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Law and Regulation

#4 from 2015: Bill Easterly and the denial of inconvenient truths

Brian Levy's picture
Our Top Ten blog posts by readership in 2015. This post was originally posted on October 22, 2015. It was also the blog post of the month for October 2015.
 

The Tyranny of Experts book coverIn his 2014 book, The Tyranny of Experts, Bill Easterly uses his rhetorical gifts to make the case for ‘free development’. In so doing, he takes his trademark blend of insight and relentlessness to a new level. But in this moment of history that has been described by democracy champion, Larry Diamond as a “democracy recession”[i], is it helpful to argue by taking no prisoners and not letting inconvenient truths get in the way?

Easterly, to be sure, communicates powerfully two big and important ideas. The first is that, as per his title, behind a seemingly technocratic approach to development are some inconvenient political realities. As he puts it:

The implicit vision in development today is that of well-intentioned autocrats advised by technical experts…. The word technocracy itself is an early twentieth century coinage that means ‘rule by experts’” (p.6)

In surfacing the implausible assumptions which underlie a world view of ‘rule by experts’, Easterly does us a service. One cannot engage effectively with today’s difficult realities on the basis of a vision of decision-making which ignores the inconvenient truths of self-seeking ambition, of contestation over ends among competing factions, and of imbalances of power which marginalize the interests of large segments of society. (Of course, as this essay will explore, many of these difficult realities arise – in different ways – in both predatory authoritarian and messily democratic settings.)

The second powerful idea is The Tyranny of Experts paean to freedom – “a system of political and economic rights in which many political and economic actors will find the right actions to promote their own development”.  (pp. 215-216). With eloquent libertarian rhetoric of a kind which Ayn Rand would no doubt have applauded, Easterly argues that:

we must not let caring about material suffering of the poor change the subject from caring about the rights of the poor”. (p.339)

Yes, but we also must not fall into a trap which parallels that of the technocratic fallacy – and let our high-minded advocacy of the rights of the poor blind us to the challenges of how to translate our rhetoric into reality. And it is here that Easterly’s Tyranny falls way, way short.

Corruption in fragile states: A panel discussion on the intersections of development, conflict and exploitation

Roxanne Bauer's picture

Just say NO to corruptionCorruption is a global threat to development and democratic rule. It diverts public resources to private interests, leaving fewer resources to build schools, hospitals, roads and other public facilities. When development money is diverted to private bank accounts, major infrastructure projects and badly needed human services come to a halt. Corruption also hinders democratic governance by destroying the rule of law, the integrity of institutions, and public trust in leaders. Sadly, the vulnerable suffer first and worst when corruption takes hold.

In fragile environments, however, the effects of corruption can be far more expensive. Corruption fuels extremism and undermines international efforts to build peace and security.

This was the theme of a panel discussion, entitled “Corruption in Fragile States: The Development Challenge,” which brought together Leonard McCarthy, the World Bank’s Vice President of Integrity; Jan Walliser, the World Bank Vice President of Equitable Growth, Finance and Institutions; Shanta Devarajan, World Bank Chief Economist of Middle East & North Africa; R. David Harden, USAID Mission Director for West Bank and Gaza; Daniel Kaufmann, President of Natural Resource Governance Institute; and Melissa Thomas, Political Scientist and author of “Govern Like Us.”

#9 from 2015: A global movement against corruption: It is happening now!

Leonard McCarthy's picture
Our Top Ten blog posts by readership in 2015. This post was originally posted on October 26, 2015.


Also available in: Español | Français | العربية

Third Annual International Corruption Hunter AllianceTaking note of headline news in recent weeks, one cannot escape the reality that efforts to fighting corruption are succeeding. A decade ago, success was a privilege to societies who -by virtue of democratic gains- could claim rights to holding public officials accountable. Today, it is not easy to get away with corruption. Not even if you are a major multinational, a senior government official, or an institution with millions of followers across the world.

Within our network- the World Bank International Corruption Hunters Alliance- we feel optimistic about all that is happening to support our mission; that of ensuring every development dollar is spent with integrity. We go to work every day and the focus is how do we prevent bad things from happening. To achieve that at the World Bank Group, we are continually advancing our investigative techniques, our preventive advice, monitoring the compliance standards of debarred entities and engaging with partners across multilateral development banks, national enforcement agencies and CSOs to strengthen this young global movement against corruption. It is critical that this momentum continues to sustain change at a global scale.

Undoubtedly we face a few challenges along the way; some more complex than others, none that cannot be overcome. Last fiscal year, the World Bank prevented approximately $138 million across 20 contracts from being awarded to companies that had attempted to engage in misconduct. This is progress that could not have been achieved without years of investigative experience invested in gathering evidence, recognizing patterns of misconduct, and documenting lessons learnt.

