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

February 2, 2012 5 By admin

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?