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It’s not about the ‘Left’ or ‘Right’, but about ‘power’

Suvojit Chattopadhyay's picture

 John Ferguson/OxfamIn our theatres of war, brought to us live on primetime television and on social media, we are presented with a rampant muscular ‘Right’ taking on an anti-national ‘Left’. But if you look closely, you will realise that the political and social conflicts that are being tagged as “Right vs Left” have almost nothing to do with the labels being used for them.

For instance, muscular nationalism today seems to belong to the ‘Right’, while all forms of dissent that makes the government see red denotes the ‘Left’, although this is not really the case if you consider Cold War-era communist regimes and their remnants. When it comes to society and culture, conservatives are ‘Right’ while progressives are the ‘Left. On matters relating to the economy though, free-marketers and innovators are on the ‘Right’, while those favouring state intervention are on the ‘Left’.

Essentially then, what we are witnessing around us is a pure play for power – power that extends into the lives of people. Researchers have studied ‘power’ extensively: Steven Lukes in his seminal work, Power: A Radical View, introduced us to a three-dimensional view of power: a continuum in ways one can exercise power, ranging from coercion to agenda-control to manipulation. Others, such as Lisa VeneKlasen and Valerie Miller, have termed the different forms Visible Power, Hidden Power and Invisible Power.

Building State Capability: Review of an important (and practical) new book

Duncan Green's picture

Jetlag is a book reviewer’s best friend. In the bleary small hours in NZ and now Australia, I have been catching up on my reading. The latest was ‘Building State Capability’, by Matt Andrews, Lant Pritchett and Michael Woolcock, which builds brilliantly on Matt’s 2013 book and the subsequent work of all 3 authors in trying to find practical ways to help reform state systems in dozens of developing countries (see the BSC website for more). Building State Capability is published by OUP, who agreed to make it available as an Open Access pdf, in part because of the good results with How Change Happens (so you all owe me….).

But jetlag was also poor preparation for the first half of this book, which after a promising start, rapidly gets bogged down in some extraordinarily dense academese. I nearly gave up during the particularly impenetrable chapter 4: sample ‘We are defining capability relative to normative objectives. This is not a reprisal of the “functionalist” approach, in which an organization’s capability would be defined relative to the function it actually served in the overall system.’ Try reading that on two hours’ sleep.

Luckily I stuck with it, because the second half of the book is an excellent (and much more accessible) manual on how to do Problem Driven Iterative Adaptation – the approach to institutional reform that lies at the heart of the BSC programme.

Blog post of the month: A sidekick for development

Maya Brahmam's picture

Each month People, Spaces, Deliberation shares the blog post that generated the most interest and discussion.
For October 2016, the featured blog post is "A Sidekick for Development" by Maya Brahmam.

October 17 was End Poverty Day – and we at the World Bank in Washington had a small celebration and a lively discussion around the new Poverty report: Poverty and Shared Prosperity 2016: Taking on Inequality. Topics ranged from 2 billion people living in countries affected by conflict to the work on social inclusion – which included a two-part definition of social inclusion: “The process of improving the terms for individuals and groups to take part in society” and “The process of improving the ability, opportunity, and dignity of people, disadvantaged on the basis of their identity, to take part in society.”

A Sidekick for Development

Maya Brahmam's picture

October 17 was End Poverty Day – and we at the World Bank in Washington had a small celebration and a lively discussion around the new Poverty report: Poverty and Shared Prosperity 2016: Taking on Inequality. Topics ranged from 2 billion people living in countries affected by conflict to the work on social inclusion – which included a two-part definition of social inclusion: “The process of improving the terms for individuals and groups to take part in society” and “The process of improving the ability, opportunity, and dignity of people, disadvantaged on the basis of their identity, to take part in society.”
 
Then I happened to notice a tweet from Owen Barder on the Sidekick Manifesto (with a cool pop art look) with the apt tagline: In the story of poverty’s end, we can only be sidekicks. I particularly liked the statement: “The poor are not powerless or waiting to be saved.”
 
It seemed to be a good reminder that economic development is a complex and costly process, which requires political buy-in from a broad range of actors, including the local community. Progress is built over time, and there are no quick wins. In the larger scheme of things, the poor are the main actors, we’re just the sidekicks for development.

Can the middle class really guarantee good governance?

Sina Odugbemi's picture
When social scientists and historians look back on the transformation in the quality of governance that took place in, first, Great Britain and, later, much of Europe in the course of the long 19th century, one explanatory factor often stands out: the rise of a large enough middle class.  What is large enough is, of course, a question of fact, and varies depending on the particular country context. This explanation is often contested, but it has stuck. People refer, for instance, to the revolts against monarchies that occurred across Europe around 1848 as the middle class revolutions. The sense that this explanation makes sense is so strong that when you attend seminars on improving governance in developing countries at some point or the other someone is bound to say: “Let’s be patient folks. Once these countries have a large enough middle class the pressure for improved governance will be unstoppable.”

I write about this now because I have just read an essay by Nancy Birdsall of the Center for Global Development that restates the view with some sophistication. Please see: “Middle –Class Heroes: The Best Guarantee of Good Governance.” The essay is worth reading in full. I am going to focus only on her core case. Key quote:
Having a large middle class is also critical for fostering good governance. Middle-class citizens want the stability and predictability that come from a political system that promotes fair competition, in which the very rich cannot rely on insider privileges to accumulate unearned wealth. Middle-class people are less vulnerable than the poor to pressure to pay into patronage networks and are more likely to support governments that protect private property and encourage private investment. When the middle class reaches a certain size – perhaps 30 percent of the population is enough – its members can start to identify with one another and to use their collective power to demand that the state spend their taxes to finance public services, security, and other critical public goods. Finally, members of a prospering middle class are unlikely to be drawn into the kinds of ethnic and religious rivalries that spur political instability. (Italics mine.)
 

