Friday, May 30, 2014

Understanding Economic Development: A Reading List

From the most recent blog post at the Center for Global Development by Senior fellow Arvind Subramanian:

"I have just finished teaching a course at the School for Advanced International Studies (SAIS) at Johns Hopkins University on long-run economic development. Not the recent trend toward micro-development that focuses on questions such as “will giving away free bed-nets help malaria prevention?” but macro-development that focuses on questions of why some nations that got left behind after the industrial revolution remain poor while some others have caught up (or on their way to doing so).

At the urging of some of my CGD colleagues, I have put together a reading list that should be of interest to a broader development audience because it includes, in addition to the normal academic readings, a large number of fictional and nonfictional books and articles that have enhanced my understanding of economic development.

All such lists are subjective, selective, and idiosyncratic. But echoing the great Marxist historian and sportswriter's (C.L.R James) point, “what do they know of cricket who only cricket know,” I would hazard, even insist, that development cannot be understood without wider reading beyond the academic. For example, if I were forced to select one book that captures the richness of economic development, I would unhesitatingly pick Joseph Conrad's Nostromo.

Some of the picks might seem odd (Keynes’ Economic Consequences of the Peace or David Mitchell’s The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet or a novel on Sri Lankan cricket, Chinaman) and may have been picked for the writing with only tenuous connections to development, and that too with connections to my narrow take on development. This list is also a work in progress because there is a lot more that I want to add, and really to find excuses to add: for example, The Patrick Melrose novels by Edward St. Aubyn or Moby Dick or Middlemarch.

The list is offered in the spirit of sharing (what I have learned from and enjoyed) and in the hope of provoking others to do the same. Violent objections and further suggestions would be greatly appreciated in the comments below, not just from economists and development-wallahs but others as well. This list can evolve by crowd-sourcing.

The full list is organized in two ways: first by topic, with non-academic selections marked by asterisks under each and second by type of reading, (non-academic non-fiction, non-academic fiction, and academic) and under each selection the broad topic covered is indicated as well.

Despite my wanting to add more to it, the list is already long. For an abbreviated version, here’s a selection of ten of my favorite non-academic readings. Enjoy, react if possible, and ignore if you wish.

1. Joseph Conrad, Nostromo, A Tale of the Seaboard. 1904. (336 pages)
Understanding Development

2. Giusepe de Lampedusa, The Leopard, transl. by Archibald Colquhoun, 1958
Understanding economic development

3. Jared Diamond, Guns, Germs and Steel, 1997.
Geography and Development

4. Philip Gourevitch, “Alms Dealers: Can you provide humanitarian aid without facilitating conflicts?The New Yorker, 2010.
Manna and Economic Development: Foreign Aid

5. Richard Hofstadter, The American Political Tradition: And the Men Who Made It, 1948
Formative histories and development

6. Ryszard Kapuściński, The Emperor: Downfall of an Autocrat, 1983
[Formative histories and development Ethiopia]

7. Ian Morris. Why the West Rules-for Now: The Patterns of History and what They Reveal about the Future. Picador, 2010.
Broad Facts on Economic Development

8. V.S. Naipaul, The Writer and The World: Essays, 2003
Formative Histories and Development [Argentina, Mauritius, Guyana, Congo, Cote d’Ivoire]

9. Thomas Piketty, Capital in the twenty-first century, Harvard University Press, 2014.
Inequality and Development

10. Michela Wrong, I Didn't Do It for You: How the World Betrayed a Small African Nation, 2006
Manna and Economic Development [Eritrea]

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Property Rights, Labor Rights and Democratization: Lessons From China and Experimental Authoritarians

In the last two days, the NYU Journal of International Law and Politics and Opinio Juris promoted an online symposium to discuss Professor Jedidiah J. Kroncke’s article Property Rights, Labor Rights and Democratization: Lessons From China and Experimental Authoritarians (NYU Journal of International Law and Politics, Volume 46, issue No. 1).

