Waylaid Dialectic

September 18, 2012

Thinking about thinking about leaders and governance

Filed under: Development Theory — terence @ 4:17 pm

A friend and I were discussing various schools of thought on development, governance and leadership, particularly with respect to Adrian Leftwitch’s work on leadership and also thinking about how people on the ground in the Pacific think about these things. This prompted the table over the fold (freakin ugly because WordPress ain’t being helpful). Different schools of thought and their key features…

[Update – much easier on the eyes, a PDF of the table is here.]

Framework Heyday Key Proponents View the state’s role in development as… Development needs… View leaders as… Leadership can be improved by… Relationship to reality…
Modernists 1950s-1970s Development economists such as Myrdal, and Rostow, the World Bank State capacity is endogenous to development. That is: improved economic performance leads to democracy and better governance Capital – aid or international investment Bystanders (I think). Probably with little agency.  A country developing more generally Apparently debunked by debt crisis and the failure of aid to spark economic transformation in most countries. Also, the best econometric evidence suggests that good governance causes economic development and not the other way round.
Neo-liberalism 1980s-1990s Development economists such as Ann Krueger, Helen Hughes, and even Jeffrey Sachs some of the time. People like Dambisa Moyo. The World Bank and IMF An impediment. Government failures are too extreme to ever allow the state to help overcome market failures. All the state can do is distort price signals and facilitate rent seeking. (Noting that a softer form of neo-liberalism – ‘The Third Way’ (a la Giddens) – would say the state should stay out of the economic sphere but should also provide basic services such as health and education). Market liberalisation, trade liberalisation, foreign direct investment. Evil rent seekers unless they happen to be educated at Harvard or Chicago in which case they will defy the basic model of human behaviour underpinning this worldview and return to their home countries where they will conduct enlightened economic liberalisation and not steal a penny, honest. Educating leaders in economics. Or constraining their power to act. Reality has not, as a whole, been kind to this school of thought. Countries that followed its prescriptions have tended to have worse growth outcomes than those who haven’t. And ongoing catestophic market melt downs suggest that the invisible hand is a pretty shakey one. However, it is possible to argue that some of the reforms promoted by neo-liberals have had positive impacts.
Human Development 1990s-2000s Amartya Sen, Jeffrey Sachs, UNDP, the MDGs, the World Bank, quite a few aid programmes Often as an unproblematic provider of social services; however some proponents may be advocates of the governance agenda too, because they believe that the state needs to work well to provide services Investment in health and education. Either because economic development alone can’t be guaranteed to bring with it human development (weak hypothesis), or because investing in human capital is a key driver of economic growth (strong hypothesis – Jeffrey Sachs is the key proponent of this). Largely irrelevant. Not an area that this school engages with much. In terms of the weak hypothesis there’s fairly convincing evidence that economic development plays a major role in fostering human development (at least in poorer countries). However, there is also considerable variation around this broad trend that suggests that direct work in health and education work can help significantly too. Re the strong version of the hypothesis most economists seem to believe that Daron Acemoglu killed Jeffrey Sachs’ evidence; however, maybe this isn’t fair.
New Institutionalists / Good governance late 1990s-2000s Daron Acemoglu, James Robinson, Douglas North, Daniel Kaufman, the World Bank, many aid agencies. Essential – although not usually as a direct driver of development but rather as an enforcer of rules and contracts and a provider of property rights and a level playing field. Good institutions to provide people with the security to invest and innovate (and the potential to profit from innovations, providing incentives to innovate). Having little agency — generally leaders respond to the incentives that their own political economies hand to them. Improving institutions. Changes in internal power dynamics that force leaders to accede to the needs of their populous. Possibly democracy. Some pretty strong econometric evidence for the general argument that governance / institutions matter. However, this evidence may not be beyond dispute. Also, the specific mechanisms that link governance to better development may be tenuous. For example, property rights sound a theoretically plausible key ingredient of development but China’s economic take off occurred despite people not having de jure property rights.
Industrial Policy Have always been around – related to the modernists, but had a revival in 2000s Robert Wade, Ha Joon Chang, Dani Rodrik, UNCTAD(?), UN Desa(?), Mushtaq Kahn The state can pick winners. Indeed, development has never occurred except where the state has intervened in markets and promoted industrial policy. I think someone like Rodrik would say that this will only occur if governance is good. Someone like Kahn OTOH would probably say that development can be sparked even in poorly governed countries if political economy drives the government to pick the right winner. Policy space. Developing countries should not have their hands tied by WTO agreements and the like and should be afforded the room to experiment with market intervention. Some may argue that good governance is necessary to make use of this space. Probably view leaders in a similar manner to the New Institutionalists — as having little agency and being largely controlled by political economy. Not an area that this school engages with much. I think. It is likely true that no country has developed without engaging in some forms of industrial policy and Wade and Chang do some good within country process tracing to show such interventions fostering development. On the other hand, proponents have been accused of ignoring the fact that almost every developing country has promoted industrial policy at various times and most have only done so unsuccessfully.
