football. 
 
Football supports development in various ways as it generates income from sports-related sales and services that boost international trade. It also creates jobs, supports local economic development, enhances a country’s reputation, transcends national differences, improves health and social well-being, encourages teamwork, and most importantly it serves as a global communicator while speaking a world language for the sake of social good.
 

The things we do: The connection between sleep and poverty

Roxanne Bauer's picture

It’s well-established that a lack of sleep can impair cognitive function and lead to adverse physical outcomes. But is it possible that a lack of sleep can also explain social issues, like poverty? 

YA woman naps on a hand cart, used for hauling goods around the crowded streets of Mumbaiou’ve probably heard the saying, “Work, play, sleep: pick two.” 
 
Unfortunately, as human beings, we cannot do everything.  Turns out, in this constant negotiation, many more people should be picking sleep over work or play. 

Researchers have demonstrated that, for most people, sleeping less than six hours a night results in cognitive impairment and a host of other health problems, including increased risk for Type II diabetes and cardiovascular disease. These diseases are also more common among the poor, which leads to some obvious questions: Does poor sleep lead to health problems and lower earnings?  Or is it the other way around- that poor health and lower earnings result in poor sleep?  Can a lack of sleep explain the income gap?

Freakonomics recently published a two-part podcast on the topic of sleep and how it may affect not just health outcomes, but also the financial outcomes for people.  It begins by discussing the puzzle over whether poverty leads to poor sleep (environmental factors, the stress of poverty, or the need to work more than one job may interfere with regular sleep) or whether poor sleep leads to poverty (the impaired cognition that results from insufficient sleep keeps us from earning our full potential).

Quote of the Week: Niall Ferguson

Sina Odugbemi's picture

Niall Ferguson at a Chatham House event on 9 May 2011"Politically, most of the world has never been more boring. Instead of the alarms and excursions of the past, we now have technocrats versus populists. Any violence is verbal and the technocrats nearly always win."

Niall Ferguson, a British historian from Scotland, who specializes in international history; economic history, particularly hyperinflation and the bond markets; and British and American imperialism. Ferguson's books include Empire: How Britain Made the Modern World, The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World and Civilization: The West and the Rest. He is also the Laurence A. Tisch Professor of History at Harvard University; Senior Research Fellow of Jesus College, University of Oxford; a Senior Fellow of the Hoover Institution of Stanford University; and visiting professor at the New College of the Humanities.

Pages