Discussing potential improvements to the World Bank, Lawrence Haddad writes:
But for me the most transformative thing the Bank could do is to reduce its reliance on economists.
Don’t get me wrong, economists are wonderful (I am one, hence the bias), but so too are political scientists, sociologists and anthropologists. Economics was severely damaged by the global financial crisis (“truth versus beauty” and all that). It is good that Justin Lin, the Bank’s chief economist, is reflecting so actively on economic assumptions and the role of the state, but other disciplines also have a lot to offer to better ground economics in reality and to offer new realities.
There needs to be a better disciplinary balance throughout the Bank—in research and operations. The policy environment needed to incentivise “growth that we want rather than the growth we get”, for example, is not going to be achieved by an exclusive reliance on economists. We need to understand how the rules of the growth game are set and modified if we want growth that better reduces poverty, growth that includes those on the margins of society, growth that better avoids environmental externalities and growth that disincentivises corruption. These rules of the game are rooted in norms, culture, history and many “noneconomic” (i.e. human) behaviours and are best understood and evolved by coalitions of disciplines working together.
It’s always kind of amazed me, given how good governance has been a development pre-occupation for a long time, that political scientists and, given the importance of informal institutions, possibly sociologists too, haven’t started to play a much greater intellectual role in development debates.
Perhaps it’s because there’s no real equivalent in pol-sci to development economics? A specialised sub-discipline doing practical development related work, with its own journals and conventions and the like? There is Political Development but often it seems so macro as to be of limited practical use (which is not to dismiss it, but rather to point out that I can see why it isn’t stalking the halls of aid agencies, where work lives or die with the next evaluation).
Obviously, as a Pol-Sci PhD, I’ve got a bit of a vested interest here, but I definitely agree with Haddad’s suggestion.