Radical Critiques Perennial Marxists, anarchists, post-structuralists, radical academic feminists, post-development and post-colonial thinkers This is a very broad collection of different schools of thought, many of whom aren’t on speaking terms to each other. But…Marxists and anarchists would tend to argue that true development will only occur either with the proletariat capturing the state (Marxists) or destroying it (anarchists). Post-structuralists on the other hand might be interested in how discourses of development and governance facilitate governmentality and other means of elite control in developing countries. Post development types spend their days interrogating the concept of development and examining how it’s discourses legitimise exploitation and power hierarchies. Post colonial thinkers focus on how the Others of the developing world are portrayed in the developed world and how this facilitates global exploitation. True development needs a radical restructuring of power relations both between states and within them. And, for many of these thinkers, profound changes need to occur to the existing relationship between power and knowledge. Largely as agents of either the domestic and global elite, and as abusers of power. Some views would see leaders as having relatively little agency. Some might see them as having quite a lot, particularly if they can control how masses think about the world and promote false consciousness. The guillotine. Or empowerment of the masses of some form or other. Some members of some of these schools of thought are openly and proudly hostile to the idea of “‘reality'”. Others, such as some Marxists and anarchists, arguably have failed to learn the lessons of history when it comes to the plausibility of their versions of utopia. And many within all of these schools probably do  a good job in shining light on the nature of power and its abuses, and the way that power captures and shapes supposedly objective analysis — all of which the more mainstream schools often shy away from.
Participatory Development / Participatory democracy 1990s onwards Quite a few NGOs, Carol Pateman, Duncan Green, Robert Chambers, sections of the Latin American left. Typically as a necessary provider of services and laws, and maybe as a driver of industrial development but, crucially, this will only occur if there is considerable political equality and the empowerment of ordinary people. Empowerment of the masses. Power to the people. Occasionally heroic (if they’re from the people); otherwise, as by-products of the power relations they emerge from. Good if they are true representatives of the people, bad if they are agents of the elites. People power. Quite a lot of history is on their side, and some experiments in participatory governance have gone quite well. And participatory development has added substantially to development practice. However, from the vantage point from someone who was in New Zealand when a portion of the political elite held more progressive views on things such as gay rights and race relations than the masses did, I’m not sure that popular prejudice isn’t a bigger problem than is afforded by participants in this school of thought. Also, in some technocratic matters (monetary policy for example), there is perhaps a case for expertise, and for it being held arm’s length from popular control.
Leadership thinkers 2010s Adrian Leftwich Presumably the state can have an enabling role in development of some sort, but only if it’s led well. ? Essential to good governance and in possession of considerable agency (in the sense that in any given institutional environment one leader may do a lot better or worse than another). Tertiary education? Training? Aid programmes picking and grooming potential reformers? There is that Jones and Olken paper that provides quite good evidence to suggest that leaders do matter (for good or ill) as quantified in terms of economic growth. Although, Paul Collier claimed (in a talk at LSE) that he’d re-worked this and found that different leaders only had different impacts in autocracies, and that this difference wasn’t present in democracies.
Theological / Moral Since at least the time of the bible. Common amongst people in the Pacific. You could also argue that this is essentially the world view of ‘just desert’ type conservatives and, perhaps, protestant work ethic type explanations of development along the lines of Weber (although he might better be thought of as institutionalist). Note that this is not the view of all people of faith. In general people in this school of thought probably believe that the state can play a helping hand in development. And would also like the state to play a role in preventing immorality. Leaders and people to change the way they behave and be more pious and virtuous. Fallen. Leaders have a lot of agency though (agency in the true sense), and were they to become more moral could spark revival. Moral revival. More faith based than evidence based?


  1. Hey Terence,

    This is a great overview. Mind if I crosspost?



    Comment by Tom Murphy (@viewfromthecave) — September 18, 2012 @ 9:05 pm

  2. Hi Tom,

    Thanks. You’re most welcome to crosspost. It would be interesting to get bloggers and commenters to situate themselves in the table too maybe?


    Comment by terence — September 18, 2012 @ 9:22 pm

  3. Love the idea

    Comment by Tom Murphy (@viewfromthecave) — September 19, 2012 @ 2:39 am

  4. I set up a Google Doc to let people have at it. Hoping to crowdsource this. Here is the blog post: bit.ly/Ro3QRE

    Comment by Tom Murphy (@viewfromthecave) — September 19, 2012 @ 3:18 am

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