Waylaid Dialectic

January 12, 2011

One of these things is not like the other – really

Filed under: Aid,Governance — terence @ 12:35 pm
Tags: ,

Chris Blattman excerpts the following snippit from James C Scott’s new book:

While the rhetoric of high imperialism could speak unselfconsciously of “civilizing” and “Christianizing” the nomadic heathen, such terms strike the modern ear as outdated and provincial, or as euphemisms for all manner of brutalities. And yet if one substitutes the nouns development, progress, and modernization, it is apparent that the project, under a new flag, is very much alive and well.

It’s probably misplaced to respond to a quote from a book you haven’t read but:

1. The sentiment that the quote appears to contain is really quite prevalent in some parts of the anti-development left (whether it’s Scott’s or not).


2. Hey, this is a blog. What did you expect.

Which means my point here isn’t really directed at Scott, who may have mustered tonnes of evidence, or may have qualified the quote, or limited it to certain circumstances. Instead, I’m simply here to say that the general claim that appears to be encapsulated in the quote is wrong.

Why? First, because development isn’t actually often a cover for imperialism. If it was, you wouldn’t see the positive long term human development trends that we do see in the vast majority of countries in recent decades.

Two, when states want to control peoples, the rhetoric they use, the rhetoric which appears most effective with their constituents is rhetoric of an external threat. Specifically ‘terrorist threat’.  That’s what Mugabe calls his opponents, for example.


On the subject of states and minorities the issue as I see it is this: once the unit of governance gets large (i.e. a state as opposed to a tribe or what have you) the potential for violent coercion of minority groups increases. On the other hand, larger units of governance bring with them dramatic benefits, if they behave, they facilitate trade, labour mobility, and social insurance. They also benefit from economies of scale in providing public goods and services.

Which means that development depends to a degree on forming reasonably large units of governments. Ones large enough to tyrannise minorities. What’s the solution?

Surely not returning to anarcho-tribal collectivism? Rather, I’d say that the best, or at least, least worst, solution is the one we’ve already got: governance systems with checks and balances — democracies and constitutional protections.

May 24, 2010

Clientelism in PNG and Solomon Islands – a typology

Filed under: Governance — terence @ 4:02 pm
Tags: ,

…or, at least, a stab at a typology of different explanations.

To an outside observer, three features of politics in PNG and Solomon Islands really stand out: the high turn over of MPs, the absence of ideology driven party politics, and above all the clientelistic nature of politics. Much of politics appears to involve getting one’s hands on government resources and redistributing them to supporters or wantoks.

The ramifications of this clientelism are pretty clearly manifest in the poor performance of governance in the two countries. The million dollar question (and the question part propelling my PhD to date), of course, is why. Why is politics in the two countries so clientelistic?

Needless to say I don’t have an answer but from what I’ve read to-date I think I can sketch a typology of explanations. With the caveat being, in the words of Duncan Green, that “typologies do violence to nuance”:

  1. Ethnic clientelism: the various different wantoks in the countries have a primordial distrust of each other. And fail to cooperate in national level politics for this reason.
  2. Rational clientelism: in the absence of national politics, people and politicians, even if they don’t inherently distrust other wantoks, face a collective action dilemma. It’s no use committing to national politics until everyone else does. And until they do, the best option is to look after one’s own.
  3. Manipulation of custom – left to their own accord people could start cooperating at a national level. However, less than scrupulous elites play upon people’s latent propensity to distrust other wantoks. This is a terrible governance strategy but an effective election strategy if you’re a member of the political elite keen on enriching oneself.
  4. Resource curse clientelism: the only thing inherent about the context of these countries which leads to clientelism is abundance of natural resources. Timber and minerals and certain types (read Taiwanese) aid have corrupted these countries’ polities. Had this not occurred things might have been much different. (Note: this draws straight from Resource Curse literature in development economics).
  5. Reverse causality clientelism: because the state is poor and inept, it simply can’t provide services on a national level. For this reason there’s not much use any particular electorate or politician striving towards a national polity – rather people and politicians are better off taking what they can get their hands on. In other words it’s not clientelism that causes the government to be ho-hum; it’s ho-hum government which causes clientelism.

For what it’s worth I’m mostly in Camp 2. And my research at present is tilting towards the building blocks of cooperation (trust, norms and beliefs about fairness) in an attempt to explain why cooperation does and doesn’t occur.

</thesis blogging>

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