To start the discussion, Professor Kroncke's summarizes the main claim of the paper in the introduction to the online symposium:

"In the article I attempt to present several angles from which to think about how Chinese legal experience relates both to US law, both domestically and in the literature on legal development and democratization. As such, I try to show how US interpretations of Chinese property and labor rights reveal more about internal US legal developments than are driven by on-the-ground reality in China. More specifically, the gradual evisceration of the link between democratic norms and workplace regulation in the US has blinded many to understanding the Chinese experience on its own terms, especially to the extent that it subverts assumptions about what legal institutions are presumed constitutive of democratic governance. All of which has to be situated within global developments beyond this individual comparative dyad."

Then, the organizers of the symposium invited three law professors to comment on the paper. Here is a glimpse of two of the commentaries:

Professor John Ohnesorge: "I completely agree with Professor Kroncke that the world of law and development, both scholarship and practice, has not paid enough attention to labor, and applaud him for addressing this deficit. (...) My response to Professor Kroncke’s fascinating paper is to offer some ideas about why labor issues seem so hard for the law and development regime to take on, and to suggest a framework for further research on that topic. The first part of my response focuses on the general issue of how legal fields get on the law and development agenda, and the second part suggests why labor issues may be especially likely to be excluded when countries are pursuing development strategies associated with the “developmental state” concept, which many are now doing." (see the full response here)

Professor Eva Pils: "The overall argument is persuasive and important. It reminds us that democratic countries can deteriorate and become more authoritarian if they suppress basic rights, and it has implications for certain rule of law promotion initiatives in authoritarian systems. But I have some criticisms. First, I don’t think that the Chinese government is uniquely suppressive of labour rights activism – in fact, there is some reason to believe that labour activism fares better than evictee activism for property rights. Second, Kroncke seems to limit himself largely to observing that there is an inconsistency in the promotion of certain rights abroad without saying clearly that or by whom property, labour rights or democracy should be promoted. The paper could take a clearer position on this point. Third, Kroncke could strengthen his argument by acknowledging that Chinese civil society has long recognised the connection between political and economic liberty."(see the full response here)

Want to read more? See Professor Cynthia Estlund's commentary here and
Professor Jedidiah Kroncke's response to all commentaries here.
Want to participate in the debate? Post a comment below or send your post to Professor Kroncke has recently joined the list of permanent contributors to this blog. So, he will certainly be reading and he may even respond! 

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Legal research: democracy, development and emancipation

A special contribution by Flávio Prol (USP/Yale/Cebrap)

Two recent posts in this blog reanimated the debate on what it means to do legal research in Law and Development (L&D). The brevity of the texts is inversely proportional to their contribution. Zanatta wrote a provocative post invoking scholars of L&D to work on fundamental normative questions. For him, this would represent a radical transformation in the L&D agenda, which insists in ignoring these questions. In his reply, Trubek, one of the leading scholars of L&D, stressed the importance of researchers interested in an empirical description of the functions of law in different societies.

Beyond mutual critiques, Zanatta and Trubek share a fundamental goal: both want to avoid top-down approaches to L&D, in which the solution to social conflicts are given by a small number of well informed specialists. However, without a perspective about legal research that tries to re-articulate both perspectives, normative - on the side of Zanatta - and functional and empirical - on the side of Trubek - there is no possibility of understanding the dynamics of the relationship between law, democracy, development and emancipation.

I believe Zanatta does not give due importance to empirical research. Perhaps the most common characteristic of legal dissertations - at least in Brazil, although this can also be the case in other contexts - is the existence of excessive normative ambitions. Academics tend simply to dismiss any commitment to describing empirical functions of the law in action. Legal scholars are eager to propose “solutions” to “social problems” without even trying to understand what is happening with legal practice and legal institutions. This is certainly one of the reasons why some have diagnosed in Brazil a discrepancy between the high quality level of research on Anthropology, Sociology and Political Science, when compared to Law. If this is the case, the cure prescribed by Zanatta can actually be worse than the disease, since proposing more normative research in a field almost entirely dominated by it could end up undermining the still fragile commitment of some legal scholars to empirical research.

On the other hand, Zanatta’s post perhaps points to one of the biggest missing parts of research on L&D today. In the opposite direction of traditional legal scholarship, research on the field of L&D seems to restrict itself to describing empirical functions of law in society. Recent papers do not deal with normative questions – or at least they do not do it explicitly (I have in mind some chapters of the excellent book Law and the New Developmental State, edited by Trubek, Garcia, Coutinho and Santos in 2013). However, and this is the question that stimulated Zanatta in the first place, what happens when social movements intensively dispute the meaning and the very functions of law? Do scholars of L&D have anything to say in this debate, beyond describing the roles of law?

