Weekly round-up: good governance and democratization

Here is an article arguing that formal democracy (in the sense of elections) is not enough to guarantee human rights for all.

The events in Middle East and North Africa (MENA in World Bank terminology) have also (again) triggered a lot of optimism about the power of the internet and new social media in promoting democratization, and to warn against such “technological determinism” (or “technological cheerleading”) I felt compelled to post a link to this. Also I have been waiting for a while now for an excuse to post a link to the both brilliant and fun RSA Animate videos.

Speaking of the events in MENA, here is a commentary from Carothers himself on the prospects for “Arab democracy”. Best excerpt:

Two decades later, democracy enthusiasts are chastened. Democracy’s “third wave” produced a very mixed set of outcomes around the world. Many once hopeful transitions, from Russia to Rwanda, have fallen badly short. Given these different results, it has become clear that underlying conditions do have a big impact on democratic success. Five are of special importance: 1) the level of economic development; 2) the degree of concentration of sources of national wealth; 3) the coherence and capability of the state; 4) the presence of identity-based divisions, such as along ethnic, religious, tribal, or clan lines; and 5) the amount of historical experience with political pluralism.

Seen in this light, the Arab world presents a daunting picture. Poverty is widespread; where it is not present, oil dominates. Sunni-Shiite divisions are serious in some countries; tribal tensions haunt others. In a few countries, like Libya, the coherence of basic state institutions has long been shockingly low. In much of the region, there is little historical experience with pluralism. A hard road ahead for democracy is almost certain.

Yet within the political and economic diversity of the Arab world lie some grounds for hope. Tunisia’s population is well educated and a real middle class exists. Egypt’s protests have shown the potential for cross-sectarian cooperation. Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, and Morocco have parliamentary institutions with significant experience in multiparty competition, however attenuated. Additionally, the five factors mentioned above are indicators of likelihood, not preconditions. Their absence only indicates a difficult path, not an impossible one. After all, India failed this five-part test almost completely when it became independent, but has made a good go of democracy. Returning to the analogy of sub-Saharan Africa in the 1990s, at least one-third of African states have made genuine democratic progress despite facing far more daunting underlying conditions. (emphasis added)

Looking ahead to the next class, here is a very interesting talk by one of our favorite bloggers arguing (quite controversially, as you can see from the reactions) that it’s not poverty/ low income, but rather “behavioral” factors (like present vs. future focus, impulsiveness vs. self-control) that lead to civil conflict. (UPDATE: here is also a short counter-argument of sorts from his own blog.) Interestingly, at some point in the presentation he actually suggests that it is (the perception of) injustice that leads to people taking up arms, but unfortunately he does not follow this further and the (drumroll!) RCT he talks about focuses only on behavioral factors. And if you don’t catch it, an audience member pointed out that Chris Blattman’s research/ the RCT focuses only on the “retailers” of violence, ignoring the “wholesalers” of violence, which have probably a much more important role to play in generating conflict. Also, to not leave the debate at the level of economic vs. behavioral causes of conflict, here are some input papers to the WDR 2011 (which is on Fragile States) arguing that it is actually weak institutions (or governance) that are the strongest determinants of whether a country will experience civil conflict. (As you might have guessed, the last one is my “favorite” argument).

Finally, here is another update on the budget fight, this time including the perspective of aid NGOs who are criticizing the proposed cuts, as well as one from USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah. And in random news, here is a reminder that development work is hard (even when the goal is just to build a school). [UPDATE: for a more entertaining version of the story see “The Aid Contest of the Celebrity Exes“]

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