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The Democratic Developmental State: Goal, Utopia, or somewhere in between?

February 2, 2012
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There’s nothing more disturbing than belatedly realizing that you’ve written two papers in close succession that contradict each other. Does it make you an open-minded liberal, or just a confused dimwit? Judge for yourself based on these two papers: one, an internal paper for Oxfam, tries to capture and update the argument of From Poverty to Power that development arises from the interaction of active citizens and effective states. The other, a chapter for the latest Commonwealth Secretariat annual  ‘Commonwealth Good Governance’ is much more cautious Confused-Playersabout the difficulties in achieving a ‘democratic developmental state’, born of precisely that combination. I suppose you could argue that they represent the clash between respectively optimism of the will and pessimism of the intellect. Or that I’m really out of my depth. Either way, it’s been niggling away at me for years. See what you think and if anyone can shed light on how to reconcile the will and the intellect, bring it on.

Excerpt from How Development Happens

‘Why focus on effective states? Because history shows that no country has prospered without a state than can actively manage the development process. The extraordinary transformations of countries such as South Korea, Taiwan, Botswana, or Mauritius have been led by states that ensure health and education for all, and which actively promote and manage the process of economic growth. After twenty years of erosion by deregulation, one-size-fits-all ‘structural adjustment programmes’, and international trade and aid agreements, many states are weak or absent. But there are no shortcuts; the road to development lies through the state, and neither aid nor NGOs can take its place.

Why active citizenship? Because people working together to determine the course of their own lives, fighting for rights and justice in their own societies, are critical in holding states, private companies, and others to account. As an integral part of ‘development as freedom’, active citizenship also has inherent merits: people living in poverty must have a voice in deciding their own destiny, rather than be treated as passive recipients of welfare or government action.

True development emerges from the interaction of effective states and active citizens. Economic growth is not enough if it comes at the expense of other freedoms. The system – governments, judiciaries, parliaments, and companies – cannot deliver development merely by treating people as ‘objects’ of government or other action. Rather, people must be recognised as ‘subjects’, conscious of and actively demanding their rights, before true development In its full sense can come about.’

Excerpt from ‘The democratic developmental state: Wishful thinking or direction of travel?

“We are left with an unpalatable conclusion. While effective states, in the Commonwealth as elsewhere, are historically a sine qua non for economic development, measured in terms of income per capita, active citizenship and democracy are equally essential to achieve development in the wider sense – an accumulation of freedoms ‘to do and to be’ (Sen, 1999).

But there are likely to be trade-offs between these two goals, even though its nature and extent is probably changing over time, in response to cultural shifts on attitudes to human rights, technological changes in access to information, decentralisation and the partial encroachment into national political spaces of international governance norms. High levels of growth are more likely to be achieved with the sacrifice of some freedoms, and vice versa.

confusedYet, at the very least, it seems plausible that the transition from an exclusive to an inclusive state can occur earlier in a country’s development trajectory than in the past. Aid can help or hinder this process (and most likely do both). Moreover, on this occasion, the author hopes his analysis proves unduly pessimistic, and that Mkandawire’s fiery optimism carries the day:

The experience elsewhere is that developmental states are social constructs consciously brought about by political actors and societies. As difficult as the political and economic task of establishing such states may be, it is within the reach of many countries struggling against the ravages of poverty and underdevelopment. The first few examples of developmental states were authoritarian. The new ones will have to be democratic,and it is encouraging that the two most cited examples of such ‘democratic developmental states’ are both African – Botswana and Mauritius (Mkandawire, 2001).”

Any thoughts?

5 comments

  1. I think it is more an admission of realities. Like for instance, conventional wisdom states unequivocally that corruption makes government functioning difficult, inhibits private sector, detracts from creative energies and in general hampers growth. This is the line that is taken by development agencies.

    On the other hand, as Huntington argued way back in the late 1960s,
    “… when there is a paucity of ‘good laws’, corruption is the only way to drive growth. Corruption in those cases is the grease that allows individuals and corporations to circumvent bureaucracy and inefficient rules.”

    The latter is of course not a defence for continuation of corruption and lack of strategies to open out governance. It is just that, one accepts realities and adjusts priorities and time lines.

  2. Democratic developmental states have historically been a rarity, which is why INGOs like Oxfam should be careful, when working with Asian civil societies, not to get carried away by the non-Washington-Consensusness of their countries’ developmental paths.

    In this regard you might find interesting this interpretation of Korea’s development by a progressive Korean development think tank NGO Re-shaping Development Institute.
    http://www.kofid.org/upfile/file_11112418201654148.pdf

    Picked up by the Guardian.
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/global-development/poverty-matters/2011/nov/28/south-korea-development-model

  3. Good stuff Duncan and sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.

    I especially like ‘active citizenship’ – it sounds so much like the Big Society.

    Seriously though, is it the job of Oxfam to expatiate on such generalities? What will it achieve? Do you think governments and ‘society’ (does it exist?) will listen?

    I’ve listened to so much stuff recently about how everything has got to change, but so little pragmatic realism about what to do when it doesn’t.

    Shouldn’t the job of Oxfam be to select a few scenarios for each region in which it is active and develop its own resilience to be ready to confront what will be a limited menu of choices for the banquet of consequences that the last 30-odd years of excess has so ill-prepared us for?

  4. Duncan
    What is the evidence that active citizenship is part of the mix? Are any of your examples of developmental states also examples of active citizenship? Are there ‘stages of development’ here, and is the extent to which democracy involves ‘active citizenship’ (and the nature of de,mocracy itself) highly context dependent – on culture, cultural homogeneity, attitudes to traditional authority, etc?
    I hope yi are nejoying your holiday … Andrew

  5. Hi Duncan, the Google Reader feed for your blog has been giving some trouble – most of the words clustered together on the left side, one over the other. Has anyone else complained about a similar issue or is this just me? I tried unsubscribing and then re-subscribing, but doesn’t seem to have helped. Can you help? Thanks, Rosa

    Richard pp Duncan: Thanks Rosa, this has caused some head-scratching here – we hope to have it sorted by the middle of next week at the latest.

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