Trubek’s reply to Zanatta, reproducing another paper he had written in 2007, states that reform practices of L&D should be “complemented by processes that allow clear articulation of values; close participation of stakeholders in the design of reform projects; careful attention to successful reform efforts in similar settings; and careful monitoring of the effects of change”. But I cannot see what role researchers - as Zanatta demands - or policymakers, who are going to put the reform of L&D in action, can play in these processes. If research is reduced to describing empirical functions of law for development, which metric can be used by scholars to differentiate good from bad developments? Should scholars look for this metric at all? If Trubek’s answer is negative, he might even share certain extreme relativism in the conception of research of L&D that it is not evident in the post or the paper.

I think it is possible to re-articulate the apparently opposite positions of Zanatta and Trubek. A research oriented towards a description of the empirical functions of law can incorporate the perspective of how law is disputed by social movements and stakeholders in the public sphere. This proposal could perhaps be better described as a research on social conflicts that dispute the grammar of democratic law for development. Based on this descriptive exercise, the researcher would discuss which normative tendency already present in the conflicts is preferable. And maybe the normative metric could be purely procedural. 

Such an empirical and functional description of law that brings to its center the social conflicts that dispute the inner normativity of the grammar of democratic law to development would allow us to grasp the emancipatory potential of law. In Brazil, these conflicts are various: affirmative action, abortion, media and internet regulation, same-sex marriage, the role of a development bank, among others. This proposal gives a broader agenda to L&D researchers, with the inclusion of an explicit normative component derived from a description of social and democratic conflicts for development. 

I hope this controversy, so rare among legal scholars in Brazil, goes beyond short texts on blogs, being carried on in more substantive pieces in the field of L&D.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

A Critique of Development as Freedom – Part II: From The Perspective of the Everyday

     In my previous post, I questioned the analytic utility of Amartya Sen’s conceptualization of development as freedom, by arguing that a freedom is a value that is more likely to reflect the life interests of more wealthy classes of society than of the impoverished populations it is intended to benefit.  But of course, my argument is dependent of a particular definition or understanding of freedom that values freedom principally as a means of realizing that more elite order of psychological needs that Abraham Maslow termed “self-actualization”.   To be honest, I don’t think that this is what Sen means by freedom.  Sen’s notion seems akin to that advanced by Immanuel Kant, in that it sees freedom not as one of a number of psychological needs, but as a condition that embraces all the other hierarchies of needs identified by Maslaw (and others).  Certainly, security, community and respect, for example, can themselves all be seen as critical aspects of freedom.  Does not this broader definition restore to ‘freedom’ the status of a universal value even accounting for Maslow’s hierarchy?
     Absolutely — if the law and development world were populated by Kantian philosophers.  But it’s not.  In everyday conversation, we would generally not characterize getting a job that pays a living wage as getting ‘freedom’, even if that’s what it is from a Kantian perspective; we would not say that we merely desire friends, family and community simply because they are stepping stones to maximizing our freedom.  And extrapolating from this, I suspect that if we ask the impoverished and vulnerable in the underdeveloped world what they want from development, they would not say ‘freedom’ – again, even if that is what they do indeed want from a Kantian perspective.   In the non-Kantian language of everyday life, the word ‘freedom’ is indeed most often associated with Maslow’s highest order of want, that of self-actualization.
    And it is in this transference from the world of analytic philosophy to the world of the everyday that development as freedom threatens to introduce distortions into the development project.    For example, some years ago (February of 2011, to be exact), a then Ph.D. student from the University of Melbourne named Jolynna Sinanan (currently, as best as I can tell, a Post-Doctoral Research Fellow at the University College London) gave a presentation at the Asian Research Institute of the National University of Singapore on “The Construction of Development ‘Subjects’: Expanding Microfinance to Vulnerable Groups in Cambodia”, in which she discussed a developmental (microfinance) program that looked to help impoverished and vulnerable women in Cambodia move out of sex-work by helping them set up their own businesses, generally as hairdressers or as seamstresses.  What her own interviews with these women revealed, however, was that what these women themselves actually wanted was not to become business entrepreneurs, but simply to get a job working in a factory.  And in that, they probably had a point:  working in factory could indeed offer much greater stability and day-to-day security (Maslow’s second order of wants) than running a hairdresser business in competition with the twenty or thirty other hairdressing businesses that the program had helped other women set up in on the same street. 
    But paradoxically, the program was expressly forbidden from helping these women find such factory jobs.  And it was precisely because the people who had designed the program associated entrepreneurship with freedom and factory work with lack of freedom—i.e., ‘wage slavery’.  At least in this case, a focus on development as freedom effectively distorted the developmental agenda, one that was geared more to the needs and focus of wants – i.e., the values – of those who developed the program rather than those the program was intended to serve.
    My own suspicion is that at the end of the day, we would be better of conceptualizing development using the terms and understandings that the population that that development is trying to help or target.  I also suspect that this means that we are better off conceptualizing development as a inherently pluralist phenomenon, one that is going to mean (and contribute) different and sometimes contradictory things to different classes of people, and which in this way can disadvantage some populations even as it seeks to help others (in this, I think my thinking parallel that advanced by Arturo Escobar in his classic Encountering Development (Princeton University Press, 1995).
    What all this might mean is a subject for a different day, however, because I’m still not through talking about Sen and ‘development as freedom’, because while I disagree with his prescription, I completely endorse the motives that |I think led him to propose this prescription.  I think that for this reason, Development as Freedom indeed represents a very valuable contribution to the literature.  That will be the subject of Part III.

