Politician Proof Policy

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Given the nonsense that you often hear in the development circles, the following paper by James Robinson is a breath of fresh air.

“In this paper I discuss the nature of the political constraints that the World Bank faces in delivering basic services to the poor. The main problem arises because the Bank has to work through domestic governments which have political aims different from helping the poor. The conceptual approach attractive to economists and central to the WDR 2004 is the notion of politician proofing. Given that political incentives derail good policies, how can those policies be politician-proofed? I argue that evidence and theory suggests that such an approach is ultimately futile, basically because we simply do not understand the relevant political incentives. I discuss alternative policy strategies and conclude that what is required is a much more fundamental assessment of what type of political equilibria deliver services to the poor. As I illustrate with the case of Botswana, once the political equilibrium is right, everything goes right and politician proofing is redundant.”

As Robinson says;

"It's basically all a matter of politics, which is something that most economists can't see. There's a tradition in economics of thinking of politics as a kind of irritation, which is fundamentally misleading as a vision of society. You can't have a politics-free economics. Of course, political scientists would like to have an economics-free political science, which is not very interesting either."

Robinson has co-authored a book with Daron Acemoglu, ‘ECONOMIC ORIGINS OF DICTATORSHIP AND DEMOCRACY: Economic and Political Origins’ in which they argue;

“..democracies often collapse in highly polarized societies in which a pronounced gap exists between rich and poor. When the wealthy control the government, they enact policies that perpetuate their own dominance, but when the poor gain power they tend to put extremely radical programs in place such as land reform or income redistribution, arousing violent resistance on the part of opposition groups.

The United States avoided this problem because there was egalitarian access to land and economic opportunity, and thus less incentive for one group to try to monopolize political power. But in Robinson's view, the stability of the American government was achieved as the result of a trade-off, rather than through any superior moral qualities….The United States solved some of the problems that Latin America faced by disenfranchising African Americans, who had almost no political power in the South until the Voting Rights Act of 1965,"

Unlike in Botswana, look at what’s happening to the neighbor Zimbabwe where an ageing dictator is bringing the country down the drain; inflation is now close to 1000 percent and 80 % unemployment. Imagine politician proofing policy in Zimbabwe.

Related; Acemoglu talk discussing institutions and development.

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This page contains a single entry by Paul published on May 1, 2006 11:13 PM.

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