The 2016 Gates Letter is all about power

Suvojit Chattopadhyay's picture
Solar energy is used to light village shop, Sri LankaThe Gates have now made an annual tradition of publishing their development manifestos – they are in the form of letters that they write early in the calendar year. These letters contain not only their personal vision, but presumably, that of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF). Broadly, my reaction to the letters in 2014 and 2015 were that they reflected an inordinate focus on technology-driven solutions. By those standards, I was in for a surprise this year as I read the 2016 Gates Letter.

In his section, Bill Gates outlined his dream of an “energy miracle”. This is easily one of the most important priorities for the globe. Experts are united that clean energy is the way forward. Falling oil prices might just present a serious challenge to this push, but hopefully this is a temporary glitch that will not derail investments in research and development in the search for clean energy. This search also ties in with the Gates’ traditional areas of strength, which are science and technology-driven, looking to extend the frontiers of knowledge in an effort to improve human welfare.

As critical as advances in science and technology are, Gates does well to remind us of the power that governments have and thereby, points to the importance of generating a political consensus:
 

“Governments have a big role to play in sparking new advances, as they have for other scientific research. U.S. government funding was behind breakthrough cancer treatments and the moon landing. If you’re reading this online, you have the government to thank for that too. Research paid for by the U.S. government helped create the Internet.”

‘Not in God’s Name: Confronting Religious Violence’

Sina Odugbemi's picture

Not in God's Name book coverLiberal constitutionalists like me tend to dismiss religious fundamentalists of different stripes as a wild bunch better avoided than understood. The attitude also arises from intellectual confidence: that liberal constitutionalism solved the problem of religious differences by banishing religion to the private sphere, and by making the commitment required of citizens only one to a slender constitutional framework within which citizens of different persuasions can pursue their ideas of how life ought to be lived. Yet, in the world we live in today the untrammeled spread of hate and medieval violence in the name of a Deity is brain-freezing and, sadly, shows no sign of abating. Therefore, it is pertinent to ask: Why is this happening? What can be done about it?

I have just read a deeply wise and elegantly written contribution to the search for understanding. It is Not in God’s Name: Confronting Religious Violence by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. Sacks is a British religious leader of global renown both for his teachings and his erudition. In what follows I discuss the core ideas in the book, at least the ones that spoke to me.

Policy to research to policy in difficult places

Humanity Journal's picture

This post was written by Alex de Waal, the Executive Director of the World Peace Foundation and a Research Professor at The Fletcher School. It is a contribution to an online symposium on the changing nature of knowledge production in fragile states. Be sure to read other entries by Deval Desai and Rebecca TapscottLisa Denney and Pilar Domingo, Michael WoolcockMorten Jerven.

UNAMID Police Officer Patrols IDP Camp in DarfurThere’s a commendable search for rigor in social science. But there’s also an illusion that numbers ipso facto represent rigor, and that sophisticated mathematical analysis of the social scientific datasets can expand the realm of explanatory possibilities. Social scientific researchers working in what the Justice and Security Research Programme calls “difficult places”—countries affected by armed conflict, political turbulence and the long-lasting uncertainties that follow protracted crisis—should be extremely cautious before setting off on this path.

There’s a simultaneous search for policy relevance: for bridging the gap between the academy and the executive. We want our research to be useful and to be used; we want policy-makers to listen to us. But we risk becoming entrapped in a self-referential knowledge creating machine.

The holy grail seems to be to emulate economists and epidemiologists, whose highly technical analyses of real world data—and in the case of the latter, double-blind clinical trials—set a gold standard in terms of methodological rigor, alongside a truly enviable record of influencing policy and practice. But before embarking on this quest, it would be advisable to examine what social scientific scholarship might look like, if it actually reached this goal.

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.

How does Gender change the way we think about Power?

Duncan Green's picture

One Billion Rising-Delhi-14 Feb 2013The importance of gender to 'Thinking and Working Politically' is often overlooked, as are power and politics in gender discussions. Duncan Green reviews a concept brief from Developmental Leadership Program on the links between gender and power.

I can’t attend the next get together of the Thinking and Working Politically network in Bangkok next month because of a prior commitment to speak at DFID’s East Kilbride office (ah, the glamour of the aid biz….). Apart from missing out on the Thai food, it’s also a shame because they are focusing on an area I’ve previously moaned about – the absence of gender from a lot of the TWP/Doing Development Differently discussions.

Ahead of Bangkok, some of the participants have fired some useful preemptive shots. Tomorrow I’ll review an ODI survey on aid programmes promoting women’s leadership. Today it’s the turn of the Developmental Leadership Program, which has just published an interesting, if tantalizing, six-page ‘concept brief’ on Gender and Power by Diana Koester.

Koester argues that a gender lens can add a lot to the TWP’s analysis, but also vice versa – we need more thinking about power and politics in gender discussions. Some excerpts:

"Donors have largely neglected ‘gender’ in their efforts to understand power relations in partner countries. In particular they are often blind to the ways in which power and politics in the ‘private’ sphere shape power relations at all levels of society; the ways in which gender hierarchies mark wider economic, political and social structures and institutions; and the opportunities for peace and prosperity emanating from feminized sources of power. By addressing these blindspots, a focus on gender can significantly enhance donors’ insights into power dynamics and their ability to ‘think and work politically’ overall.’

This paper "addresses three main questions: What is power and how can a gender perspective help us understand it? What is gender and how can a power perspective help us understand it? What policy and operational messages follow from a focus on gender and power?"
 


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