* * *

There seems to be some confusion as to whether I might really be Mariana Prado, because I understand that a number of people have been posting replies to my posts on Mariana’s facebook page.  It is true that I sometimes pretend I am Mariana (particularly on Chatroulette, but also on the Justin Beiber fansite), but I don’t really think I am.  But even if I am, it nevertheless appears that my Mariana personality doesn’t seem to be giving me (aka my ‘Mike’ personality) access to her (my?) facebook page.  So I (Mike) can’t know or respond to what being said.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

The Political Economy of Anti-Corruption: Of Anticorruption and Moral Superiority

Both Mariana and a commentator on another blogger – Professor Matthew Stephenson over at the Global Anticorruption Blog [“GAB”] – have questioned my earlier suggestion that one of the drivers behind the global anti-corruption movement is that it offers people in the ‘West’ opportunity to claim moral superiority.  At least part of their challenge lies in my own failure to make clear what I meant by this claim.  So I want to offer clarification and explain more where my impressions giving rise to this claim come from.

But first, I want to clarify what I did not mean by the claim.  I did not mean that everyone involved in the anticorruption movement is infected by this impulse.  In fact, I think that the vast majority are not.  But I do believe that some are, and as discussed below, that these particular some are a not always an insignificant factor in driving the global anticorruption agenda.

Nor do I claim or believe this to be a distinctly Western mindset.  In fact, below I will also give examples of this mindset occurring among non-Western populations.  Relatedly, I never meant to claim that concern with, or even ‘obsession’ with, corruption is a uniquely or distinctly Western phenomenon.   I simply focus on its manifestation within ‘the West’ – particularly the United States – because I am ultimately concerned with how this mindset might be affecting the shape of law and development projects (and thinking), which is still overwhelmingly an American endeavor.

Finally, I clearly do not claim that it is the only or even the predominant motor behind the global anticorruption movement.  I mentioned it because I think that it is significant enough to warrant some level of awareness, but in fact, I think it relatively minor compared to the other two motors I discussed – namely a desire to preserve belief in new-institutional economics and belief in human agency.

My suspicious that the anti-corruption movement has been driven to some part by its implications for moral superiority arose primarily out of my experience with the Asian Financial Crisis of the later 1990s, which I will discuss in a moment.  But first, some background to support that suspicion.  American culture has long been attracted to the idea of American exceptionalism.  Part of that Exceptionalism involves a claim, at actually seems to have originated (quite ironically) in France (I bet they regret this now) as part of the French Enlightenment, that the United States (or, in the case of the French, the English colonies that would become the United States) enjoys a special moral status among the peoples of the Earth. 