Internet governance 2015: Brazil and beyond

CGCS's picture

Christian Moller explores the future of the Internet Governance Forum as the November 2015 IGF meeting in Brazil approaches.

Table flags and backboard of the 7th Internet Governance Forum2015 continues to be a decisive year for Internet governance. As in 2014 with the passage of Marco Civil and the NETmundial Meeting, Brazil is again in the focus of this year’s developments as the tenth meeting of the UN Internet Governance Forum (IGF) will convene in João Pessoa in November. Titled “Evolution of Internet Governance: Empowering Sustainable Development,” in anticipation of this year’s IGF, human rights advocates have already begun to ask whether Brazil’s approach to internet governance might serve as a model for the rest of the world.

Brazil 2014: Marco Civil and NETmundial

In April 2014, a Global Multistakeholder Meeting on the Future of Internet Governance, also known as NETmundial, was hosted by the Brazilian government in São Paulo. NETmundial brought together over nine hundred attendees from governments, international organizations, the private sector, and civil society and resulted in the adoption of a (non-binding) Internet Governance Roadmap. Following the meeting, a number of pieces reviewed and commented on NETmundial’s outcome and final documents. The Center for Global Communication’s Internet Policy Observatory, for example, published Beyond NETmundial: The Roadmap for Institutional Improvements to the Global Internet Governance Ecosystem to explore how sections of “NETmundial Multistakeholder Statement” could be implemented. The meeting also played host to a series diverging narratives not only between governments, States, and civil society, but also among various civil society actors.

Why those promoting growth need to take politics seriously, and vice versa

Duncan Green's picture

Nicholas Waddell, a DFID Governance Adviser working on ‘Governance for Economic Development’ (G4ED) explores the links between governance and economic growth. 

Should I play it safe and join a governance team or risk being a lone voice in a sea of economists and private sector staff? This was my dilemma as a DFID Governance Adviser returning to the UK after a stint in East Africa. I gambled and joined the growth specialists in DFID’s newly created Economic Development arm.  A year in, I now think differently about the relationship between growth and governance.

Man working inside a large reinforced steel tube, PhilippinesEradicating poverty will not be possible without high and sustained growth that generates productive jobs and brings benefits across society. Historically, this has included boosting productivity within existing sectors as well as rebalancing economies towards more productive sectors (e.g. from agriculture to manufacturing). Such structural change or economic transformation has lifted millions from poverty.

Economic transformation can have a strong disruptive effect on political governance – giving rise, for example, to interest groups that push for accountable leaders and effective institutions. As countries get richer, more effective institutions also become more affordable. Over time, economic transformation can therefore advance core governance objectives.

But this is easier said than done. Economic development is an inherently political process that challenges vested interests. Often the surest ways for elites to hold onto power and profit aren’t in step with measures to spur investment, create jobs and foster growth. Shrewd power politics can be bad economics.

A global movement against corruption: It is happening now!

Leonard McCarthy's picture

Also available in: Español | Français | العربية

Third Annual International Corruption Hunter AllianceTaking note of headline news in recent weeks, one cannot escape the reality that efforts to fighting corruption are succeeding. A decade ago, success was a privilege to societies who -by virtue of democratic gains- could claim rights to holding public officials accountable. Today, it is not easy to get away with corruption. Not even if you are a major multinational, a senior government official, or an institution with millions of followers across the world.

Within our network- the World Bank International Corruption Hunters Alliance- we feel optimistic about all that is happening to support our mission; that of ensuring every development dollar is spent with integrity. We go to work every day and the focus is how do we prevent bad things from happening. To achieve that at the World Bank Group, we are continually advancing our investigative techniques, our preventive advice, monitoring the compliance standards of debarred entities and engaging with partners across multilateral development banks, national enforcement agencies and CSOs to strengthen this young global movement against corruption. It is critical that this momentum continues to sustain change at a global scale.

Undoubtedly we face a few challenges along the way; some more complex than others, none that cannot be overcome. Last fiscal year, the World Bank prevented approximately $138 million across 20 contracts from being awarded to companies that had attempted to engage in misconduct. This is progress that could not have been achieved without years of investigative experience invested in gathering evidence, recognizing patterns of misconduct, and documenting lessons learnt.

Today, we are able to support project teams to make smarter risk-based interventions. Whether at  project design, supervision and/or evaluation; our diverse team of investigators and forensic/preventive specialists offer a solid interpretation of red flags, unusual/awkward behavior by contractors, in addition to an effective response to allegations of misconduct impacting World Bank-financed projects.

