Waylaid Dialectic

March 16, 2013

Meanwhile, in surprising news an economist decides the government is to blame

Filed under: Random Musings — terence @ 7:44 pm
Tags: , ,

Over at Aid Thoughs Matt reads Jonathan Glennie lets out an anguish plea:

What is slightly disconcerting is that Glennie managed to write an entire article on land grabs while only using the world “government” once. NGOs and the media have largely painted the land grabbing story as a situation where evil companies are parachuting in and snatching land away (for example, check out Oxfam’s recent campaigning). In reality, land acquisitions which circumvent local property rights are only possible when governments themselves are incompetent, corrupt or overly-impatient. Of course campaigners realise this, but it’s much easier to set this up as story of evil capitalism than it is of governance, the latter being harder to sell and even harder to treat. I’m not trying to pick on Glennie for leaving out a lengthy discussion of governance in his article, but it would be nice for people to start using the g-word a bit more.

Now Jonathan Glennie causes me as much anguish as the next bloke, and I also believe that governance matters — a lot. But I don’t feel the same sort of despair that Matt does when campaigning NGOs and writers ignore the failings of governments and focus on the evils of business. Why? Two reasons:

First, because a lot of the time one of the major causes of poor governance in developing countries is the corrupting efforts of large businesses. For example, in Solomon Islands, while there are also problems of low state capacity and a form of electoral clientelism, the logging industry has done a spectacular job of ruining governance at every level, from community to state.

Second, NGOs and campaigners need to focus on what they can change. And when they are based in London, one of the things they probably have least impact is the quality of governance in developing countries. On the other hand, if companies from the global north are undertaking land grabs, or financing them, then it is quite possible that NGOs can achieve something via naming and shaming. I can see the case for academics being judicious in apportioning blame, but campaigners? Surely they should just focus on doing good where they can?

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