With the onset of the Cold War, American exceptionalism became linked to American capitalism, during which it was widely argued that American capitalism evinced the moral superiority of the American political system vis-a-vis that of the Soviets (see, e.g., Milton Freidman’s Capitalism and Freedom or Friedrich Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom).  Indeed, many in America saw the collapse of the Eastern Bloc as confirmation of this, as evinced by the popularity and influence of Francis Fukuyama’s The End of History and the Last Man.

But even before the collapse of the Soviet Union, the superiority of American capitalism came to be challenged from another front, that of Asia, and in particular by what we might call Asian capitalism.  And it was only natural for many Americans to take the same arguments that they had developed to advance moral superiority over 'socialist' economic systems to attack this new challenger.  I thought this was clearly in evidence in the late 1990s, with the coming of the Asian Financial Crisis. 

There was no shortage of American commentators, including academic commentators, who greeted the onset of the Asian financial crisis in 1997 with a clear degree of glee.    The crisis even spawned a new term, “crony capitalism”, to explain why the Asian financial crisis occurred.  The word ‘crony’ carries a clear moral connotation, and I believe that its clear intent was to morally (as well as economically) delegitimize the notion of that Asian capitalism might offer an alternative to American capitalism

And the clear focus of the crony capitalism critique was corruption.  Like the idea of cronyism, the idea of corruption, too, has both an economic and a moral aspect to it (see, e.g., ‘moral hazard’), and this gives it a particular appeals as a both an economic and a moral delegitimizing device.  Along these lines, it is no accident, I believe, that the Asian Financial Crisis corresponded with the take off of the global anticorruption movement.  I believe that movement was strongly catalyzed by the discourse of corruption that American observers used to describe and explain that crisis.

In fact, however, as an economic phenomenon, the Asian Financial Crisis appears to have had nothing to do with anything resembling ‘crony capitalism’.  It is widely held today that it was caused overwhelmingly by particular dynamics of international capital.  (To be clear, this is not to imply that Asian ‘relational capitalism’ (my preferred term) does not affect Asian economic performance at all, it is simply to point out that whatever its effects, the Asian Financial Crisis was not one of them.)  This was even widely argued outside of the United States, even during the crisis.  Nevertheless, attribution of the crisis to crony capitalism remained (and to some extent remains) almost unchallenged, particularly in policy circles, despite never having had any significant empirical foundation, and having significant evidence against it.  This lack of empirical foundation suggests to me that the principal appeal of the crony capitalism argument lay in considerable part in its moral implications rather than its economic utility – i.e., lay in its implicit celebration of the moral superiority of American capitalism.

As noted above, I also believe that more than anything else, it was the Asian Financial Crisis that appears to have catalyzed the global anticorruption movement.  If this is the case, than it argues that global anticorruption movement reflected in some part an interest in moral condemnation.  At least insofar as southeast Asia, I don’t think I am alone in my suspicions in this regard.  I know a fair number of highly-regarded scholars of Asian development, including scholars not based in Asia, who share my suspicions. 

But on the other hand, this may also be a situation that is somewhat distinct to Asia, given the distinct threat that Asian capitalism has posed to the intellectual authority of American capitalism.  It may just be that being an Asia-focused scholar renders me, and perhaps us, particularly sensitive to this moral aspect.  Perhaps we are even overly sensitive – we all have our obsessions. 

Asia in not the only place I see evidence of this moral superiority dynamic.  Nor is it solely a Western dynamic, either.  I feel it, for example, in the EUs response to the recent Euro crisis, and in particular how more than a few German and American commentators have been so quick to jump on ‘corruption’ to justify imposing pronounced economic hardships on the populations of Greece, Spain, Italy and Portugal.  Again, I know that I am not alone in this regard.  Another example of this, I believe, is found in the movement for Catalan independence from Spain, which uses Spanish ‘corruption’ to advance claims of Catalonia's moral superiority, which is then tied into claims justifying independence.  Middle-class urban activists in Thailand have also used claims of Thaksin-ite ‘corruption’ to delegitimize, for Western eyes, first morally and through that politically, what I would argue are the legitimate political interests of the poorer, rural populations that supported him, and even to gain some Western support for their efforts to overthrow a democratically elected government.  Somewhat paradoxically, Singapore has also sometimes appealed to its lack of corruption to advances claims of moral superiority vis-à-vis ‘the West’.