Bill Easterly and the denial of inconvenient truths

Brian Levy's picture

The Tyranny of Experts book coverIn his 2014 book, The Tyranny of Experts, Bill Easterly uses his rhetorical gifts to make the case for ‘free development’. In so doing, he takes his trademark blend of insight and relentlessness to a new level. But in this moment of history that has been described by democracy champion, Larry Diamond as a “democracy recession”[i], is it helpful to argue by taking no prisoners and not letting inconvenient truths get in the way?

Easterly, to be sure, communicates powerfully two big and important ideas. The first is that, as per his title, behind a seemingly technocratic approach to development are some inconvenient political realities. As he puts it:

The implicit vision in development today is that of well-intentioned autocrats advised by technical experts…. The word technocracy itself is an early twentieth century coinage that means ‘rule by experts’” (p.6)

In surfacing the implausible assumptions which underlie a world view of ‘rule by experts’, Easterly does us a service. One cannot engage effectively with today’s difficult realities on the basis of a vision of decision-making which ignores the inconvenient truths of self-seeking ambition, of contestation over ends among competing factions, and of imbalances of power which marginalize the interests of large segments of society. (Of course, as this essay will explore, many of these difficult realities arise – in different ways – in both predatory authoritarian and messily democratic settings.)

The second powerful idea is The Tyranny of Experts paean to freedom – “a system of political and economic rights in which many political and economic actors will find the right actions to promote their own development”.  (pp. 215-216). With eloquent libertarian rhetoric of a kind which Ayn Rand would no doubt have applauded, Easterly argues that:

we must not let caring about material suffering of the poor change the subject from caring about the rights of the poor”. (p.339)
 

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.

Does talking about corruption make it seem worse?
The Guardian
What do most people immediately think of when you ask them why poor countries are poor? We’re pretty confident that it will be corruption. Whether you ask thousands of people in a nationally representative survey, or small focus groups, corruption tops people’s explanations for the persistence of poverty. Indeed, 10 years of research into public perceptions of poverty suggests that corruption “is the only topic related to global poverty which the mass public seem happy to talk about”.  Which is odd, because it’s the absolute last thing that people actually working in development want to talk about.
 
Africa’s moment to lead on climate
Washington Post
Climate change is the greatest threat facing humanity today. To avoid catastrophe, we must dramatically reduce the carbon intensity of our modern energy systems, which have set us on a collision course with our planetary boundaries. This is the challenge leading up to three key international events this year: a July summit on financing for new global development goals, another in September to settle on those goals and — crucially — a global meeting in December to frame an agreement, and set meaningful targets, on climate change. But focusing on ambitious global climate goals can mask the existence of real impacts on the ground. Nowhere is this truer than in sub-Saharan Africa.   No region has done less to cause climate change, yet sub-Saharan Africa is experiencing some of the earliest, most severe and most damaging effects. As a result, Africa’s leaders have every reason to support international efforts to address climate change. But these leaders also have to deal urgently with the disturbing reality behind Africa’s tiny carbon footprint: a crushing lack of modern energy.
 

Quote of the Week: Cass R. Sunstein

Sina Odugbemi's picture

“Public figures are ordinarily rewarded for what they say, not for what they don’t. Grace is an underrated virtue; gracelessness is an insufficiently acknowledged vice.”

- Cass R. Sunstein, an American legal scholar and author. He taught at the University of Chicago Law School for 27 years and is currently the Robert Walmsley University Professor and Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law at Harvard Law School. Sunstein also served as the Administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs in the Obama administration. He is the author of numerous books on legal philosophy and co-authored, with Richard Thaler, Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness (2008).
 

Who Decides What is Acceptable Speech in the Global Public Sphere?

Sina Odugbemi's picture

Is free speech a fundamental right and does it have appropriate limits? Pope Francis has provided the most memorable recent attempt at an answer. Yes, there is such a thing as a right to free speech but if you upset people you might have a punch travelling towards your face. But the Pope’s intervention is only one amongst many. In the wake of the recent terrorist outrages in Paris, and the massive responses to it globally, a debate has erupted about the nature of free speech and its appropriate boundaries. It is an intense and global debate, but, as often happens when human emotions are all aquiver, there has been more heat than light. In what follows, I will make an effort to untangle the issues before tackling the question I posed in the heading.

And in doing so, I am going to take two views of free speech. The first is what I call the internal view: free speech considered within the boundaries of specific countries and legal systems. The second is what I call the global view: free speech within the emerging global public sphere.  I begin with the internal view.

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